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The Discovery Indigenous scheme

The Discovery Indigenous scheme

Jennifer Green

Supporting the preservation of threatened languages, fostering oyster resilience to global environmental change, predicting firestorms, building the self-esteem of Aboriginal youth, and tracing the genetic history of Australia. These are just a few of the diverse projects funded under the Discovery Indigenous scheme, an integral component of the Australian Research Council’s support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers and research.

The Australian Research Council’s Discovery Indigenous scheme provides funding for research led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers. The scheme is one element of the ARC’s National Competitive Grants Program (NCGP) Discovery Program—which supports excellent, internationally-competitive research by individuals and teams. In the latest round of the Discovery Indigenous scheme, the ARC awarded over $6.7 million to twelve projects. 

In 2019, a team of researchers led by Dr Laura Parker from The University of Sydney was awarded $534,254 to investigate the impact of global environmental change on the survival of Australia’s oyster industry. Dr Parker is combining the sciences of genetics, physiology and ecology to identify the traits of resilient oysters. She is collaborating with other Australian universities, the NSW Department of Primary Industries and the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research. Her research is now a key part of the Sydney rock oyster breeding program to help ‘climate-proof’ the largest aquaculture industry in NSW, worth $40 million annually. The ARC has provided long-term funding for research into the protection of the oyster industry; Dr Parker was also awarded funding under the Discovery Indigenous scheme in 2014, and its predecessor scheme the Discovery Indigenous Researchers Development scheme in 2010.

Jennifer Green
In the past five years, the ARC has awarded over $150.7 million under the NCGP to projects relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research. Ms Elizabeth Ellis, from The Australian National University, was awarded $480,227 through the Discovery Indigenous scheme in 2015. Ms Ellis’ work involves close collaboration with non-Indigenous academics (including Jennifer Green, Inge Kral and Jane Simpson), as well as with Aboriginal community groups. Her research is fostering the development of strategies to support the maintenance and revitalisation of the endangered verbal art forms used by Ngaanyatjarra and Ngaatjatjarra peoples from the Western Desert.

The Discovery Indigenous scheme funds Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers undertaking projects in all disciplines and relating to any topic. Associate Professor Jason Sharples’ team, from The University of New South Wales, was awarded $404,000 in 2016 to improve the prediction of firestorms by combining state-of-the-art knowledge of dynamic bushfire behaviour with atmospheric models. Better understanding of extreme fire processes will help to improve mitigation planning, community safety, environmental outcomes and emergency response measures.


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers, at all career stages, can apply for salary and project funding under the Discovery Indigenous scheme. Dr Raymond Tobler from The University of Adelaide and his team employ genomic data and contextual/genealogical information from museum archives to improve our understanding of Australia’s pre-European history. Dr Tobler was awarded a Discovery Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Award (DAATSIA) in 2016. The DAATSIA provides salary support, at one of five salary levels (commensurate with Level A–Level E), in conjunction with project funding. In 2018, a team of researchers led by Dr Tobler was awarded $512,688, also under the Discovery Indigenous scheme, to investigate Sahul, the landmass previously connecting Australia and Papua New Guinea. Dr Tobler has also been awarded a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award for funding commencing in 2019. The ARC is committed to supporting the development of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research workforce, including postgraduate research students. Uniquely under the NCGP, Discovery Indigenous scheme funding is available to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander honours students.


Fostering collaborative research partnerships is a key element of the Discovery Indigenous scheme including, where relevant to the project, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities. In 2018, a research project led by Professor Cheryl Kickett-Tucker at Curtin University was awarded $1,306,807, including a DAATSIA, through the Discovery Indigenous scheme. She is conducting her research in collaboration with Pindi Pindi Ltd, an Aboriginal research organisation. Projects funded under this scheme must be led by an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander researcher, however collaboration with both Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers and partner organisations is supported. Professor Kickett-Tucker’s work involves the development, implementation and evaluation of Cultural Learnings, a program designed to secure the transfer of knowledge from Aboriginal Elders and carers to children within school environments. The project is aiming to strengthen the cultural knowledge and self-esteem of urban Aboriginal children. Professor Kickett-Tucker’s research is designed to encourage improved awareness in relation to identity and culture among carers, and to strengthen the responses of Aboriginal children to experiences of racism. 

children group
Through research projects such as these, ARC-funded Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers are contributing economic, commercial, environmental, social and cultural benefits to both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and to the Australian community as a whole.

Applications for the current round of the Discovery Indigenous scheme close on 27 March 2019.

Further information about the ARC’s support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers and research can be accessed through the ARC’s Statement of Support and Action Plan and Reconciliation Action Plan.


Image information:

Plate of oysters. Credit: Chris Chen (CC BY-ND 2.0).
Dr Inge Kral (far right) and Elizabeth Marrkilyi Ellis with Ngaatjatjarra and Ngaanyatjarra speakers in Western Australia.Credit: Jennifer Green (supplied by Elizabeth Ellis).
Bushfire. Credit: Bert Knottenbeld (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Map of Australia. Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA 1.0)
Group of children. Credit: DJ_Mun (Public Domain).

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