Contested discourses
: aboriginal attitudes towards non-native plants and engagement in weed management in Cape York, northern Australia

  • Nicholas Mark Smith

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    Northern Australian ecosystems are threatened by invasion from many non-native plants with the potential to cause significant environmental, social and economic impacts and management problems. With Aboriginal people owning approximately 30% of the land in northern Australia on which weed management takes place this situation also presents significant risks to Aboriginal cultural landscapes. Yet Aboriginal attitudes towards non-native plants and approaches to weed management remain largely unrecognised and unstudied.

    This thesis aims to examine Aboriginal attitudes towards non-native plants, including weeds, to identify impediments to Aboriginal engagement in weed management and investigate how future engagement should take place. Ethnographic and ethnobotanical research was undertaken in two case study areas in Cape York, north Queensland on Wik and Northern Kaanju Aboriginal clan estates.

    The findings show that Aboriginal people hold a wide range of attitudes towards non-native plants, from intellectual incorporation, to tolerant ambivalence, to ‘not belonging, and that Aboriginal motivations for, and approaches to, managing weeds differ from those of Western scientists and government agencies. Aboriginal people identify impediments to their engagement in weed management as primarily external. This thesis argues this perception originates from a nature/culture dichotomy in which dominant Western scientific knowledge is seen as superior to placed-based Local Knowledge, thereby affecting weed management. For effective collaborative weed management Western scientists and government agency representatives need to adopt new approaches and epistemological frameworks to remove any assumed epistemological superiority giving more weight to Aboriginal voices.

    This thesis contributes to ongoing discourse in the socio-ecological and environmental anthropological literature about alternative world views and the place of Aboriginal Local knowledge. It helps illuminate the existence and nature of an intercultural/ontological gap affecting attempts to engage collaboratively with Aboriginal people. It also shows that a world view approach provides a useful framework for studying attitudes to weeds and weed management on Aboriginal lands.
    Date of AwardDec 2013
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorNatasha Stacey (Supervisor), Heather Aslin (Supervisor) & Samantha Setterfield (Supervisor)

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