World's oldest science now taught at university

Monday, 27 April 1998

A new subject at the University of Adelaide will provide students with a unique opportunity to study one of the world's oldest sciences.

Wilto Yerlo, the University of Adelaide's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander program, is for the first time this year offering the subject Indigenous Australian Perspectives in Science and Technology.

The subject provides students with the chance to learn from indigenous teachers who are highly skilled and knowledgeable about "traditional sciences" such as bush medicine, tracking by the stars, and environmental management.

Lecturer Ms Natalie Harkin says it's a unique opportunity for Wilto Yerlo students to learn about scientific research and knowledge outside of the dominant Western ways of thinking.

"At Wilto Yerlo we believe it's important that indigenous students realise Western science is only one way of understanding the natural world. Of equal value is their own indigenous way of knowing the world," Ms Harkin says.

"The impact of colonisation on indigenous communities has meant that many indigenous students do not have the opportunity to learn from their traditional elders. Through this course, we all have the privilege of learning from those who are experts in their field. At the same time we develop an understanding and respect for this very old, yet still very relevant way of knowing the natural world," she says.

The new subject begins at the end of April. Although taught at the University's North Terrace campus, an essential part of the course involves learning outside of the classroom.

Wilto Yerlo science students will travel to Central Australia on a field trip, where they'll meet with elders from the Anangu-Pitjantjatjara lands. These elders share with students some of their traditional knowledge, such as tracking by the stars and collecting and using bush medicines.

The field trip also includes a visit to the Centre for Appropriate Technology in Alice Springs, where students test some of the technical equipment that has been specifically designed for use in remote Aboriginal communities.

On the final stage of the trip students visit Uluru where they'll learn about the joint management of the National Park by the traditional owners and National Parks & Wildlife.

"This shows students it is possible for traditional and Western knowledge to come together in a way that is mutually beneficial," Ms Harkin says. "We want students to value their own culture but to see also that the new skills and knowledge they are learning through university study can be used in a way that will benefit indigenous people."


Contact Details

Ms Natalie Harkin
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 3140

Media Team
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 0814

Mr David Ellis
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762