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Speaking the core message

At the St Albans Writers Festival last weekend I was confronted with the task of trying to explain – briefly – what a project about ‘Aboriginal Engineering’ is about. Here is my ‘short speech’.  It’s still a draft, but closer to articulating what I think of our goal/ task/intent.

Circa 1770 there was as much engineering on the landscape of the continent we now call ‘Australia’, as there was on the landscape of Europe. It was, however, vastly different engineering; built on a very different world view and sustained by very different beliefs, principles and cultures. When Europeans arrived in large numbers they simply did not recognise what they were seeing, so had no trouble subverting it and allowing it to wither away – where they did not actually destroy it.

But that engineering was resilient, having  sustained its peoples for 1,000’s of years, and it remains present for us to acknowledge, recognise and honour. The project is about finding ways to do this respectfully, carefully and thoroughly.

The goal is to change the way that modern Australian society thinks about those first cultures such that ‘Aboriginal engineering’ becomes an unexceptional term embedded in all aspects of Australian  knowledge about itself, its past and its future.


Comments, adjustments and challenges most welcome.

Intersecting Worldviews with which to explore Aboriginal Engineering

Intersecting Worldviews with which to explore Aboriginal Engineering

Wherever there are competing worldviews, there are also competing motivations and agendas. Awareness of this shaped our exploration of how engage with Aboriginal students, and their communities, in regard to developing greater interest in engineering as a career.

In seeking to focus our work we identified three particular worldviews with which to explore aspects of the interactions among engineering activity and community needs and goals. These worldviews were chosen from among the many that are available, and we use them as tools for exploration, without suggesting they are the only ways of seeing the world.

They are, respectively ‘Engineering’, ‘Aboriginal’ and ‘European/Western’. Each shares some features with the other two, and some features with only one other. We use a Venn diagram to represent these worldviews and specifically to focus attention on the Intersection where all three connect and overlap. Exploration of this Intersection is helping conceptualise how to manage relationships among different ways of thinking and identify what needs to be understood in order to achieve mutually acceptable outcomes. The Venn diagram is way of representing all this – it is not a way of quantifying anything.

Engineering worldview

  • Engineers learn to deal with the world, and address human needs, through a uniquely ‘Engineering way of knowing’ that places primary focus on ‘problems’ to be solved. This is coupled with attention to the practicalities of ‘how to’ approach the problem, and develop and implement actual solutions for the problem as it is eventually defined. This mindset is not common to all Western thought nor all Aboriginal thought. It is developed in response to a complex mix of preferences, training, capabilities and interests. An engineer in Western traditions will be doing much the same as an engineer in Aboriginal traditions. They share an interest in solving problems. The principles informing how they do so, differentiates their work.
  • Aboriginal Worldview

Indigenous ways of knowing inform language usage, relationships and connections among the more than 200 Aboriginal (pre contact) Australian nations. However, while Aboriginal culture exhibits all the familiar aspects of human endeavor, its underpinning philosophy and beliefs have an entirely different base to either Western/European or Engineering. The peoples who had successfully inhabited Australian land for between 60,000 and 40,000 years all share core beliefs and traditions, which have, over time, been customized to fit local needs and conditions. The base does not change, but particular features are implemented, and communicated to the young and those from beyond its boundaries, in different ways that are shaped to match the living context of each group. For example relationship with ‘country’ has a very specific meaning and set of core principles for Aboriginal people, as described vividly by Mary Graham

The land is a sacred entity, not property or real estate; it is the great mother of all humanity. The Dreaming is a combination of meaning (about life and all reality), and an action guide to living. The two most important kinds of relationship in life are, firstly, those between land and people and, secondly, those amongst people themselves, the second being always contingent upon the first.

Western/European Worldview

  • Western thinking is frequently characterised as being built on deductive reasoning, the rule of law and monotheism. Logic, objectivity and reason are its touchstones. Also in the mix is what has been called the ‘work ethic’ and a belief that the land and its products are to be possessed. While ‘Western’ is an understood convention to describe the worldview of people whose origins are traceable to the western hemisphere of the world, the ways in which it is enacted are not uniform. Wile sub-groups in this extended geographic area have cultural roots in a Western tradition, details of language usage, social relationships and connection with the physical world, all differ according to political and national norms. Consider, for example, the similarities and differences among English, German and Romanian culture and traditions.

