Linkage Projects 2020 Round 3 Announcement Banner

Translating Australia’s past for a modern audience

Translating Australia’s past for a modern audience

Investigators at the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH) have used their research into the history of Australia to tell stories from around the country dating back tens of thousands of years.

Several of the Centre’s projects have recently been featured in The First Inventors documentary television series, exploring the convergence of Western science with Indigenous knowledge and sciences.

CABAH was funded in 2017 through the ARC’s Centres of Excellence scheme, which brings together high-quality researchers to maintain and develop the national standard of research in priority areas.

“Centres of Excellence are our most prestigious funding scheme and highly sought after, as we only fund around a dozen during each round,” ARC CEO Ms Judi Zielke PSM said. “CABAH received just under $34 million, and it’s great to see that the Centre is using really innovative approaches in relation to translating its research.”

“Just as research itself is important for discovering new things, it’s really important that the translation of that research actually improves the lives of our community as well,” Ms Zielke said.

Centres of Excellence like CABAH are pioneering new ways of working in partnership with Indigenous communities. Distinguished Professor Sean Ulm, a Chief Investigator at the Centre, says the goal is a process of co-design where researchers develop questions in collaboration with Traditional Owners.

“CABAH’s objective has been to partner with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to conduct research on Country and in laboratories, to tell the globally significant and culturally inclusive history of Australia,” said Professor Ulm. “One of the defining features of CABAH is working with Traditional Owners using methods that are respectful of different ways of viewing and knowing the world.”

The Centre’s collaborative approach is one of the reasons Distinguished Professor Larissa Behrendt, who was the Director of The First Inventors, wanted to partner with CABAH as the primary research partner for the series.

“They have a really good understanding of the importance of outputs from research that go beyond just academic articles, and inevitably the outcomes of their research are going to have meaning and impact on the aspirations of those First Nations communities,” said Professor Behrendt.

“To have a research partnership that wasn’t so singular, and because of the nature of this Centre of Excellence, being multifaceted and multidisciplined, people could see how their own slice of research fitted into a broader narrative.”

One of CABAH’s legacies will be its Research Training and Ethics program, which offers professional development opportunities to all Centre members, from PhD candidates to Chief Investigators. Ngarrindjeri early career researcher Dr Christopher Wilson, who features in The First Inventors, says being part of the Centre has given him access to researchers and disciplines he may not have encountered otherwise.

“Building those networks has been a really fundamental step for me — getting to know who’s who in these disciplines and the work that they do and how that can contribute to telling a story of the past,” said Dr Wilson. “I think this series has given a glimpse into the kind of work that researchers and Indigenous communities from CABAH do, and hopefully, people will be excited and hungry for more.”

To find out more about the ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, visit their website:

For more information on the ARC’s Centre of Excellence scheme, visit:

The First Inventors can be streamed online through SBS On-Demand or 10Play.

Credits: Images and video supplied by Queensland Museum, Channel10/NITV, Paul Jones (UOW), Ryan North (UOW), and CABAH members Aara Welz, Ariana Lambrides, Haidee Cadd, Jacqueline Wales, and Richard ‘Bert’ Roberts.

Back to top