Featured News New $89M national research centre at JCU

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Fri, 4 Nov 2022

New $89M national research centre at JCU

Elders sitting around a camp fire in the bush.
Professor Sean Ulm undertaking ARC-funded partnership research on Kaiadilt country with senior traditional owners.

James Cook University will host a new Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Indigenous and Environmental Histories and Futures (CIEHF) – aiming to bring Indigenous and environmental histories to the forefront of land and sea management.

The new Centre will be led by JCU’s Distinguished Professor Sean Ulm. He said the Minister for Education and Youth of Australia, the Hon. Jason Clare, approved funding today for a new 7-year $89 million dollar research program headquartered at JCU to investigate Australia’s iconic Indigenous and environmental heritage.

“Australia’s future depends on learning lessons from the past and applying them to problems that confront our modern world. Yet we know surprisingly little about how tens of thousands of years of Indigenous engagement and management have shaped Australia’s lands and seas,” said Professor Ulm.

He said Australia’s Indigenous and environmental histories are fundamental to navigating our way forward through the challenges confronting the continent over the next century.

“The recent Australian State of the Environment Report paints a grim picture of how climate change, land-clearing, and habitat modification are impacting the Australian environment,” said Professor Ulm.

“But conventional approaches to land and sea management frequently fail to incorporate or value Indigenous histories and knowledges, leading to poorer outcomes for Country.

“We simply can’t plan for the future without understanding both the long and short-term interactions of people, climate, lands, and seas.

“Our Centre will generate new approaches to bring Indigenous and environmental histories to the forefront of land and sea management. By looking back 1000 years and forward 100 years, we aim to develop new integrated approaches to Caring for Country.”

The Centre includes world-leading researchers from across the globe with deep expertise encompassing Indigenous knowledges, Indigenous science, archaeology, history, ecology, palaeoecology, mathematics, modelling, remote sensing, and genomics.

CIEHF Deputy Director and ARC Laureate Fellow Professor Lynette Russell from Monash University, said CIEHF would transform the way the humanities, arts and social sciences disciplines and science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines engage with Indigenous knowledges.

“The vast store of Indigenous knowledges, in conjunction with historical, archaeological and palaeoecological records, have rarely been employed to inform land and sea management,” Professor Russell said.

University of Melbourne Associate Professor Michael-Shawn Fletcher, also a CIEHF Deputy Director, said authentic co-designed research with Indigenous partners is at the heart of the Centre.

“A failure in many approaches to working on Country in the past has been to impose non-Indigenous research agendas. The research framework and program of this new Centre was co-designed with Indigenous Partners, to put genuine partnership arrangements in place, across the design, management and delivery of the Centre,” said Associate Professor Fletcher.

A significant aim of the Centre is to support the growth of Indigenous research capacity through training and mentoring programs, including creation of a deep pipeline for Indigenous students into research extending from primary school. There are 90 fully-funded PhD and Masters scholarships available in the Centre, with the majority identified for Indigenous candidates.

The Centre will also deliver a comprehensive Education & Engagement program ranging from school outreach and curriculum development, to major exhibitions with museum partners. These programs will support students and teachers across the full education spectrum and contribute to national evidence-based curriculum development.

These programs will promote a deeper recognition of the central role that Indigenous people and knowledges must play in shaping sustainable futures for all Australians.

CIEHF is funded by a $35 million grant from the ARC, and $54 million from participating Indigenous Partner Organisations, universities, museums and other organisations. The funds will support at least 40 new research positions and more than 90 new research students over the life of the Centre.

The Centre is a collaboration between 30 organisations, bringing together Australia’s leading researchers and research organisations across diverse fields, including seven Australian universities – the James Cook University, Monash University, The University of Melbourne, Flinders University, Australian National University, The University of New South Wales, and The University of Western Australia – and a range of partners in Australia, including eight Indigenous Partner Organisations, leading museums and herbaria, and government research agencies.

Organisations Partnering in the Centre

James Cook University (Administering Organisation)

Monash University

The University of Melbourne

Flinders University

The Australian National University

The University of New South Wales

The University of Western Australia

Dawul Wuru Aboriginal Corporation

Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation

Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC

Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC

Gujaga Foundation Limited

Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC

Gur A Baradharaw Kod Torres Strait Sea and Land Council Torres Strait Islander Corporation

Taungurung Land and Waters Council (Aboriginal Corporation)

Queensland Herbarium

Queensland Museum

Australian Museum

Museums Victoria

Western Australian Museum

Summer Internship for Indigenous Peoples in Genomics - Australia

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation

Bioplatforms Australia Ltd

Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (UQ)

University of Papua New Guinea

Scarp Archaeology Pty Ltd

EMM Consulting Pty Limited

Simon Fraser University

Santa Fe Institute, USA


Professor Sean Ulm
E: sean.ulm@jcu.edu.au