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UC research projects bring in Indigenous voices

Marcus Butler

23 February 2016: Tackling the incidence of scabies in remote communities and reviving a 350-kilometre trade route are two of a set of projects to receive research funding through the University of Canberra's Collaborative Indigenous Research Initiative (UC CIRI).

The University's recently appointed Dean of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership and Strategy, Professor Peter Radoll said UC CIRI is emerging as a strong network of researchers, who are keenly committed to undertake Indigenous research.

"Importantly, UC CIRI's work places engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities at the centre, making collaboration one of its core aims," Professor Radoll said.

"To conduct research side-by-side with the people you are focused on, with the shared intention to increase understanding and make a real difference in their lives is a wonderful approach to research and one which we know that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been seeking for a long time."

UC CIRI has committed a total of $260,376 to four projects announced today by Professor Peter Radoll.

These UC CIRI projects all engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers, Elders and community members as well as non-Indigenous researchers across the University and other institutions.

Additional funding support will be provided by UC CIRI towards research projects, Indigenous Honours scholarships and Indigenous PhD scholars later in the year.

Learn more about the projects:

A research project reviving knowledge of a 350-kilometre trade route from the NSW Far-South Coast and creating a gateway precinct has received $85,000 in funding from UC CIRI.

The work will focus on the Bundian Way, a traditional Aboriginal trade route between the Far South Coast region in NSW and Mount Kosciuszko in the Snowy Mountains.

The project led by assistant professor of cultural heritage Scott Heyes will engage with the Eden Local Aboriginal Land Council and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Far South Coast Office about the 350-kilometre Bundian Way trail system which was used to trade food, goods and tools by local indigenous people.

"We are conducting extensive interviews of locals about the trail and will follow that with the development of designs and installations to create a new gateway precinct to the Bundian Way.

"I'm very excited about this project, we're engaging with local Aboriginal leaders in their communities from the beginning, right through to the delivery of this new gateway," Dr Heyes said.

Learn more about the Bundian Way project via the UC CIRI projects page.

Receiving a UC CIRI grant, worth $100,000 this study is trialling the use of natural and native tea-tree oil in treating scabies infection, which is prevalent in remote Indigenous communities.

Assistant professor of pharmacy Dr Jackson Thomas, who is leading this research, said he's excited about this project.

"Scabies affects about 6 in 10 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in Australia at any given time, more than six times the rate seen in the rest of the developed world. It also predisposes affected children to renal and rheumatic heart disease.

"We're engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders in their communities from the beginning and designing the research project in a collaborative approach.

"Positive results in this trial this would provide evidence for a simple, affordable and effective treatment for a population with a significant public health burden," Dr Thomas said.

Learn more about Dr Jackson's study - via the UC CIRI projects page.

Almost $40,000 in UC CIRI funding will contribute to a project examining the use of 'deficit metrics' in statistics and other official attempts to describe and quantify achievement in Indigenous education.

Associate professor of communication Dr Kerry McCallum, who is leading this research, said the project will gauge whether there is a negative emphasis in such descriptions.

"We will assess whether the way education and policy officials frame Indigenous educational achievements over-represents presumed failures or deficits," Dr McCallum said.

"This work will be the first in Australia to investigate the construction of education measurements and their impact on policy discourse and educational practice."

Dr McCallum will work alongside Scott Gorringe on the study. Mr Gorringe is a Mithaka man from South West Queensland, Director of MurriMatters and responsible for the Engoori educational program.

Learn more about the Deficit Metrics project via the UC CIRI projects page.

A project to investigate of the relationship between Aboriginal people and the landscape, with a focus on Cullunghutti Mountain (Mount Coolangatta) near the Shoalhaven Heads community has received $35,724 in funding from UC CIRI. 

Researchers from the University's Centre for Creative and Cultural Research along with Indigenous students will work with up to 20 local Aboriginal people, drawing on memories, stories and soundscapes about the mountain.

Associate professor of creative and cultural practice and lead investigator Bethaney Turner said the mountain is an important part of the Dreaming of local Aboriginal groups.

"Our team aims to collect, and celebrate contemporary Aboriginal memories of the region through the use of 'yarning,' a process that ties in closely with the oral traditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We will also walk the mountain together to stir the memories and stories held by these cultural custodians," Dr Turner said.

"Our project is also committed to building the research capacity of the University's Indigenous students. The project engages up-and-coming indigenous researchers in a collaborative project with opportunities for mentoring and skill development. We want to inspire these students to consider post-graduate study and research as a career so they can encourage greater indigenous participation in higher education."

Learn more about the Cullunghutti project via the UC CIRI projects page.