The Intersection

‘Intersection’ is the term commonly used to describe the space in a Venn diagram where related ‘sets’ overlap. In this work we are not implying that there is, or is ever likely to be, easy agreement about how to operate within that space. When a Venn diagram is used to indicate relationships among components in science or maths the intersection includes only those items that are in all subsets. In our use of a three circle Venn diagram the intersection is considered to refer to places, objects and stories about which all three Worldviews have an opinion or claim a stake in its management. We are not suggesting that all three worldviews will – or should – be expressed in the same way, only that they have an interest (of differing strength) in the place, story or object.

Developing a Model and finding The Intersection

Project Goals

The primary work of this project is to assist Engineering Educators develop and sustain inclusive learning environments by “Integrating Indigenous Student Support Through Indigenous Perspectives Embedded In Engineering Curricula”. A major difference between this approach and others presently being generated, is that the focus is primarily on assisting non-indigenous individuals and groups grasp the realities of Indigenous engineering approaches to common problems, rather than on ‘helping’ Indigenous students ‘fit in’ to academic environments.

An Unanticipated Addition

A surprising – but now ‘absolutely obvious’ – theme that surfaced as we explored this question was consideration of the concept and products of Indigenous engineering. As previous posts have indicated this has become a continuing search, and a core element of the project, although it was not a consideration at the time the project was proposed. Taking an ‘inverted approach’ to creating inclusive learning environments has led to deep and serious consideration of reasons for the obvious absence of Indigenous students from engineering classrooms and roles. By ‘inverted’ we simply mean that we are looking at those students and staff who are not Indigenous and asking: ‘what do non-Indigenous individuals need to know, understand and be able to do, to make an environment in which they feel comfortable, just as welcoming for Indigenous participants?’

Inclusive Learning environments

What we mean by ‘inclusive learning environments’ and how they can be created and sustained will be reported as we complete the nominated project outcomes of

  1. Guidelines detailing indigenous cultural values and their relationship to engineering education and engineering epistemology and design
  2. Strategies for teaching STEM related content to accommodate different ways of perceiving and valuing ideas, objects and contexts
  • Strategies for restructuring technical subjects to incorporate these accommodations
  1. A model for developing and implementing elective course content focusing on indigenous cultural appreciation that is applicable to other design oriented fields
  2. An elective subject linking indigenous perspectives on country and connectedness to local engineering projects

An Emerging and Vital Question

The value of focusing on the role of non-Indigenous individuals and groups in finding a way to close the gap in regard to low Indigenous engineering student numbers, emerged because those low numbers begged the question of ‘what is about engineering that is contributing to the gap?’

As some team members are Engineering Educators, and others are not, an early task was exploring for definitions of engineering that might help answer the question of ‘what is it about engineering?’ creates this absence of Indigenous Engineers.

To find answers we had to look well beyond the discipline boundaries, since Engineering did not seem to perceive this ‘absence’ as a problem connected to its own disposition so much as having something to do those who were not being persuaded by the opportunities on offer. An early clue to a possible cause for the disparity in perceptions was found in the definition of engineering as provided by the founders of the Institute of Civil Engineers. They proclaimed engineering to be a profession charged with

. . . directing the great sources of power in Nature for the use and convenience of man.” (Jordan 2012)

However, this proclamation of ‘using Nature for man’s purposes’ differs markedly from Indigenous concepts of a close and inter-dependent relationship with Nature. A succinct summary of this interdependency is in Mary Graham’s (2008) article on “Thoughts about the Philosophical Underpinnings of Aboriginal Worldviews” which highlights these contrasting perspectives. She write that, for Aboriginals –

The land is a sacred entity, not property or real estate; it is the great mother of all humanity.

The Dreaming is a combination of meaning (about life and all reality), and an action guide to living.

