1. The Challenge of Being Heard:
Understanding coastal urban and peri-urban Aboriginal People’s
vulnerability and adaptive capacity to climate change
Darryl Low Choy, David Jones, Philip Clarke, Silvia Serrao-Neumann, Rob Hales & Olivia Koschade
Griffith University & Deakin University
National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF) funded research project
1st Australian Peri-Urban National Conference, LaTrobe University
We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri peoples of
the Kulin nation who are the Traditional Owners of these
Also acknowledge the country of the Wathaurong, Boon
Wurrung, Quandamooka, Jagera and Kaurna Aboriginal
communities involved in this project.
We would also like to pay respect to the Elders both past
and present of the Wurundjeri of the Kulin nation and
extend that respect to other Aboriginals present.
3. Research Context
4. Climate Change and the Urban/Peri-urban Region
This study will
provide an initial
coastal urban and
vulnerability to, and
capacity for climate
The project’s specific objectives are:
1. to understand the vulnerability and adaptive
capacity of selected urban and peri-urban
Indigenous coastal communities;
2. to collaboratively explore a range of strategies to
enhance Indigenous adaptive capacity in the case
study communities within a community of knowledge
3. to establish the foundations of a community of
Indigenous knowledge (network) for ongoing
research into Indigenous climate change adaptation
4. to consolidate the public domain knowledge and
research in Indigenous CCA;
5. to scope the opportunities, challenges and
processes for adding to the public domain
6. to develop in partnership a set of protocols for
ongoing Indigenous CCA research; and
7. to provide opportunities for the up-skilling of
Indigenous researchers in the field of CCA.
5. Where do most Indigenous People Live?
30% of Australia’s indigenous population
reside in cities
48% of Queensland’s Indigenous Population
live in Cities
24% of Queensland’s Indigenous Population live
32% of Queensland’s Indigenous Population
live in SEQ
6. Indigenous Communities Studied
Aboriginal Corporation Brisbane / Ipswich region
Kaurna Nation Cultural
Heritage Board - Port
Island / Moreton Bay SEQ
Boon Wurrung Foundation
Limited - Mornington
7. The Kulin Nation
8. Wathaurong ‘Countries’
• the Co-Operative is not a Registered
Aboriginal Party (RAP) as defined under
Victorian state legislation and thus is not the
legally recognised spokesperson or
stakeholder entity for the Wathaurong
• The RAP responsibilities for this country
have been vested in the Wathaurung
Aboriginal Corporation (WAC), which is
based in nearby Ballarat.
• The Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-Operative
Limited (WACO) is located in North
• The primary goal of the Co-Operative is to
provide Indigenous people within the Greater
Geelong and adjacent areas access to a
range of culturally appropriate holistic
services, particularly in health, housing,
education, employment and heritage
(Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-Operative
• The Co-Operative services an
Indigenous community of between 3,000
to 5,000 people, which includes a large
proportion of transient Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander people who have
travelled to this Wathaurong country from
all over Australia for various education,
employment, housing and health reasons.
• The people who are more permanently
based in the area and identify themselves
as having direct family links to the
Wathaurong number about 2,500.
• Within the findings, the threads of
Indigenous representation, housing,
employment, environmental & cultural
assets, and wild food network were raised
as key topics by the Wathaurong.
12. Key Findings
1. Assessment of threats to Indigenous
heritage sites in coastal sites from climate
change (eg coastal site from sea level rise
and storm surge)I is needed
2. Advantages of an Aboriginal Housing
corporation model for individual and family
responses to climate change
3. How to improve Indigenous capacity and
participation in CCA initiatives (including
4. Improving / encouraging Indigenous
integration into the “Wild Food Chain”
(including a focus on younger generations)
5. Potential for Indigenous involvement in wild
plant species harvesting and its
contemporary translation into ‘bush tucker’
6. Opportunities and constraints in
undertaking Climate Change Adaptation
under different land tenure arrangements
in the urban and peri-urban areas exists
and needs research
7. Whilst Indigenous society cannot be
divorced from connection to ‘country’
research for country spiritual/physical
and cultural relationships can be applied in
a real world situation in an urban and periurban context for Indigenous residents
8. Understanding best ways for educating
the younger generations about Climate
Change Adaptation through appropriate
visual media (eg. cartoons, images,
sketches, digital media)
9. Custodian and Caretaker roles in
Climate Change Adaptation and
‘country’ management and healing, and
unifying knowledge, sharing and skills to
be re-acquainted with these roles.
