Workshop helps students see environmental issues from an Indigenous perspective

Published:18 April 2019

More than 20 CQUniversity students recently participated in a three-day Social Innovation Workshop at the Bundaberg campus, which looked at how First Nations knowledge and practice around agriculture, sustainable farming, and land management might interface with new technology to maintain and regenerate local ecosystems.

Water run-off, human impacts on local ecosystems and the sustainable use of resources – these were the environmental issues investigated by a multi-disciplinary cohort of CQUniversity students at a recent three-day Social Innovation Workshop on the Bundaberg campus.

Students first participated in a range of activities focused around ‘How First Nations knowledge and practice around agriculture, sustainable farming, and land management might interface with new technology to maintain and regenerate local ecosystems', before pinpointing several current environmental issues, investigating possible solutions, and pitching their ideas to a panel of external stakeholders.

The two winning ideas included Agrisense, a system that combines precision agriculture with First Nations knowledge to monitor crops and ensure sustainable ecosystems, and Endless Fountain, an interactive, cross-cultural, multi-level education game focused on First Nations practices. Both teams were awarded prizes, and members were encouraged to develop their idea further using the skills they gained over the three days.

For Endless Fountain co-founder, CQUniversity Master of Engineering student Jeet Mukherjee, who only moved to Rockhampton from India some weeks ago, the workshop far exceeded his expectations and inspired him to take individual action.

“This opportunity has been a life and mind-changing experience for me. The workshop has inspired me to make several small lifestyle changes in order to help the natural environment. From now on, I will use biodegradable bags, use my organic waste to make garden mulch, and reduce my plastic use,” Mr Mukherjee said.

“Given that I’m Indian and from the Eastern part of the world, I was actually able to relate to the social and environmental issues presented. However, before I moved to Australia, I had very little knowledge about Aboriginal land use practices, so for me, this was the most enjoyable part of the workshop – learning their ways.

“For example, while out on a site visit to the Bundaberg Botanical Gardens, we came across a lake, which to me looked beautiful. However, from an Indigenous perspective, we were able to better understand the not-so-evident predator/prey imbalance and water pollution issues.”

Mr Mukherjee said moving forward, he would like to undertake CQUniversity’s iChange®* Program and participate in Rockhampton-based Change Champ events and activities.

“As an Engineer, I work with the community indirectly. However, by immersing myself in events such as this, I can take things to the next level and work directly with the community. I am fortunate for this opportunity because I believe education is the key to mitigating current environmental and social issues,” he said.

Event organiser and CQUniversity Social Innovation Program Manager, Ashley Clarke said she was delighted to have witnessed such a diverse student cohort challenge their assumptions and practice social innovation principles.

“The quality of the end-of-program pitches made evident how passionate students are about making a positive difference, and also the importance of pairing Indigenous land use practices with technology to achieve this,” Ms Clarke said.

“Given the success of the event, CQUniversity’s Office of Social Innovation will look at hosting similar workshops at other campus locations.

“By partnering with community organisations and external stakeholders, we will be able to continually develop meaningful applied experiences for our students and help build the capacity of the next generation of changemakers.”

The event was made possible thanks to the support of Bundaberg Brewed Drinks, Bundaberg Regional Council, Burnett Mary Regional Group, Gidarjil Development Corporation, Greensill Farming Group, Queensland Computers, Queensland Rail and TECKnology Indigenous Corporation.