The two most important kinds of relationship in life are, firstly, those between land and people and, secondly, those amongst people themselves, the second being always contingent upon the first.

This is not to imply that Indigenous people never erected buildings, mined for minerals, harvested crops or otherwise disturbed the course of Nature. In fact they did all these things, successfully, for 40,000 years.

Defining Indigenous Engineering Practices

As this OLT project evolved we experienced a need to define Indigenous engineering practices. It was evident that Indigenous engineering is highly aligned with Nature’s needs and dictates, and will therefore operate differently to practices that aim to impose their will on Nature. To aid our thinking we characterised indigenous engineering as being concerned to

“… work with Country to develop and sustain safe and healthy living for the group, in a manner that enacts the custodial role of humans as caring for Country. This includes minimal disturbance of the land.

Thus far we have not found a more suitable definition published elsewhere, so are using this to guide our explorations of the phenomena of Indigenous/Aboriginal engineering.

Two features of these very different characterizations of engineering have taken primary concern in our work. The first is that all engineers clearly face (and have always faced) the same kinds of problems about such things as: transport, housing, health, generation, preparation and preservation of food. etc. The second is that each one describes quite different ways of interacting with, and conceptualising, ‘Nature’ and ‘Country’. The authors of the Institute of Civil Engineers definition clearly considered ‘Nature’ to exist simply for humanity’s ‘use and convenience’. How their humanity interacts with Nature is evident in the familiar forms of constructions, reshaping and reworking of the landscape for human purposes that we see around us today. Land, from this perspective, is to be owned, worked and used as convenient.

Consequences of applying a Custodial vs an Ownership Mindset

Indigenous engineers used stone to build extensive fish traps at Budj Bim in Victoria and Brewarrina in NSW, (two of many such – Jenkins, 2012). Aboriginal miners conducted extensive operations across Australia (DPI 2007) including at least one site known to have operated continuously for many thousands of years at Wilgie Mia in Western Australia. They also had an array of intensive agricultural activities, all highly attuned to using a low impact engagement with Nature’s varying geographic and climatic conditions (see for example Pascoe 2012, Gammage 2010 and Goonrey, 2012). The distinctive feature of all these activities, is that their management was built on custodial principles, rather than ownership based ones. In doing so, the engineer’s intention was always to cause the least possible harm to Nature.

One consequence of this approach is that such engineering can appear to be ‘less developed’ as assessed by those who do not understand, nor share a belief in, the principles informing its operations. Like any other form of engineering, Indigenous engineering creates desired outcomes (safety, comfort, sustenance etc.) but it does so in ways that align with Nature’s needs (as well as humanity’s) and are therefore highly likely to cause uninformed observers to develop misperceptions about both the quality of the work, and the apparent paucity of the thinking behind it.

In contrast, observed through the lens of Western conditions and expectations, an Indigenous lifestyle could appear ‘primitive’ and the associated engineering ‘invisible’ and therefore non-existent. When designing solutions to problems in order to deliver sustainable solutions Indigenous engineering does not separate ‘humanity’ and ‘country’ – considering them as indivisible. The principle of inter-dependence was primary, and as Sveiby and Skuthorpe (2006) demonstrate, this leads to sustainable solutions of kinds that 21st century engineering is only just beginning to appreciate.

Framing the Connections

Bringing to more general awareness a recognition of the complexity and elegance of Aboriginal engineering solutions will be complex. After much thought and debate three perspectives gradually crystalized, using the concept of ‘ways of knowing’. These three ‘ways of knowing’ that we are incorporating into the current diagram, have both unique and shared qualities, leading to the use of a simple Venn diagram to represent their inter-connectivities.

