Science and tradition combine in island studies

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Science and tradition combine in island studies


USC lecturer Dr Gabriel Conroy (far right) and Butchulla elder Ian Wheeler (4th from left) with volunteers on a research trip to Fraser Island.

24 June 2016

An Indigenous elder will add a unique perspective to the University of the Sunshine Coast’s scientific studies of the rare sand formations and ecosystems of World Heritage-listed Fraser Island (K’gari).

Respected Butchulla elder Ian Wheeler will join USC Lecturer in Environmental Science Dr Gabriel Conroy in leading a week-long field trip of 20 students to the world’s largest sand island starting Monday 27 June.

Dr Conroy said this was an exceptional opportunity to embed the rich culture and knowledge of the island’s traditional owners into USC’s K’gari-Fraser Island Field Studies course.

“Australian Indigenous cultures have a strong, long history of environmental stewardship, and anything that we can do to try to salvage some of this deep lore and knowledge is a positive and valuable experience for students and academic staff,” he said.

Mr Wheeler has worked with Dr Conroy on previous research projects on the island, including a trip with a team of volunteers to collect dingo scats for genetic studies.

“On that trip, everyone really benefited from the privilege of having a Butchulla elder present, which gave me the idea to see if Ian would help us conduct interpretive tours of the island for our students,” Dr Conroy said.

Mr Wheeler said there were a number of traditional Butchulla messages that he would share with the students, including advice to “leave only footprints”.

“We need all young ones to research and work on sustainable outcomes for all of Mother Earth's species as each has a vital role to play in keeping the land healthy,” he said.

Mr Wheeler said he was inspired by Dr Conroy’s passion and commitment for the environment to become involved in his research projects and field trips.

“It gives hope for future generations, which is why I share my knowledge with those seeking to make positive change for our future and the young ones that will inherit what we leave behind.”

The K’gari-Fraser Island Field Studies course is designed to develop students’ scientific knowledge of the island, which is a globally significant example of geological processes and biological evolution.

During the field trip, the students will be based at USC’s Fraser Island Research and Learning Centre at Dilli Village. Another field trip will be held in November.

— Clare McKay

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