Teacher background information


Year 1 Science Content Description

Science as a Human Endeavour

Nature and development of science

Science involves observing, asking questions about, and describing changes in, objects and events (ACSHE021 - Scootle )

  • recognising how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples use changes in the landscape and the sky to answer questions about when to gather certain resources (OI.3, OI.5)

For many thousands of years Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have used observable changes in the sky and landscape as indicators of seasonal change and resource availability. Through continuous observation and asking questions about environmental changes, a wealth of scientific knowledge and understanding of many different ecosystems has been collated. These knowledges and understandings have long provided detailed information about resources that are important sources of food, medicines and materials for tools, material culture and shelters. Asking questions and describing changes in the landscape, such as ephemeral waterbodies and plant life cycle stages, provides information about seasonal availability of resources. Similarly, through continuous observations of changes in the sky including the patterns of movement of celestial bodies and weather indicators, and asking questions about the significance of these changes, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have developed methods of monitoring time and seasons that are connected with the availability of particular resources. This elaboration provides students with the opportunity to recognise that the vast knowledges about changes in the sky and landscape held by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples can answer questions about when to gather certain resources.

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, the scientific domains of astronomy, meteorology and ecology have long been studied holistically to understand changes observed in the environment. The confluence of these scientific disciplines has resulted in a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of environmental factors and as a result, observations of changes in the landscape and sky have been connected with seasonal events. These knowledges are important as they have long informed the availability of certain resources and when they can be sustainably accessed. For millennia prior to colonisation, resources from the environment supplied Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples with the raw materials required to provide or manufacture food, water, medicine, tools, domestic implements, weapons, clothing, shelter, and watercraft. Observations of events and phenomena including ephemeral waterbodies, plant life cycle stages, movement of celestial bodies and weather patterns have long enabled Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to answer questions about particular resources in the environment.

Ephemeral water bodies are those that only infrequently and irregularly contain water, usually following a large precipitation event. In regions characterised by infrequent heavy rainfall, some plants have adapted to these conditions; their seeds remain dormant until the deluge provides optimal conditions for germination and growth. The Australian native aquatic fern nardoo (Marsilea drummondii) is an example of such a plant. The spores of nardoo can remain viable for extensive periods of time in conditions of drought or environments of limited water availability, such as the desert environment of Australia. When rainfall or floods in these regions provide ephemeral fresh water, dormant spores germinate and the new plants grow rapidly. The Yandruwanda Peoples of the lakes region in South Australia understand the nardoo germination process; when rainfall is observed in a desert environment, they know that large quantities of nardoo will soon be available for harvest. Prior to colonisation, the Alyawarra People of the central desert region in the Northern Territory resided near permanent water reservoirs. However, when seasonal rains were observed people travelled to known ephemeral water locations to access resources, such as roots and tubers, that only flourished at this time.

Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre in central Australia, the lands of the Arabana, Anangu, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjata Peoples, is a large ephemeral water body that fills with water only after rare periods of significant rainfall. After monsoonal rain events in Queensland, water flows through the river systems in a southerly direction and eventually drains into Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre. Subsequently, huge flocks of waterbirds arrive, including wild fowl and pelicans. Aboriginal Peoples’ observations about the arrival of waterbirds have long provided answers about water availability, and accessibility to resources such as bird, marine and animal species not normally found in the region. The Arabana Peoples of the western Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre region use a complex system of environmental observations to answer questions not only about water presence, but also the quality, quantity and level of saturation of the water resource. Observations can answer questions about water resources in the region, such as: indications of soil quality by colour and cracking; the type, number and distribution of flora and fauna species; the historical presence of species; and stages of the life cycle of organisms.

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples observe the landscape for predicted changes in plant life cycle stages to answer questions about resource availability. Observations of the flowering, ripening, greening, abscission or tuber maturity of particular plants can answer questions about when to gather a range of resources from the environment. The Yawuru Peoples of the Broome region in Western Australia use observations of changes in the landscape to indicate when particular resources can be harvested. The budding of the bloodwood tree in marrul (April) indicates that it is the time to harvest land resources and not marine resources. During this season, the land animals such as lizards are getting fat and are good for eating, while the high tides mean that the sea animals are small and should not be harvested. Laja (September–November) coincides with the drying and splitting of seed pods from plants such as Acacia spp. The Yawuru Peoples know that man-gala (December–March) will follow bringing rain; this is the time to collect wood and bark for shelters needed for the wet season.

Observations of changes in the sky over millennia also provide answers to questions regarding resource availability. The Kaurna Peoples of the Adelaide Plains region in South Australia mark the beginning of Parnati (autumn) by the position of the star Parna near the lower left side of the moon. This provides answers about resource availability in the area and indicates the time when: fish such as whiting are ready for harvesting in the estuaries; stone fruits are ripe and ready for consumption; and birdlife is plentiful. It also marks the time that bark is ready to be stripped to make canoes and shelters, and animal skin cloaks need to be prepared for the impending kudlila (winter). For the Yolŋu Peoples of Arnhem Land the appearance of the star Arcturus in the eastern sky at sunrise, during Worlmamirri (wet season beginning in late October), indicates the time to harvest resources such as spike rush, a reed used to make fish traps and baskets. This means that fish traps can be prepared in readiness for mirdawarr (end of the wet season, March–April) when fish are plentiful and they can be caught in basket traps set in weirs. The Yanyuwa Peoples of the Sir Edward Pellew Group of Islands in the Gulf of Carpentaria know that when the kurrumbirribirri (dust storms) that can cause the sky to appear orange in the late hot, dry season appear, small sharks and sting rays are fat and ready for eating. The Erubam Le Peoples of Erub Island in the Torres Strait observe the sky for the rapid appearance and disappearance of lid lid (small clouds). This observation answers questions about the changing seasons and indicates the end of the monsoon season. At this time, important resources including sorbi (Syzygium branderhorstii) and mangos are ready for harvesting.

