Blekbala (Indigenous) way and Munanga (non-Indigenous) way: cross-cultural knowledge for enhanced understanding of freshwater Country in south east Arnhem Land, northern Australia
Cross-cultural (from different knowledge systems) research, using participatory methodologies is gaining increasing recognition as an approach to address complex environmental management issues. Collaborations with Indigenous knowledge holders can enhance our understanding of socio-ecological systems and addresses power imbalances, issues of equality and social justice in colonised landscapes. This thesis showcases a co-research partnership between a University scientist, Elders of the remote Aboriginal community of Ngukurr in northern Australia and the Ngukurr Yangbala Rangers, a group of Indigenous young people from Ngukurr. The thesis brings together Indigenous knowledge and Western science for enhanced understanding of the importance and impacts of feral ungulates (particularly Bubalus bubalis (water buffalo)) on billabongs in northern Australia.
The thesis begins by exploring the Indigenous values of billabongs and the impasse between these values and global typologies for assessing cultural values of ecosystems. This thesis then uses a cross-cultural approach to assess the eco-cultural condition of and feral ungulate impacts on billabongs frequently used by residents of Ngukurr community. The following chapter assesses the drinking water safety of billabongs through analysis of water samples for enteric pathogens Cryptosporidium and Giardia. The thesis then moves into the analysis of water buffalo faecal samples for enteric pathogens Cryptosporidium and Giardia. Finally, I provide a methodological reflection on the cross-cultural participatory action research (PAR) approach adopted.
This research revealed that billabongs are part of a reciprocal human-nature ontology, that ecological condition of billabongs in the region have undergone significant transformations in people’s lifetimes and that feral ungulates are one of the primary drivers of this change. Indigenous people make decisions about water quality and drinking water safety by sensory indicators, seasonal knowledge and intuition. Furthermore, zoonotic (human infective) pathogen G. duodenalis assemblage E was found in buffalo faecal samples collected near billabongs around Ngukurr that people drink from. Importantly the PAR approach resulted in cross-cultural knowledge exchange, capacity building and facilitated the intergenerational transfer of knowledge by involving multiple generations. This thesis has implications for Indigenous use of billabongs and management of feral ungulates in northern Australia, and provides a worked example of the benefits of cross-cultural socio-ecological research.