13. a. Specific Indigenous climate change
adaptation policy is absent in Victorian
government policies and strategies and
Wathaurong representation in Victorian
government climate change adaptation
policy forums is absent;
b. Adaptive capacity could be significantly
improved if the Wathaurong had
enhanced access to their country;
c. Due to ongoing historical disadvantage,
Wathaurong socio-economic issues tend
to override climate change adaptation
d. Whilst important economically, wild
plants and animals have cultural
importance in contemporary identity
building and exploitation of the wild food
network presents important opportunities
for urban and peri-urban Wathaurong;
Wathaurong: Key Findings
14. Wathaurong: Key Findings
Wathaurong language and words
hold certain commonalities that have
within them appraisals of
longitudinally environmental patterns
and changes, but opportunity to
study climate change through these
mediums will be seriously constrained
through the decline in Wathaurong
language speakers amongst the
urban and peri-urban Wathaurong
There is concern about changes
occurring within a background of
peri-urban and urban expansion on
Wathaurong country which have the
potential to further disconnect the
Wathaurong community from their
country and seriously limits their
15. Wathaurong: Key Findings
f. Peri-urban expansion is having a
major deterioration upon the physical
environment (land and water), which
threatens cultural assets such as
Wathaurong sites and is exacerbated
by climate change;
g. Many of the climate change
adaptation challenges can be
overcome through collaborative
approaches especially those that
build in Wathaurong traditional
knowledge so that it does not
undermine cultural identity; and,
16. Wathaurong: Key Findings
h. There is an urgent need to ensure
that the next generation of the
Wathaurong community is across
climate change adaptation and other
environmental management issues
related to country whilst addressing
issues of succession planning.
17. To all who walk this land,
May you stand tall as a tree
Be as gentle as the morning mist
And be as strong as
The earth under your feet.
May the warmth of the campfire
Be in you and may
The creator spirit
Of the Wathaurong people
Always watch over you.
(Aunty Betty Pike;
Pike, B. 2013. Welcome to Country. Ad Astra: The
Geelong College Community Newsletter. 123: January:
18. The authors wish to acknowledge the kind
involvement and support of the Quandamooka
Lands Council Aboriginal Corporation Ltd,
the Jagera Ganay-Magil Aboriginal
Corporation Ltd (formerly Ngaran Goori
Ltd), the Boon Wurrung Foundation Ltd, the
Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-Operative Ltd
and the Kaurna Nation Cultural Heritage
Association Inc in consenting to participation
in this research project and enabling staff and
elder involvement in the project.
The authors also wish to acknowledge the
initial support of the Mornington Peninsula
Council, the City of Greater Geelong
Council, Parks Victoria, and Wilto Yerlo at
the University of Adelaide in formulating this
At Griffith University acknowledgement is
made to the School of Environment and the
Urban Research Program, and at Deakin
University to the School of Architecture &
Built Environment, Deakin Prime and the
Institute of Koorie Education in supporting
the research project.
Climate change is expected to have social, economic and
environmental impacts on urban and peri-urban Indigenous
communities inhabiting coastal areas throughout south-eastern
Australia. These impacts include a loss in community and
environmental assets, including cultural heritage sites, with
significant impact on the quality of life of populations inhabiting
these areas, and the establishment of potential favourable
conditions for the spread of plant diseases, weeds and pests. Over
most of south-eastern Australia, including southern Victoria and the
Adelaide region climate change is expected to lead to increased risk
of heatwaves, longer drought periods, increasing bushfire risk,
increased flood event risks and more frequent coastal inundation
and associated impacts such as coastal erosion.
