Vapour Trails


I have some good news, as well as sad tidings, for our regular QMTS readers; the 70 blogs written to date have received over 18,000 views since it was launched in June 2011.  There are hundreds of science blogs out there in cyberspace to read so our writers are really pleased with this outcome. It is interesting to note that, whilst the majority of readers live in Australia, a significant number have accessed and read this science blog from overseas.

Perhaps you have been wondering why this blog has ceased to be a weekly dispatch? Sadly, as a result of state budget cuts the QM seconded teacher program ended in December 2012.  QM would like to thank Education Queensland for their generous support over many years which enabled four of the brightest and the best teachers to extend their skills and professional development at the museum. Seconded teachers and QMTS blog writers Paul and Letitia have returned to the classroom and Narinda and Marcel are now working at Education Queensland as C2C curriculum writers. The regularity and nature of the content of this blog is likely to change over the course of this year.  The ‘blog quill’ has been handed over to the QM learning officers who will continue to support schools and families who are visiting the QM and Sciencentre.  We hope that further blog articles will eventuate that highlight what’s going on at the museum that celebrate the world of science, exhibitions and research.

Vapour trails

Just as jet planes left a vapour trail on a clear day after they flew over the Brisbane River  during daytime practice runs for the River Fire finale, the seconded teachers also left a visible trail behind them following their recent departure. This is in the form of several new Australian Curriculum linked learning resources which we hope that teachers will take time to investigate. This link will take you through to Queensland Museum Learning Resources; click on Australian Curriculum under the ‘Categories’ menu and you’ll see all the resources developed.

These new resources include:

  • Two PowerPoints designed for middle to upper primary children, highlight what our paleontologists and technical officers do ‘behind the scenes’ when new dinosaur bones are discovered. The two PowerPoints are prefixed with the title ‘I am a Scientist’.
  • ‘Rainy Day Rosie’ is a delightful digital story for younger P-2 learners to develop their understanding of the importance of water for all living things. The central character is Rosie, an inquisitive Rainbow Lorikeet.
  • The Three Dinosaurs’ is another story designed for young learners that is a digital fairy tale.  It is based on the story of The Three Billy Goats Gruff and uses Australian dinosaurs as the main characters.  The story also includes factual information about the dinosaurs based upon recent research and discoveries.
  • Additionally you’ll find ‘Squawks in the Night’ and Animals that Grow Up in Families’ – programs that were written and developed in 2012 which are well worth investigating. Word of mouth recommendations to fellow teachers count a lot so if you find these programs to be of value, please spread the word.

A second vapour trail and good piece of news is that Education Services Australia (ESA) has recognised the high quality of the learning resources developed at the Queensland Museum. Several of the resources outlined in past QMTS blogs have been flagged by ESA as being useful for teachers to use nationally as the Australian Curriculum begins to roll out across all states and territories.   Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island resources for example provide a unique and well-informed perspective on science as they were created by an aboriginal curator and educator working collaboratively with other museum experts. The national collection of recommended learning resources can be accessed through Scootle by all government, Catholic and independent schools who have registered.

On that positive note I too am signing off from my leadership role of the team and wish all readers an early Happy Easter, and to teachers everywhere, all the best for the rest of the term.

Farewell from the QM Strategic Learning Team(L - R: David, Narinda, Letitia, Marcel)

Farewell from the QM Strategic Learning Team
(L – R: David, Narinda, Letitia, Marcel)

Posted in Biodiversity Research, Early Years, Science Learning Resources | Tagged | Leave a comment

Australia Day Musings

Welcome back dear readers to a new year and a new school term. With Australia Day looming this weekend, I thought that you might enjoy a light read over the long weekend.

You occasionally hear science being referred to as a verb.  Science is certainly a “doing word” and the term “science” applies way beyond the notion of the laboratory or traditional disciplines of physics, chemistry and biology.

Science is now referenced in gastronomy, where chemical reactions known as “cooking” can transform raw materials into taste sensations or works of art.

