Aboriginal knowledge and perspectives into Science and Engineering


Flinders University is committed to including Aboriginal knowledge and views into its teaching of Science and Engineering. We invite you to discuss what the community would like to see taught and what we can do together to set up a centre of Indigenous knowledge to share and preserve.

Help Us!

Send your suggestions and information to:

Dr Denise de Vries
School of CSEM Flinders University
GPO Box 2100 Adelaide SA 5001
Email: denise.devries@flinders.edu.au


LowerMurray Seven Sisters
Milky Way
Kaurna: Wodliparri
Ngarrindjeri: Ngurunderi Yuki
Seven Sisters
Adnyamathanha: Magara
Ngarrindjeri: Wurruwarrin


Name Author Link

Aboriginal Cosmic Landscape - SEE ABSTRACT Philip A. Clarke Open
Astronomy and Australian Indigenous People Adele Pring Open
The Sun and Moon Adele Pring Open
In Search of Aboriginal Astronomy Ray Norris Open
Searching for The Astronomy of Aboriginal Australians - SEE ABSTRACT Ray P. Norris Open
Astronomy in Aboriginal Culture - SEE ABSTRACT Ragbir Bhathal Open
ADNYAMATHANHA Night Skies Paul Curnow Open
KAURNA Night Skies Paul Curnow Open
Dreaming the Stars Haynes Open

Useful links


Traditional Engineering


A spear thrower that acts as an extension of the arm providing increased speed, power and range for the spear. Woomeras are multipurpose tools that can be fitted with a stone cutting tool or an axe-like attachment. With a good woomera, you can hunt, chop firewood, cut down branches to make a shelter or butcher meat. It is lightweight and easy to carry around.
A woomera and spear were the fastest weapons in the world before the invention of the self-loading rifle ” (Eric Willmot).
"Woomera" was adopted as an appropriate name for the rocket launching range and associated settlement in outback South Australia.


- Roy Coulthard, an Adnyamathanha man, show how he makes a boomerang
- Why a Boomerang Flies

Notable Engineers

- Dr Eric Willmot (1936- )      Expand || Compress

Dr. Eric P Willmot AM is a prominent Aboriginal Australian author, academic, illustrator, inventor and engineer. Eric was born in southern Queensland, moved frequently in childhood, attending primary school at various places in Queensland and the Northern Territory. Instead of attending secondary school he worked as a drover and horse-breaker in remote parts of northern Australia. After serious injury in a rodeo accident, he returned to study and graduated from Newcastle University, spending a decade thereafter as a teacher of mathematics. After completing a master's degree in education planning, he joined the Commonwealth Department of Education, where he was particularly concerned with Aboriginal education. In 1978 he was appointed to the then Canberra College of Advanced Education as lecturer and later moved to the ANU to work on a project on Indigenous teacher training. Principal of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies 1981-84, he has subsequently had a prominent career as an academic and public servant, including a period as professor of education at James Cook University (1985-87) and as secretary of the ACT Department of Education and the Arts (1987-92).
He has published a novel, Pemulwuy: The Rainbow Warrior (1987), which celebrates the life of a heroic leader of the Eora people of the Sydney region who first encountered the shock of White settlement, and a thriller, Below the Line (1991).
Willmot has published in a number of disciplines, including anthropology, and in 1981 won the Inventor of the Year Award and has twice been awarded the Medaille d'Or at Geneva (1981 and 2005) in mechanical engineering was awarded an Advance Australia award for his work in automotive engineering.
Some of the patent applications for his inventions are:

  • Pitch transfer gear and transmission
  • Gear profile for orbital gear transmissions, and orbital gear transmission and winches utilising orbital gear transmissions
  • Double orbital transmission
  • A motor for driving a propeller including a phase adjuster for altering the pitch of the propeller blades
  • Phase controller and variable valve timing mechanism
  • Variable Drive for Marine Application
... and many more!

- David Unaipon (1872-1967)   Expand || Compress

David Unaipon, a Ngarrindjeri man, was an inventor, writer and preacher. Unaipon took out provisional patents for 19 inventions but was unable to afford to get any of his inventions fully patented.
His most successful invention Provisional Patent 15624-09, a shearing machine that converted curvilineal motion into the straight line movement which is the basis of modern mechanical shears, was introduced without Unaipon receiving any financial return and little credit.
He was also known as the “Australian Leonardo da Vinci” for his mechanical ideas, which included pre WWI drawings for a helicopter design based on the principle of the boomerang and his research into the polarisation of light and harnessing the secret of perpetual motion.

  • Centrifugal motor
  • Multi-radial wheel
  • Mechanical propulsion device
Biography (full record) http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/unaipon-david-8898



Name Author Link

Facts and Fallacies of Aboriginal Number System John Harris Open
Australian Aboriginal and Islander Mathematics John Harris Open
Counting at PULARUMPI Robert W. McRoberts Open
Symbiosis or Cultural Clash? - SEE ABSTRACT Tamsin Meaney Open
Numerical Thought With and Without Words - SEE ABSTRACT Brian Butterworth, Robert Reeve, Fiona Reynolds, and Delyth Lloyd Open
Numerical Thought Supporting Information Open
Does Mathematics Education in Australia Devalue Indigenous Culture? Chris Matthews, Leesa Watego, Tom J Cooper, Annette R Baturo Open

Useful links

Science and Technology

Information Representation

Message sticks

Throughout Australia, Aboriginals had over 200 different languages and 600 dialects. Communication of information by letter to all these different groups was often through a message stick. It was usually a solid piece of wood, around 20 to 30cm in length, etched with angular lines and dots. Each stick was carved in a way that would help the carrier remember the message and prove to the recipient that the information was genuine. Message sticks meant that a complex or very long message could be communicated between people. This was supported by people who were multilingual and used as translators.
Message sticks are passed between different clans and language groups to establish information and transmit messages. They are often used to invite neighbouring groups to corroborees, set-fights and ball games.
Jeannie Gunn wrote about life at a station at Mataranka in the Northern Territory in 1902:

Then he showed me a little bit of stick with notches on it, and said it was a blackfellow's letter-stick, or, as he called it, a yabber-stick. It was round, not flat like most other letters, and was an invitation to a corroboree; and there were notches on it explaining what sort of corroboree it was, and saying that it was to be held at Duck Creek. There was some other news marked on it...
The Little Black Princess a true tale of life in the Never-Never land, Mrs Aeneas Gunn, p 54, Alexander Moring ; Melville and Mullen, London : Melbourne, 1906


Art is a means of communication or expression in different forms such as rock engravings, cave paintings and designs cut into trees, wooden articles such as boomerangs and on their bodies (scarification). The symbols of the artwork are expressions of their beliefs, the Dreamtime and Dreaming stories or in some cases were records of specific events. Whatever is drawn, engraved or painted onto such surfaces as sand, earth, rock, trees or wood has significant meanings to the artist.
For example of symbols in art visit: Aboriginal Art Store

Useful links