This elaboration provides students with the opportunity to recognise that over millennia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have observed, recorded and preserved information about changes in the landscape and sky. These knowledges answer questions about the environment and when to gather certain resources. Observations such as the position and patterns of movement of celestial bodies, features of plants and weather indicators, inform resource availability and sustainable harvesting practices. These indicators are rarely used in isolation; rather the observations of a number of factors combine to signify seasonal or weather changes. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have described changes in the landscape and sky for many thousands of years and this knowledge is used to answer questions about the availability of important resources in the environment that provide food, water, medicine, shelter, and materials for the construction of tools, weapons, clothing and watercraft.

In the construction of this teacher background information, a list of consulted works has been generated. The consulted works are provided as evidence of the research undertaken to inform the development of the teacher background information. To access this information, please read and acknowledge the following important information:

Please note that some of the sources listed in the consulted works may contain material that is considered culturally offensive or inappropriate. The consulted works are not provided or recommended as classroom resources.

I have read and confirm my awareness that the consulted works may contain offensive material and are not provided or recommended by ACARA as classroom resources.

The following sources were consulted in the construction of this teacher background information. They are provided as evidence of the research undertaken to inform the development of the teacher background information. It is important that educators recognise that despite written records being incredibly useful, they can also be problematic as they are often based on non-Indigenous interpretations of observations and records of First Nations Peoples’ behaviours, actions, comments and traditions. Such interpretations privilege western paradigms of non-First Nations authors and include, at times, attitudes and language of the past. These sources often lack the viewpoints of the people they discuss and can contain ideas based on outdated scientific theories. Furthermore, although the sources are in the public domain, they may contain cultural breaches and cause offence to the Peoples concerned. With careful selection, evaluation and community consultation, the consulted works may provide teachers with further support and reference materials that could be culturally audited, refined and adapted to construct culturally appropriate teaching and learning materials. The ability to select and evaluate appropriate resources is an essential cultural capability skill for educators.

Australian Government, Bureau of Meteorology. (2016). Indigenous weather knowledge. Retrieved from http://www.bom.gov.au/iwk/

Bayly, I. A. E. (1999). Review of how Indigenous People managed for water in desert regions of Australia. Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia, 82, 17.

Clark, I. D., Hercus, L., & Kostanski, L. (Eds.). (2014). Indigenous and minority placenames: Australian and international perspectives. Canberra: ANU E Press.

Clarke, P. A. (2009). Australian Aboriginal ethnometeorology and seasonal calendars. History and Anthropology, 20(2), 79-106.

Department of Agriculture and Water Resources. (2017). Lake Eyre Basin: State of the Basin condition assessment 2016 report. Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, Canberra.

Gibbs, L. M. (2010). “A beautiful soaking rain”: Environmental value and water beyond Eurocentrism. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 28(2), 363-378.

Gibbs, L. M. (2006). Valuing water: Variability and the Lake Eyre Basin, central Australia. Australian Geographer, 37(1), 73-85.

National Parks South Australia. (2017). Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park Management Plan 2017. Retrieved from https://www.environment.sa.gov.au/files/sharedassets/public/park_management/wabma-madarbu-conservation-park-management-plan-gen.pdf

Hamacher, D. (2013, February 13). Arcturus: Food and seasonal change. Retrieved from http://aboriginalastronomy.blogspot.com/2013/02/arcturus-food-and-seasonal-change.html

Haynes, R. D. (1992). Aboriginal astronomy. Australian Journal of Astronomy, 4(3), 127-140.

Johnston, T. H., & Cleland, J. B. (1943). Native names and uses of plants in the north-eastern corner of South Australia. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia, 67(1), 149-73.

McNamara, K., Sibtain, J., & Parnell, K. (2010). Documenting and sharing the seasonal calendar for Erub Island, Torres Strait. Final project report to the Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility. Cairns: Reef and Rainforest Research Centre Limited.

Nursey-Bray, M. (2016). Cultural indicators, country and culture: The Arabana, change and water. The Rangeland Journal, 37(6), 555-569.

Nursey-Bray, M. J. (2015). The Arabana people, water and developing cultural indicators for country. In Goyder Institute for Water Research Technical Report Series. Retrieved from http://www.goyderinstitute.org/uploads/15-29_Arabana_Indicators_web.pdf

Pascoe, B. (2014). Dark emu black seeds: Agriculture or accident? Broome, Western Australia: Magabala Books.

Prober, S., O'Connor, M., & Walsh, F. (2011). Australian Aboriginal peoples’ seasonal knowledge: A potential basis for shared understanding in environmental management. Ecology and Society, 16(2).

Smith, M. A. (1986). The antiquity of seedgrinding in arid Australia. Archaeology in Oceania, 21(1), 29-39.

Smyth, L., Buthungguliwuy, S., Collins, D. & Morgan, G. (2017). Yolnu fishing values of the Crocodile Islands: Community report for the livelihood values of Indigenous customary fishing project. Acton, ACT: AIATSIS Research Publications.

The Oodnadatta Track: String of springs. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://southaustralia.com/-/media/Files/Maps-and-brochure-files/Oodnadatta-Track-Map.pdf

The Yolngu six seasons. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.banubanu.com/_literature_174086/The_Yolngu_Six_Seasons