‘Western ways of knowing’, ‘Engineering ways of knowing’ and ‘Indigenous ways of knowing’ provide the initial framework for the proposed model for ‘developing and implementing elective course content focusing on indigenous cultural appreciation that is applicable to other design oriented fields. The convention in drawing a Venn diagram is to represent the circles as having equal dimensions, but this is only a convention not a fact. Appreciating that ‘essentially all models are wrong and some are useful’ (Box and Draper, 1987) we emphasise that our image is about conceptualising a way of describing relationships among different ways of thinking. It is not a way of quantifying anything. Further it is important to identify and share basic assumptions underpinning this representation. Seeking to frame this project in a manner that acknowledges barriers, values different perspectives and provides for diversity of thinking, the Venn diagram – as presently constituted – represents a key tool for discussion, exploration and development of teaching and learning options.

A Venn diagram to connect Ways of Knowing

HOW anyone knows anything is the result of numerous interactions among many diverse societal influences. In choosing a Venn diagram to represent our model we want to engender debate and discussion at multiple levels of complexity. We begin with three key variables of Engineering, Western[1] and Indigenous ways of knowing.

EAC Concept model

EAC Concept model

Engineers learn to deal with the world, and to work out how to solve human problems, in a manner that creates a uniquely ‘Engineering way of knowing’. Non-engineering team members in the project testify to encountering numerous ways in which it differs from their own disciplinary training.

Western social constructs, built on a particular way of knowing, inform such diverse aspects as language formation, social relationships and connection to the physical world. This is, of course, manifested differently in specific sub-groups called (for example) English, German, Romanian, etc.

Indigenous social constructs, built on a particular way of knowing, inform the language, relationships and connections of more than 200 Indigenous (pre contact) Australian nations.

The three overlaps created by overlapping these three elements are respectively Western/ Engineering, Engineering/Indigenous and Western/Indigenous. The overlap between ‘Western knowing’ and ‘Engineering knowing’ represents the buildings, roads, mines and technical processes etc. that we occupy and see around us in 21st century Australia.

The overlap between ‘Western knowing’ and ‘Indigenous knowing’ represents such shared social characteristics as creation and use of language and social relationships. The overlap between ‘Indigenous knowing’ and ‘Engineering knowing’ represents the shared knowledge with which engineers in both domains, create structures, devise transport routes provide food and clothing.

The Intersection

Finally in that crucial space, where all three ways of knowing intersect and overlap, we find the core focus of the model around which the project’s work is centred. We are calling this simply ‘the intersection’. Its complexity is undoubted. As is its potential for providing effective means for

  • navigating complicated conditions
  • addressing as yet unsolved dilemmas
  • enabling engagement of disconnected and disheartened individuals and groups

There is much more to come on this emerging model!

[1] As the project is occurring within an entirely ‘Western’ mode of academic development it is logical to use this term. Were we in an Asian context a different term would obviously be necessary.


Box, G. E. P., and Draper, N. R., (1987), Empirical Model Building and Response Surfaces, John Wiley & Sons, New York, NY.

DPI (2007) Mining by Aborigines – Australia’s first miners, Department of Primary Industry NSW PrimeFact 572

Goonrey, C (2012) Report on an Aboriginal Land Management Workshop led by Rod Mason a respected Ngarigo elder from the Monaro region of NSW held at Garuwanga via Nimmitabelle NSW – report prepared for National Parks Australia

Graham, Mary (2008) Thoughts about the Philosophical Underpinnings of Aboriginal Worldviews in Australian Humanities Review, Issue 4, ANU E Press Retrieved 22/8/2014 from

Jordan, J W, (2012) The engineering of Budj Bim and the evolution of a societal structure in Aboriginal Australia Institution of Engineers Australia, Australian Journal of Multi-Disciplinary Engineering, Vol 9 No 1

Sveiby, Karl-Erik, Skuthorpe, Tex (2006) Treading Lightly Allen & Unwin, Sydney

What is Engineering – really?

While this seems to be an easy question to address – appearances can deceive. This entry briefly introduces how we are considering the term, and provides a base from which we will introduce and explore the broad and fascinating topic of Aboriginal engineering. The following definitions were our beginning points. Like all good models (and definitions) they are simultaneously useful and wrong – in line with Box and Draper’s (1987) observations in this regard.