As part of a NCCARF funded project, the authors reviewed coastal
urban and peri-urban Aboriginal people’s perceptions and insights
about their vulnerability and adaptive capacity of climate change on
the Australia’s south-eastern coastline. Several aspects collectively
emerged from this research and the Aboriginal community
workshops, namely: Indigenous seasonal calendars are a major
intellectual tool in which to better appraise longitudinally
environmental patterns and changes; Aboriginal language and
words hold certain commonalities that have within them appraisals
of longitudinally environmental patterns and changes; potential for
Indigenous involvement in wild plant species harvesting and its
contemporary translation into ‘bush tucker’ is suffering from
changes in species availability; landscapes have been inadequately
fired, with an absence of firebreaks in many areas of significant
cultural importance; peri-urban expansion is having a major
deterioration upon the physical environment, which threatens
cultural assets like Aboriginal sites; there is concern about changes
occurring within a background of peri-urban and urban
development, which appears to be escalating micro-environmental
changes; and, Indigenous communities demand representation in
climate change adaptation forums and to be more directly involved
in land and sea care projects.
This paper reviews the findings of this research, offers
recommendations to better position Aboriginal engagement and
knowledge systems in the wider climate change adaptation policy
discourse. Particular attention is drawn to the Wathaurong
community whose traditional country embraces the Melbourne and
Geelong peri-urban areas.
Abel, N., Gorddard, R., Harman, B., Leitch, A., Langridge, J., Ryan, A. & Heyenga, S. 2011. ‘Sea level rise, coastal development and planned retreat: analytical framework, governance principles and an Australian case study’, Environmental Science and Policy, vol. 14 no. 3, pp. 279-288.
AIATSIS. 2000. Guidelines for ethical research in Indigenous studies, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra. <http://www.aiatsis.gov.au/research/docs/ethics.pdf>
Allen Consulting Group. 2005. Climate Change Risk and Vulnerability: Promoting an Efficient Adaptation Response in Australia: Final Report, Australian Greenhouse Office.
Altman, J. & Jordan, K. 2008. Impact of climate change on indigenous Australians: submission to the Garnaut Climate Change Review, Australian National University, Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research.
Arts Victoria & Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages. 2010. Indigenous creation stories of the Kulin Nation, Arts Victoria, [Melbourne].
Australian Government. 2010. Our Cities: The Challenge of Change, Background and Research Paper, pp.128.
Berkes, F., Colding, J. & Folke, C. 2000. ‘Rediscovery of traditional ecological knowledge as adaptive management’, Ecological applications, vol. 10 no. 5, pp. 1251-1262.
Biddle, N. 2012. CAEPR Indigenous Population Project 2011: population and age structure. Census Papers 5. Australian National University, Canberra.
Biddle, N. & Taylor, J. 2009. ‘Indigenous population projections, 2006–31: Planning for growth’, CAEPR Working Paper No. 56, CAEPR, ANU, Canberra.
Biddle, N & Yap, M. 2010. Demographic and socioeconomic outcomes across the indigenous Australian lifecourse: evidence from the 2006 Census, ANU E Press, Canberra.
Brouwer, R., Akter, S., Brander, L. and Haque, E. 2007. ‘Socioeconomic Vulnerability and Adaptation to Environmental Risk: A Case Study of Climate Change and Flooding in Bangladesh’, Risk Analysis, vol. 27 no. 2, pp. 313-326.
Bryceson. K. P. 2008. Value chain analysis of bush tomato and wattle seed products, DKCRC Research Report 40, Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre, Alice Springs.
Bubna-Litic, K. 2012. ‘4. Climate change impacts on the poor–a case-study of Australia’s indigenous population and the impact of Australia’s response on this population’, Poverty Alleviation and Environmental Law, p.67.
Buxton, M., Tieman, G., Bekessy, S., Budge, T., Mercer, D., Coote, M. & Morcombe, J. 2006. Change and Continuity in Peri-urban Australia: State of the Peri-urban Regions: A Review of the Literature, Melbourne: RMIT University.
City of Greater Geelong. 2011. Geelong Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, City of Greater Geelong.
Clarke, M. 2012. Australian native food industry stocktake. RIRDC Publication, Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, Canberra.
Clarke, P. A. 1996. Adelaide as an Aboriginal landscape. In V. Chapman & P. Read (eds) Terrible Hard Biscuits. A Reader in Aboriginal History. Journal of Aboriginal History, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, pp.69–93.
