Teacher background information
Year 2 Science Content Description
Earth provides many natural resources that have long been accessed, sustainably harvested and utilised by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. Traditionally, the plant and animal-based resources within the geographical region of a particular Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander cultural group’s Country or Place provided food, medicine and the materials required for the construction of tools, domestic implements and shelters. In sensitive environments, such as the desert regions of Australia, natural resources, including water and the plant and animal life that provide food, are ephemeral. This means that they are only available for a short period of time. In these regions, resources are used in a variety of ways to ensure an ongoing supply of water and food during times when resources are scarce. This elaboration provides students with the opportunity to consider the scientific knowledges and understandings of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples that inform the preservation of water and food to ensure ongoing access to essential natural resources.
Earth provides many natural resources that, for millennia, have been carefully and sustainably managed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. Natural resources include biotic components such as animal and plant life and abiotic components such as water, sunlight, air and rock. Prior to colonisation there were more than 500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nations, each occupying a specific geographical region. The natural resources available within a Nation provided the resources needed for food, medicine, water, and matter for material culture. Many Nations encompass sensitive environments, such as regions of aridity, where water can be scarce, or where climatic conditions limit reliable or continual access to resources. For many thousands of years Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have accessed resources in a variety of ways to procure required supplies while maintaining environmental balance.
Water is a necessity for life and knowing how and where to find water is a valuable skill that has been practised by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples for many thousands of years. Water can be a scarce resource in arid areas of Australia, such as desert regions, due to low amounts of rainfall and high evaporation rates. Further to this, animals also seek freshwater resources so precious water sources need to be carefully protected from animal pollution and contamination. Many water sources are covered with stone slabs, leaves, branches or grass to prevent evaporation and contamination. On Damut Island in the Torres Strait, waterholes were covered using sticks and blocks of wood to protect the water within. The Baiyungu People of the north-west Australian coast preserved water supplies after rainfall by covering the water that collected in rock cavities with lids, using flat pieces of limestone. These methods of water preservation prevent wild animals polluting a water source by falling in to a well and drowning. Evidence of the understanding about the need to protect a scarce freshwater supply is found in reports of early European colonists. One such report details how local Aboriginal Peoples in the central desert protected a precious freshwater supply that was threatened by the micturition (urination) of a camel. Handfuls of earth were rapidly piled in front of the flow to prevent the urine from contaminating the water. The preservation and management of water resources was, and still remains, an important skill to ensure the ready supply of drinking water for communities.
Plant and animal resources for the provision of food have long been carefully and sustainably accessed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples rely on deep ecological understandings of the environment to know when and where particular resources can be harvested. Often resources are only available for a short period of time; for example, the fruit of particular plants or when animals migrate or aestivate. Such resources are considerately harvested and preserved at the appropriate time, thus ensuring that a community has an abundance of food supplies during the times when access to food resources may be limited.
The Alyawarre Language speakers from Ampilatwatja in the Northern Territory hold specialised knowledge about akatyerr (desert raisin; Solanum centrale) that has been passed through generations for millennia. Akatyerr is a fast-growing shrub that fruits prolifically the year after fire or good rainfall. The plants fruit for only two months and during this time the akatyerr is harvested, processed, cleaned, dried and either stored or ground into cakes. The dried akatyerr fruit are ground using special grindstones, mixed with water to make a cake, rubbed with ochre, and left in the sun to dry. Once dried, the cakes, covered with spinifex grass and tied in a bundle, can be stored for at least two years, providing a ready source of nutritious akatyerr when the fruit or other resources are scarce. Harvesting and preserving akatyerr continues today, as it has for millennia, in the ways taught by Alyawarre expert knowledge holders.
The aestivation of the bogong moth in the cool caves of the Snowy Mountains on the lands of the Ngarigo Peoples in southern New South Wales has long been an occasion for Aboriginal Peoples in the region to unite for a feast. The moths, an extremely nutritious food source with a high fat content, are harvested with smoke and nets crafted specifically for the purpose. The moths are cooked gently on the edge of a fire and the nutrient-rich body is separated from wings and heads before consumption. The moths may also be preserved for later consumption by being pounded into cakes and smoked; once preserved in this way, the moth cakes can be transported down into the valleys.
Smoking, or other methods of dehydrating to preserve food, is a technique that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have long utilised to preserve food resources for times of scarcity or when access to particular resources is not available. The Gunditjmara Peoples of south-west Victoria manufactured a vast and complex aquaculture network to harvest fish and eels after the Autumn rains. The aquaculture network allowed the surplus population of eels to be harvested and preserved. Eels and fish were treated by smoking in special hollowed out trees. Heat from a fire was set underneath the hanging fish and eels to encourage water evaporation, thus preserving them for trade or storage. Prior to colonisation, the Mabuygiwgal Peoples of Mabuaig Island in the Torres Strait preserved meat through dehydration. In the dry season strips of dugong were dehydrated in the sun, while cooked strips of turtle meat were elevated on sticks so that the heat of the sun could remove the water content and preserve the meat. This supply of preserved food was then available in the north-west monsoon season or for travelling.
Prior to colonisation, the Barkindji Peoples of far west New South Wales, collected and stored live freshwater mussels underground, as they understood that these shellfish can live in moist sand for several months. In this region mussels were not always consumed fresh. Larders, containing many hundreds of mussels neatly stacked in layers, were buried at depths of up to a metre to provide access to a food resource when required. Staple food resources were also stored by the Yanyuwa Peoples of the Booroloola region in the Northern Territory who dug trenches for the storage of Cycas spp. seeds. The seeds of Cycas spp. are only available for a few months at the end of the dry season in sclerophyll regions of northern Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia. The Yanyuwa Peoples stored the kernels of Cycas spp. for several months in trenches approximately 30 centimetres deep. When required, the seeds were recovered from the earth, ground into flour and made into loaves that were baked in hot ash. These methods of storing resources underground ensured that food supplies were preserved and available for safe consumption when needed.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have deep environmental knowledges and understandings about Earth’s natural resources and have long used these resources in a variety of ways. For millennia, resources have been carefully conserved to ensure ongoing access during times of scarcity or in sensitive regions where resources may not be readily available. Important water resources that provide access to freshwater in arid environments are protected from contamination and evaporation, and food preservation methods have long ensured access to plant and animal resources when resources may be scarce. This elaboration provides students with the opportunity to consider how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples live and manage Earth’s resources in regions with scarce resources or in sensitive environments.
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.
Alyawarr Speakers from Ampilatwatja., Walsh, F., & Douglas, J. (2009). Angka Akatyerr-akert: A Desert raisin report. Alice Springs: Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre.
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.
Beck, W. (1992). Aboriginal preparation of Cycas seeds in Australia. Economic Botany, 46(2), 133-147.
Flood, J. (1973). The moth-hunters: Investigations towards a prehistory of the south-eastern highlands of Australia [Doctoral dissertation]. Retrieved from https://openresearch-repository.anu.edu.au/handle/1885/109557
Helms, R. (1896). Anthropology. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia, 16, 237-332.
Isaacs, J. (1987). Bush food: Aboriginal food and herbal medicine. Sydney: Weldons.
Simpson, K. N. G., & Blackwood, R. (1973). An Aboriginal cache of freshwater mussels at Lake Victoria. Memoirs of Museum Victoria, 34, 217-218.
Weir, J.K. (2009). The Gunditjmara Land justice story. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.
Williams, D. (Producer). (2016, July 6). Kuyang: The Lake Bolac Eel Festival [Radio broadcast]. ABC Radio National. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/booksandarts/kuyang:-the-lake-bolac-eel-festival/7560812