The Indigenous Knowledge Institute announces 2020 seed funding recipients

The Indigenous Knowledge Institute is pleased to announce the recipients of our 2020 seed funding round. It was a competitive process with 23 total applications received. Five projects were chosen, representing a broad range of Indigenous knowledge research topics and disciplines, from food and medicinal plant use to water law, astronomy, and dance.

In addition to showcasing the breadth of Indigenous knowledge research capability at the University of Melbourne, the five projects also progress many of our strategic objectives. This includes our commitment to partnerships with the Kulin Nation on whose lands we operate, and our vision to develop a world-leading research Institute with a global reach.

More information about each of the successful projects can be found below.

“If you look after nature, the land will look after you”: Indigenous knowledge of medicine and food in Lembata, Eastern Indonesia

Led by Dr Justin Wejak (Asia Institute), the project aims to explore Indigenous storytelling and knowledge practices related to food and medicinal plants on the island of Lembata in Eastern Indonesia. The project will also look at knowledge production and transmission, and the role of gender in Indigenous knowledge practices.

In addition to being an Indigenous researcher from the region, Dr Wejak is also committed to developing ethical and culturally appropriate community partnerships with a view to developing long-term reciprocal research collaborations.

“As this project focuses on Indigenous researchers conducting collaborative research on their own community, I see it as an opportunity for the team to learn how to ethically engage with Indigenous storytelling and knowledge practices in ways that are not only gender-sensitive and culturally appropriate, but also promote Indigenous ownership of their own stories and practices as well as recognition of the value of traditional medicine and food,” Dr Wejak said.

Aboriginal Astronomical Knowledge of the Kulin Nation

Associate Professor Duane Hamacher (School of Physics) will coordinate a project that aims to document the Aboriginal Astronomical Knowledge of the Kulin Nation.

Associate Professor Hamacher will work alongside a team of Indigenous student researchers including Jessie Ferrari (Yorta Yorta, Biosciences), Jason Rimmer (Kaurna, Physics), and Krystal De Napoli (Kamilaroi, Physics). The project will provide pathways and opportunities for the next generation of Indigenous researchers in the field of Indigenous knowledge research. The team will also work closely with Traditional Owners to ensure the project meets community expectations and research aspirations.

Developing a food safety roadmap for commercialising Cumbungi

Enterprise Professor Bruce Pascoe and Associate Professor Kate Howell (Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences) will work with Black Duck Foods to develop a food safety roadmap for commercialising the native Cumbungi plant.

The project will bring together traditional knowledge and western scientific analysis with the aim of delivering economic benefits directly to Indigenous communities.

Yoongoorookoo: First Law, legal comparison, and a Martuwarra/Fitzroy River creation story

Early career researcher Dr Erin O’Donnell (Melbourne Law School) will work in partnership with the Traditional Owners of the Martuwarra Fitzroy River, including Nyikina academic Dr Anne Poelina, to map the “First Law” of the river.

The project will explore the relationship between Indigenous and settler laws to develop new, bicultural legal frameworks to sustain the river.

Dr O’Donnell says, “The Martuwarra River is facing tremendous political and financial pressure to develop land and water resources. Sustainable development options must be consistent with First Law, which provides a comprehensive ethical framework for a thriving and cooperative society. This project will help to bridge the gap between First Law and settler colonial laws, paving the way for more effective protection of the river.”


Daniel Riley (Victorian College of the Arts) is an early career Wiradjuri researcher, as well as a highly experienced choreographer and dancer, who will explore the traditional Wiradjuri dance form in partnership with Wiradjuri Elders and communities in Dubbo. The project will assist in documentation and intergenerational transfer of cultural knowledge.

Speaking on the importance of this project, Riley states, “I am interested in re-awakening and discovering traditional dances that pay respect to our cultural form whilst also pulling the practices into our contemporary world, and exploring them in a modern form of our cultural expression and identity.”

Congratulations again to all our 2020 seed funding recipients.

Stay up to date

Find out more about the 2020 seed funding round, including terms and conditions, on our website.

The next seed funding round will open in mid-2021. Subscribe to our newsletter and check our website to find out when the seed funding round opens, and to stay up to date with how our 2020 projects develop.