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.