Key elements are the –

  • focus on ‘problem-based’ activity
  • solution-seeking orientation
  • design and implementation of solutions to known, and emerging, problems

To these components we are choosing to add one additional factor namely

  • the importance of understanding the beliefs and philosophical bases of cultural factors that influence the shape of engineering as a social practice.

As Senge and others have pointed out – via a model called the ‘ladder of inference’ (see image below)  – the underlying, and essential, components shaping all action are culturally based meanings rooted in observable data and from which we choose specific data that will influence our assumptions. These, in turn,  inform emerging beliefs, and these create actions and visible outcomes.

When any of those initial added meanings come from opposing positions they will lead to – sometimes vastly – differing actions and outcomes. These variations in outcomes are an important element in our emerging understanding of engineering practices and will require thoughtful analysis, as concepts of Aboriginal engineering are further explored in this project.

ladder of inference


Engineering is a problem-based practically oriented discipline, whose practitioners aim to find effective solutions to engineering challenges, technically and economically. Engineering educators operate within a mandate to ensure that graduate engineers understand the practicalities and realities of good engineering practice. While this is a vital goal for the discipline, emerging influences are challenging the focus on ‘hard practicalities’ and requiring recognition of the cultural and social aspects of engineering.[1]

One of the great attractions of engineering work is the huge variety of tasks and environments in which engineers find themselves working.

From designing programs at a computer terminal, to overseeing maintenance operations for major structures like aircraft, ships, heavy earth moving equipment, mobile cranes and offshore oil platforms – there are many ways to be an engineer.

(Engineers Australia website – accessed 9/2/2015)

What is ‘Indigenous Engineering’?

Given that engineering is a problem-based practically oriented discipline, whose practitioners are concerned with finding the most technically and economically effective solutions to practical challenges, the practice of ‘engineering’ is as integral to Indigenous communities as to any other form of human society.

To many Australians the concept of ‘engineering’ is more usually associated with activities of ‘developed nations’ such as Britain was, when Captain Phillip’s convoy arrived in Botany Bay in January 1788. It may therefore be a revelation, to some people, that Aboriginal people were using highly developed, sustainability-based engineering principles and practices, honed over thousands of years of close relationship with the land and ‘country’. In a way it is blindingly obvious to say that there was an engineering component to every aspect of Aboriginal society.

However, in the years since 1788 much knowledge about Indigenous engineering has been lost. The reasons for this, and the implications for present and future management of Australian land, are large and have multiple dimensions, and remain to be fully explored.

As the first entry in this blog notes, initial responses to hearing the term ‘Indigenous/Aboriginal engineering’ include ‘what’s that?’ or ‘what engineering did they have?’ suggesting the term is somehow implausible or invalid. However, evidence for sophisticated Indigenous engineering practices indicates that the major differences between Indigenous and non-Indigenous engineering, are rather more philosophical and societal than technical or practical.

We are proposing that common and shared cultural beliefs influence and shape achievements, as well as the ways in which each national group of engineers develop, their technical skills and attributes.  As we explore and share current understanding of Aboriginal engineering, we expect to illustrate – and hope to discover, or be told about – ways in which these differences influence the nature, visibility and form of Aboriginal engineering practices used throughout Australia. Much of what we are finding will require far more exploration and analysis as this work is developed, and replaced by future research.

Our current work has led to the drafting of a comparable definition of Indigenous engineering practices along the lines of

“… working with Country to develop and sustain safe and healthy living for the group, in a manner that enacts a custodial role for humans of caring for Country, including minimally disturbing the land”. (NB – thus far we have not found a comparable published definition) [1]

Of the many potential differences between this characterization of engineering, and that used by Engineers Australia, we are primarily concerned with two. The first of these concerns the sense of relationship with, and consequent conceptualising of, the physical character of, ‘country’ and ‘nature’. for example, when the Institute of Civil Engineers first defined ‘engineering’ the writer was explicit about ‘nature’ as something that exists for humanity’s ‘use and convenience’. How this humanity  responds to Nature – via the work of engineers – is evident in the constructions, reshaping and reworking of the landscape and its physicality, for human purposes. in different contexts and locations.  For many cultures land is something to be owned, worked and used as convenient. This sense of ‘using Nature for man’s purposes’ is vastly different from Indigenous concepts of relationship with Nature, which reflect a set of expectations about human custodianship of, and caring for, Nature.

