A new research project led by Curtin University will unite modern Western science with historical and cultural knowledge from local Indigenous Elders to conserve the biodiversity of the Dryandra Woodlands near Narrogin, Western Australia.

The new biodiversity project was recently awarded $994, 000 over the next five years as part of the Australian Research Council Discovery Indigenous Scheme which supports research led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers.

Project lead Darryl Kickett from Curtin’s School of Media, Creative Arts and Social Inquiry, has a strong connection to the project as a Noongar man who grew up near the Dryandra Woodlands.

Mr Kickett has teamed up with a range of professionals for this project to address the concerns of the Aboriginal Elders in the Dyrandra Woodlands area about the loss of plants and animals on the land.

The Noongar man said the project aims to discover the best method of slowing the decline in biodiversity in the area by listening to the perspective of Noongar locals who have been on the land for thousands of years.

“We thought the research might reveal better ways to stop the decline using scientific assessments combined with aspects of Noongar cultural knowledge and practices,” Mr Kickett said.

“Hopefully we can build on approaches that they’ve already committed to in Dryandra Woodlands to slow the decline of biodiversity in the Woodlands and surrounding areas.”

Mr Kickett believes there’s a greater need for Aboriginal input when addressing issues around conservation and protecting biodiversity.

He hopes with this project there will be the opportunity to learn more from the Noongar locals about how the land has been used historically and what can be done going forward.

“It’s an opportunity to walk together with the scientists, with the historians who could find out what happened during history that brought us to this point,” Mr Kickett said.

“To walk with Noongar Elders and family groups through Dryandra Woodlands and hear the story of their survival and to gauge the impact that Noongar people had on biodiversity.

“We expect to get new insights from this, particularly with regards to the world view of Noongar people and Aboriginal people [and] our connection to culture.”

Mr Kickett believes this project also provides a unique opportunity for reconciliation between Noongar people, non-Indigenous community members and land.

“They’ve been trying to fix this [decline in biodiversity] without the involvement of Aboriginal people, so perhaps with the involvement of Aboriginal people there might be something found that could slow the decline,” Mr Kickett said.

“Whilst working together we have a big opportunity to progress reconciliation and build spiritual resilience not only amongst Aboriginal families but other families in the area.”

Mr Kickett hopes that in the future Indigenous Elders will be embraced and respected as part of the solution to protecting biodiversity and land across Australia.

He said the scientific community and Governments need to overcome the clash of cultures that has historically neglected Indigenous people and embrace their perspectives and values on these issues.

“[We need] to look at things from a different angle so that we can prepare for the future of all of our grandchildren who are going to be faced with these consequences in the future.

“We’ve got to work out how to shift in the way we live to accommodate the changes that are needed to prevent the disastrous things that are happening around the planet,” Mr Kickett said.

The project, titled Healing Land, Healing People: Novel Nyungar Perspectives is being led by Mr Kickett in partnership with fellow Curtin researchers John Curtin Distinguished Professor Anna Haebich and Dr Carol Dowling, as well as Professor Stephen Hopper from the University of Western Australia and Dr Tiffany Shellam from Deakin University.

By Sarah Mozley