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Biocultural Knowledge – NT Botanical series, RIG News Aug. 2012

2012 October 30
by anthea
Glenn Wightman and Jessie Roberts

Story from RIG News – August 2012

Recording Traditional Knowledge – For language, culture, people and posterity…

Biocultural Knowledge Diversity

Story, images and publications list kindly provided by Glenn Wightman who is an Ethnobiologist with the Department of Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport, Northern Territory Government.

Australia is home to the oldest living human biocultural knowledge on Earth. Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory are the most culturally intact and linguistically diverse knowledge custodians in Australia. Biocultural knowledge of plants and animals represents Australia’s most threatened biological and cultural heritage.

Glenn Wightman from the Biodiversity Conservation division has been assisting senior biocultural knowledge custodians since 1982, and full-time since 1989, to record and promote this knowledge in a scientifically sound and culturally sensitive manner.

Books detailing the biocultural knowledge of 30 Aboriginal languages have been published, and work continues with another 14 languages to document knowledge.

Cross-cultural research aimed at preserving and promoting plant and animal knowledge is undertaken on country with community support and involvement at all levels.

Knowledge documenting projects are only undertaken in response to a request for help to provide scientific support to the elders. The books published as a result of this research have included 142 Aboriginal elders as co-authors.

The project has set bench-mark standards in the recognition of the importance of biocultural knowledge, the respect of the elders who maintain this knowledge, the quality and detail of the knowledge documented and the presentation of the knowledge. The project has received local, national and international awards and recognition for its cross-cultural research.

The deeply respectful relationship between western science and traditional biocultural knowledge that is manifested in this project has also incorporated visual art, seasonal knowledge, artefact knowledge, Dreamtime stories and various other knowledge systems into the documentation.

Materials produced are widely used in local schools to develop culturally appropriate curriculum, books are also widely used for land management purposes by rangers, scientists and elders.

Due to the history of settlement in the Northern Territory many Aboriginal languages are currently experiencing a period of catastrophic biocultural knowledge loss as elders pass away. These elders represent the last living generation who grew up in times of a more or less traditional hunting and gathering lifestyle on country. They have unique, language specific biocultural knowledge from their childhood.

Much of the biocultural knowledge recorded relates to bush tucker, both plants and animals. Many of the plant bush foods can be grown in a garden situation, though many elders prefer to get their favourite food from the bush.

Contact Glenn Wightman, Ethnobiologist, phone 08 8999 4513 / 0428 184 028, glenn.wightman (at)

Biocultural knowledge books in the NT Botanical Bulletin series

The Northern Territory Botanical Bulletin series is the official journal of the NT Herbaria in Darwin and Alice Springs (DNA and NT). It has been produced since 1976, some of the books are unavailable as they have all been sold. The NTBBs that relate to biocultural knowledge are outlined below. To discuss availability contact Glenn Wightman.

No.            Short title; year of publication            availability / cost

6            Ethnobotany, Vegetation and Floristics of Milingimbi; 1989.             $5

10            Ethnobotanical notes from Belyuen; 1990.                         $5

11            Alawa ethnobotany from Minyerri;1991.                         $5

14            Mudburra ethnobotany from Kulumindini (Elliott); 1992.             $10

15            Mangarrayi ethnobotany from the Elsey area; 1992.             $10

16            Ngarinyman ethnobotany from the Victoria River; 1993.             $10

18            Gurindji ethnobotany from Daguragu; 1994.             $10

21            Rirratjingu ethnobotany from Yirrkala; 1995.             out of print

22            Ngan’gi ethnobotany from the Daly River; 1995.             out of print

23            Iwaidja ethnobotany from Gurig National Park; 1998.             out of print

24            Tiwi plants and animals from Bathurst/Melville; 2001.             $40

25            Wardaman plant and animal knowledge, Flora River; 1999.            out of print

26            MalakMalak & Matngala plants and animals, Daly River; 2001.             $20

29             Jawoyn plants and animals, Nitmiluk and Katherine; 2005.             Jawoyn Association

30             Wagiman plants and animals from the Daly River; 2006.             $20

31            Mangroves of the NT: identification and traditional use; 2006.             $20

32            Marri Ngarr & Magati Ke plants and animals, Moyle R; 2009.             BIITE

33            Warray plants and animals, Adelaide/Finniss Rivers; 2009.             $20

34            Ngarinyman plants and animals, Judbarra / Gregory NP; 2010.            $20

35             Uunguu plants and animals, north-west Kimberley; 2011.                   WGAC

36            Jaru plants and animals, western Top End, 2010.                                    KLRC

38            Jaminjung, Ngaliwurru and Nungali plants and animals, 2011            $20

39             Mangarrayi and Yangman plants and animals, Elsey NP, 2011            $20

40             Bilinarra, Gurindji and Malngin plants and animals, 2012                being printed 2012

41             Dalabon plants and animals from south Arnhem Land, 2012            being printed 2012

Pictured: Jessie Roberts and Glenn Wightman with the recently printed Mangarrayi and Yangman plants and animals book at Jilkminggan. Jessie and Glenn worked together from 1989 to 2011 recording knowledge, along with 20 other Mangarrayi elders

3 Responses Post a comment
  1. Charlotte permalink
    January 8, 2014

    Thanks for this great post. I have now bought quite a few of the books from this list, and they are awesome!

  2. Jamey Dowie permalink
    June 21, 2014

    Hi There

    Am I able to purchase this book?

    No 6 Ethnobotany, Vegetation and Floristics of Milingimbi; 1989. $5

  3. Jamey Dowie permalink
    June 21, 2014

    Aslo this one ?

    No 16 Ngarinyman ethnobotany from the Victoria River; 1993. $10

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