Why is it important to understand more about Aboriginal engineering?

Engineering is both a practical approach to providing for social needs, and a means of representing societal beliefs and values through the means of meetings those needs. Engineers’ actions are rooted in cultural assumptions with which they are familiar – there should be no surprise in that. There is however a surprise in recognising the extent to which the cultural precepts of Aboriginal engineers have inadvertently contributed to concealment of the extent of their activity. There is also much to be learned from the demonstration of principles of sustainability. These  are becoming ever more important as modern engineering practices are leading to a re-consideration of  engineering impacts on the land – on ‘country’ as Aboriginal engineers understood it.

It seems, on the evidence available that Aboriginal engineers understood – long before other cultures – the vital importance of ‘treading lightly’ on the earth. Engineering that leaves an apparent sparsity of physical evidence for future exploration may be too easily ignored, if observers are seeking to find things that are like things they know. This has certainly been the case in Australia, and yet it need not continue to be so.

[1] Shared Values: Diverse perspectives – engaging engineering educators in integrating Indigenous engineering knowledge into current curricula Elyssebeth Leigh, Tom Goldfinch, Juliana Kaya Prpic, Les Dawes, Jade Kennedy, Tim McCarthy. Paper presented at AAEE 2014 (Wellington, NZ)

Comparing Engineering disciplines and practices

The table linked to this post, Engineering parallels is the beginning of a set of resources about how Aboriginal engineers addressed similar problems to those facing all other civilisations.

While all Engineers faced the same problems, there was a key difference in the way that their underlying social principles and beliefs created conditions that meant Aboriginal engineers responded to their needs in unique ways, generating very different outcomes and solutions.
The general paradigms of engineering appear settled and familiar. However current engineering concepts are comparatively modern although they may appear settled and long term. Quite inadvertently this project is unsettling many taken-for-granted assumptions and beliefs about how to think about engineering and Aboriginal culture.

For example one taken-for-granted widely held assumption is that Aboriginal people did not have ‘engineering’ or maths knowledge.  Visual features of engineering projects  installed and maintained by generations of Aboriginal nations were so utterly unfamiliar to newly arrived European observers and settlers, making them largely  unrecognisable and  invisible to untutored eyes. European perceptions of terms like ‘built’ and ‘manufactured’ and ‘installed’ simply did not encompass what they were observing. Therefore it was simple, and very easy, to dismiss from cognition any allowance for concepts of ‘Aboriginal engineering’. And as European practices gained dominance, Aboriginal knowledge and engineering achievements were gradually decimated, damaged or lost entirely.
Developing a set of resources providing evidence for Aboriginal engineering achievements gradually became an inevitable task, and an important component of the products of this project. The attached table combines a list of Engineers Australia’s recognised engineering disciplines (including short descriptors) with examples of equivalent Aboriginal practices that can be clearly equated with the descriptors – web links about each example are also included in the table.

The table is not yet complete, and will form the basis of further work on this project. There is more information to be gathered about  the elements listed in the Table; and many other exemplars of Aboriginal engineering are available on the Internet. The project team is now commissioning a ‘resources register’ for collecting and collating this information, and making it more easily accessible as engineering data as well as linking the information back to all the other disciplines that have been collecting it.

We can’t claim that any of this information is new or even surprising. We do believe that identifying as ‘Engineering principles, knowledges and practices’ the work involved in each of these examples is a new and ground breaking way of re-appraising Aboriginal achievements.

What do you mean ‘Indigenous Engineering’?


This Blog is a public access source for anyone who is interested in the work of the OLT project titled ‘Engineering Across Cultures‘. The project is focusing on  advising on ways to create inclusive learning environments for Indigenous students in Engineering Faculites. And – by extension – it aims to contribute to The field of Engineering knowledge a means of acquiring and consolidating information about the engineering expertise of Aboriginal peoples living in Australia for the more than 40,000 years prior to the arrival of Western concepts of engineering in the period after the 16th century.

