Traditional Medicinal Washes of Northern Australia with specific reference to Tiwi and Kunwok ethnomedicine

  • Adam Thompson

Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


Aims: The goal of this project was to assess the extent to which traditional medicinal plant-based washes continue to play an important role in the health of Aboriginal Australians in Northern Australia. 

Participatory documentary video projects were performed in five
communities across two different regions, the Tiwi Islands and the
Kuwarddewardde, the West Arnhem Land stone country. These video projects documented the complete process of creating traditional medicinal washes, often simply referred to as bush medicine, from the collection of plants to the application of the medicine. Throughout the filming process, stories were told of its use and interviews conducted on the perceptions of these traditional medicines.  
Conclusions: Despite differences in the size, remoteness and environment of communities, the culture around traditional medicine was very much the same in both regions. This similarity results from both regions sharing a similar history, both from a common ancestral culture and a shared history post-contact. Traditional Aboriginal medicine has, at times, been overshadowed by clinic medicine which has taken on a greater role as Aboriginal townships developed in
the post-World War II era. Yet, it also shows the high value that continues to be placed on traditional medicine in terms of its connections to the landscape, ancestors, and the larger spiritual culture. Taking into account the environmental changes that have occurred over the past 60,000 years and adaption to these changes shown in the archaeological record, the comparison of the traditional
pharmacopeias across the larger region shows the continuous development of medicinal plant-based washes to new and changing environments. 

Recommendations: Health promotion should not ignore this rich
traditional knowledge still alive in Aboriginal communities today. The use of these medicinal washes continues to provide people with the ability to directly improve their own health in a holistic manner that can also address spiritual and psychological health as well. Such health promotion could take the form of a ‘bush pharmacy’ in larger communities or the incorporation of medicinal plant surveys in remote ranger stations.
Date of Award3 Jun 2021
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorAnne Lowell (Supervisor), Greg Leach (Supervisor) & Amanda Leach (Supervisor)

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