Corangamite Catchment Management Authority. 2003. Corangamite Regional Catchment Strategy 2003-2008. Corangamite Catchment Management Authority, Colac: Victoria.
CSIRO. 2007. Climate Change in Australia. Technical Report 2007 (online), viewed May 20 2010, http:// www.climatechangeinaustralia.gov.au/technical_report.php
Department of Climate Change. 2009. Climate Change Risks to Australia’s Coast. A first pass national assessment, Commonwealth Government of Australia.
Department of Sustainability and Environment. 2008. Climate Change in the Corangamite Region, The State of Victoria; Geelong Region Alliance (2007) G 21 Geelong Regional Plan - a sustainable growth strategy, Geelong Region Alliance.
Geelong Region Alliance. 2007. The G21 Geelong Region Plan - a sustainable growth strategy, Geelong Region Alliance, Geelong.
Green, D., Billy, J. & Tapim, A. 2010. ‘Indigenous Australians’ knowledge of weather and climate’, Climatic Change, vol. 100 no. 2, pp. 337-354.
Gunditjmara People with G. Wettenhall 2010. The People of Budj Bim: Engineers of aquaculture, builders of stone house settlements and warriors defending country. Ballarat: Empress Publishing.
Gurran, N., Hamin, E. & Noman, B. 2008. Planning for climate change: leading practice principles and models for sea change communities in coastal Australia. Prepared for the National Sea Change Taskforce. The University of Sydney.
Hall, L. 2004. ‘Sitting down in the square: Indigenous presence in an Australian city’, Humanities Research, vol. 11 no. 1, pp. 54-77.
Hele, A. E. 2003. Researchers’ extension program for the native foods industry. 03/013. Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, Canberra.
Hennessy, K. 2004. Storms and climate change in Australia. International Conference on Storms. Storms Science to Disaster Mitigation. Brisbane, Australia.
Jones, D. 2012. ‘Wurdi Youang: Re-Thinking Myths about Landscape and Indigenous Science’, in S King, A Chatterjee & S Loo (eds.), Fabulation: Myth, Nature, Heritage, 29th Annual Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians Australia & New Zealand, Launceston,
Kinrade, P. & Preston, B. 2008. Impacts of climate change on settlements in the Western Port Region. People, property and places, CSIRO, Marsden Jacob Associates and Western Port Greenhouse Alliance.
Lahn, J. 2012. ‘Poverty, Work and Social Networks: The Role of Social Capital for Aboriginal People in Urban Australian Locales’, Urban Policy and Research, vol. 30 no. 3, pp. 293-308.
Low Choy, D, Clarke, P, Jones, D, Serrao-Neumann, S, Hales, R and Koschade, O 2013. Aboriginal reconnections: Understanding coastal urban and peri-urban Indigenous people’s vulnerability and adaptive capacity to climate change, National Climate Change Adaptation Research
Facility, Gold Coast, 139 pp.
Low Choy, D., Baum, S., Serrao-Neumann, S., Crick, F. S., M. & Harman, B. 2010. Climate Change Vulnerability in South East Queensland: A Spatial and Sectoral Assessment, A report for the South East Queensland Climate Adaptation Research Initiative, Griffith University.
Low Choy, D., Sutherland, C., Gleeson, B., Dodson, J. & Sipe, N. 2007. Change and Continuity in Peri- Urban Australia. Peri-Urban Structures and Sustainable Development. Urban Research Program. Griffith University.
Lucas, C., Hennessy, K., Mills, G. & Bathols, J. 2007. Bushfire Weather in Southeast Australia: Recent Trends and Projected Climate Change Impacts, Report prepared by Bushfire CRC, Australian Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Bushfire
Cooperative Research Centre.
May, K. 2010. Indigenous cultural and natural resource management and the emerging role of the Working on Country program, Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Australian National University.
Ministerial Advisory Committee for the Metropolitan Planning Strategy for Melbourne. 2012. Melbourne, Let’s Talk About the Future, Discussion Paper, Department of Planning and Community Development, Melbourne
Monastersky, R. 2009. ‘A burden beyond bearing’, Nature, vol. 458 no. 7242, pp. 1091-1094.