The Question

The question of ‘What is Aboriginal Engineering?’ has been the most frequently asked  first question, when people hear the mention of ‘Aboriginal Engineering’ in regard to the work of this project. So it is a good place to begin.

What is Engineering?

Human beings have ‘engineered’ our environment for millennia, to create places, tools and means for safety and survival. Over time we have extended our engagement with the environment in many ways, some more destructive than others. At its most basic the term ‘engineering‘ refers to the means by which humans interact with the places where we live, in regard to altering, adjusting, building and adapting them to suit our needs.

Today, after about 250 years of formalised structuring of engineering knowledge, the generally accepted meaning of ‘engineering’ has largely come to be applied to visible, large scale alterations and adaptations of the environment. So those who feel the need to ask ‘what is Aboriginal Engineering!’ are revealing that they have no frame of reference with which to can engage with such a concept. Most, however, are quick to appreciate the explanation provided in the preceding paragraph, and then are delighted and often amazed to learn about the scope and nature of the examples of ‘Aboriginal engineering’ that we have been collating.

How is it ‘the same’?

Aboriginal engineers manipulated ‘country’ for human ends and purposes in exactly the same way as any other group of Engineers anywhere in the world  – most of the time! As tribes and nations, they cut into the earth, reshaped water flow, blended materials and manipulated them to produce new products.  What they did not share with other, more familiar forms of Engineering, were perceptions about the appropriateness of making visible the impact on the environment. Aboriginal Engineering was built on a very different set of philosophies and principles which are summarised neatly in the title of Karl-Erik Svieby and Tex Skuthorpe’s book – Treading Lightly (2006 Karl-Erik Sveiby and Tex Skuthorpe, Allen & Unwin, Sydney).

How is it ‘different’?

While there is still – too often – a public expression of the belief there is no evidence of ‘engineering’ for example, in Sydney Harbour before January 1788, there was in fact a great deal of engineering (see for example the work of Bill Zgammage in The Largest Rstate on Earth). The Difference between more ‘familiar’ examples of ‘Engineering’ and Aboriginal Engineering, is that the latter was conducted in close harmony with the land and with the guiding principle of ‘minimum impact’ – and was thus largely ‘invisible’ to those who could only see with eyes adjusted to seeing impactful constructions as signals of engineering activity. This absence of recognition could be considered as a kind of ‘perceptual blindness’.  New arrivals on the Australian continent pissessed no relevant perceptual or philosophical frame of reference for the engineering they were [not] seeing.

What was this project to be about?

The key outcomes and deliverables for this project, as stated in the original OLT application, are as follows:

  1. A set of guidelines detailing indigenous cultural values and their relationship to engineering education and engineering epistemology and design.
  2. Strategies for teaching STEM related content that will accommodate different ways of perceiving and valuing ideas, objects and contexts
  3. Strategies for restructuring highly technical subjects to incorporate deliverable 2, above.
  4. A model for the development and implementation of elective course content focusing on indigenous cultural appreciation that is applicable to other design oriented fields.
  5. An elective subject that links indigenous perspectives on country and connectedness to local engineering projects.

What is being added to the project outcomes?

As we worked we began to conclude that achieving these outcomes also, inevitably, involves developing resources to re-discover the nature of Aboriginal Engineering’ as a set of principles and practices – in their own right – and integrating these into the means by which we present the project deliverables.

Our Invitation

This Blog is a place where we will share the results of our work, and seek input from readers. We look forward to connecting with everyone who visits and/or who is interested in re-establishing a broad general knowledge of Indigenous Engineering, and perhaps re-writing some of oru nation’s history as we do so.

You are cordially invited to share the link to this site, contribute your ideas and questions, and challenge our assertions and concepts. It was through questions that we began this journey of exploration. We hope that more questions lead to new ideas, sites, concepts and a growing awareness of the amazing engineering that has influenced the Australian landscape in ways that were once well understood, and – we hope – can be again.