Welcome! ~ Sonia Hankova ~ Education/Art/Science ~ E-Mail: sonia.hankova@gmail.com ~ Phone: +61 425 703 860

Indigenous stories

Indigenous peoples of Australia hold a profound spiritual connection with the land; from their perspectives, the land is alive (Whitehouse, Watkin Lui, Sellwood, Barrett, & Chigeza, 2014) — people belong to land, rather than land to people, and every aspect of their lives is connected to it (Grim, 2001). Their interdependent relationship to land and Country reflects in the very essence of Aboriginal peoples’ belief structure and their subsequent social organisations (Ward, Reys, Davies, & Roots, 2003).

It may be difficult for us while folk to relate to these concepts, as unfortunately, these are not our ways of living and seeing the world. However, if we are to live more sustainably, it is crucial that we become more aware and embracing of multiple perspectives, including being open to indigenous ontologies and epistemologies that we have so much to learn from. In order to begin to dismantle the long tracing effects of colonialism and Westernised points of view (Whitehouse et al., 2014) we need to understand the meanings and importance of Country to Aboriginal Australians.

Country is multidimensional ...

... it is a ‘place of origin, literally, culturally and spiritually; it is a shorthand for all the values, places, resources, stories, and cultural obligations associated with … [a] geographical area’ (Whitehouse et al., 2014, p. 58); country can be seen as a ‘nourishing terrain, a place that gives and receives life … it consists of people, animals, plants, Dreamings, underground, earth soils, minerals and waters, surface water, and air'.


… 'Country has origins and future; it exists both in and through time. Humans were created for each country, and human groups hold the view that they are an extremely important part of the life of their country' (Rose, 1999, p. 177) — they 'talk to country in the same way they would talk about a person: they speak to country, they sing to country, visit country, worry about country, feel for country and long for country’ (Rose, 1996, p. 7).

This remains true despite displacement, dispossession, and genocide of Australian Indigenous people and cultures since colonisation, and has profound implications for an Australian understanding of relationship to place (Somerville et al., 2011).

Indigenous influences at Heide displace the Reeds as the dominant culture and offer alternative perspectives for exploring sustainability. Discourses about Country, local Indigenous knowledge and culture transport us to a ‘zone of contestation’ (Somerville, 2010, p. 342) —  through deconstructing the dominant storylines we can create a space between grounded physical reality (that we know best) and the metaphysical space of representations embedded in space, place and time... This intersection of western and non-western epistemologies highlights the tradition of indigenous science that sees all forms of life and non-life as inseparably connected, confronting the great binaries of western thought (Somerville, 2010), allowing us to understand, that we are all just a part of one big process.

Aboriginal stories of Heide bring us closer to feeling ‘ecological connectivity’ — a ‘sense of embodied existence between people and place’ (Somerville, 2010, p. 337), experienced though 'being' in the native botany alongside its evolutionary, social and cultural histories.

  • Focus questions:
  • Why is indigenous knowledge important?
  • How do Indigenous people view their place in the world?
  • How would you articulate the meaning of Country to Indigenous Australians?
  • How is this meaning different from your own understanding and perception of country?
  • What can we learn from Indigenous people with regard to sustainability issues facing the world?



Grim, J. A. (2001). Indigenous traditions and ecology: The interbeing of cosmology and community. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Rose, D. B. (1996). Nourishing terrains: Australian Aboriginal views of landscape and wilderness. Canberra, Australia: Australian Heritage Commission.

Rose, D. B. (1999). Indigenous ecologies and an ethic of connection. In N. Low (Ed.), Global ethics and environment (pp. 175-187). New York: Routledge.

Somerville, M. J. (2010). A place pedagogy for ‘global contemporaneity’. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 42(3), 326-344.

Somerville, M., Power, K., & de Carteret, P. (2011). Landscapes and learning: Place studies for a global world. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense.

Ward, N., Reys, S., Davies, J., & Roots, J. (2003). Scoping study on Aboriginal involvement in natural resource management decision making and the integration of Aboriginal cultural heritage considerations into relevant Murray-Darling Commission programs. Murray-Darling Basin Commission.

Whitehouse, H., Watkin Lui, F., Sellwood, J., Barrett, M., & Chigeza, P. (2014). Sea Country: navigating Indigenous and colonial ontologies in Australian environmental education. Environmental Education Research, 20(1), 56-69.