Murphy, B. & Timbal, B. 2008. ‘A review of recent climate variability and climate change in southeastern Australia’, International journal of Climatology, vol. 28 no. 7, pp. 859-879.
Norman, B. 2010. A low carbon and resilient urban future. An integrated approach to planning for climate change. Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency.
Norris, R.P. & Hamacher, D.W. 2009. ‘The Astronomy of Aboriginal Australia,’ in The Role of Astronomy in Society and Culture, D. Valls-Gabaud & A. Boksenberg (eds.), Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, pp. 39-47.
Norris, R.P. & Hamacher, D.W. 2011. ‘Astronomical Symbolism in Australian Aboriginal Rock Art,’ Rock Art Research, vol. 28 no. 1, pp. 99-106, 28, 99.
Norris, R.P., Norris, C., Hamacher, D.W. & Abrahams, R. 2013 – in press. ‘Wurdi Youang: an Australian Aboriginal stone arrangement with possible solar indications’, Rock Art Research.
O'Neill, C., Green, D. & Lui, W. 2012. ‘How to make climate change research relevant for Indigenous communities in Torres Strait, Australia’, Local Environment, vol. 17 no. 10, 1104-1120.
Petheram, L., Zander, K., Campbell, B., High, C. & Stacey, N. 2010. ‘‘Strange changes’: Indigenous perspectives of climate change and adaptation in NE Arnhem Land (Australia)’, Global Environmental Change, vol. 20 no. 4, pp. 681-692.
Pike, B. 2013. Welcome to Country. Ad Astra: The Geelong College Community Newsletter. 123: January: 12.
Reid, H. & Huq, S. 2007. ‘Community-based adaptation: A vital approach to the threat climate change poses to the poor’, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). Briefing Paper, London: IIED.
Reilly, J. & Schimmelpfennig, D. 2000. Irreversibility, uncertainty, and learning: portraits of adaptation to long-term climate change, Springer.
Robins, L. 2007. Outback Spirit Bush Foods: a learning model in marketing and supply chain management. 06/037. Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, Canberra.
Roös, P. 2013. Indigenous Knowledge and Climate Change: The Wathaurong and Gadubanud Narrative for the Great Ocean Road Region, in R. Davies & D. Menzies (eds.), Shared Wisdom in an Age of Change 2013 Aotearoa New Zealand, IFLA50, Proceedings of the 50 th IFLA
[International Federation of Landscape Architects] World Congress, Sky City Convention Centre, Auckland, New Zealand, 10 th-12th April 2013, pp. 226-263. NZILA: Wellington, New Zealand. ISBN 978-0-473-24360-9.
Rose, D. B. (1996) Nourishing Terrains, Australian Aboriginal Views of Landscape and Wilderness, Commonwealth of Australia: Canberra, p7. http://www.environment.gov.au/heritage/ahc/publications/commission/books/nourishing-terrains.html
Ryder, M & Latham, Y. 2005. Cultivation of native food plants in south-eastern Australia. 04/178. Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, Canberra.
Ryder, M., Walsh, F., Douglas, J., Waycott, M., Robson, H., Singh, Z., Sousa Majer, M., Collins, T., White, J. & Cheers, B. 2009. Sustainable bush produce systems: progress report 2004–2006. Desert Knowledge CRC Working Paper 31. Desert Knowledge CRC, Alice Springs.
Suppiah, R., Hennessy, K., Whetton, P., McInnes, K., Macadam, I., Bathols, J., Ricketts, J. & Page, C. 2007. ‘Australian climate change projections derived from simulations performed for the IPCC 4th Assessment Report’, Australian Meteorological Magazine, vol. 56 no. 3, pp. 131-152.
Sutton, M. 2004. A Comparative Study of Indigenous Fresh Water Fish Traps, Unpublished Report to Indigenous Heritage Assessment Section, Heritage Victoria, Melbourne.
Victorian Coastal Council. 2008. Victorian Coastal Strategy, Victorian Coastal Council, East Melbourne
Victorian Government. 2012. Victorian Government response to the Climate Change Act Review, Victorian Government, East Melbourne.
Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative. 2012. Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative Incorporated strategic plan 2010-2014. February 2012 draft. Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative, Geelong, Victoria.