Science has also been applied to commerce, whereby trends and patterns in the market may be determined by the colours of product packaging or advertising jingles and slogans rather than that products performance.

To celebrate Australia Day, I would like to tip my slouch hat to Etymology – the science of our evolving language. Etymology investigates where our words come from. Here are a few “Australianisms” and their possible origins:

The word Cobber has apparently been used since the earliest colonial settlement of Australia. The Australian National Dictionary suggests the British dialectal word cob, ‘to take a liking to’ as a probable origin of cobber, referring to a friend. Others suggestions include the Yiddish khaber meaning ‘comrade’ or an Irish word, cabaire (pronounced cobbereh) is a mildly derogatory term for a ‘chatterbox’.

Australia's finest invention?

Australia’s finest invention?

Love it or hate it, Vegemite was invented by demand, as a response to post-WW1 disruptions to the importation of British product, Marmite. Food technologist Cyril Callister developed a spread from used yeast, (otherwise dumped by breweries), combined with celery and onion extracts. It’s been marketed as health-giving (one of the richest sources of vitamin B) and has been patriotic ever since.


In an era of WTF, OMG and the rediscovery of “crikey”, the exclamation “streuth” from “god’s truth” is recommended as the word to bring to the global community.  It even has its own Facebook page.

An iconic Lamington

An iconic Lamington

Since we are apparently fighting over the provenance of Pavlova with the Kiwis, let’s sing the praises of the Lamington.  According to reports, the chef of the late 1800s Governor of Qld concocted the treat from leftover sponge cake. Coconut was relatively unknown to the European cuisine of the colony, but the French chef’s wife was from Tahiti (a French colony) where this ingredient was familiar. Lady Lamington’s guests were impressed and asked for the recipe of this hastily invented treat. Ironically, it is believed that the Governor, Lord Lamington hated the dessert that had been named in his honour, referring to them as “those bloody, poofy, woolly biscuits”.

To play with language further, I might now pay a tribute to an Australian icon – and ponder some “Entomology Etymology”.

The Blowie or Blowfly gets its common name from the expression “fly blown” – when something is contaminated by fly eggs.

This immediately suggests the irritation and health implications of sharing our lives with these insects.  So where in our lives could the blowie possibly be of use?

One answer is in the courts. Evidence of the habits and lifecycles of the Blow Flies are considered to be a valuable forensic indicator.

So in conclusion I think the “Aussie salute” should be raised to all that makes this great nation as united by its diversity.

Posted in Science Learning Resources | Tagged | 1 Comment

New Explore-a-saurus Dinosaur Exhibition is Now Open

Dinosaurs take over the earth in the Explore-a-saurus Exhibition

A new dinosaur exhibition is open to the public at Queensland Museum and Sciencentre. Explore-a-saurus has taken the place of the successful Mummy exhibition on level 2 at Queensland Museum and Sciencentre. The Learning Services team thought that teachers who read this blog might be interested in reading our perspective on the educational and learning potential of the new exhibition for school groups or perhaps a family visit.

Things I Liked Best about the Exhibition

As a teacher and parent I was impressed with the life-like moving dinosaurs, the subdued moody lighting of the exhibition and the prehistoric soundscape.  The exhibition content is suitable for younger primary aged children upwards. I think that children will particularly enjoy searching for bones in the Dino Dig pit, as well as seeing the fossilised dinosaur poo, claws and teeth.

Children will love searching for bones in the Dino dig pit.

Five Things for Teachers to Do Before and After Visiting Explore-a-saurus

1. Free teacher preview of Explore-a-saurus. 

A two-week period has been designated for teachers to visit and evaluate the exhibition from Tuesday 29 January until Sunday 10 February. Present your name, contact details and proof of current teacher registration at the entry to Explore-a-saurus for a complimentary adult admission. Come with a teacher colleague by all means.

2. Download the free Explore-a-saurus Education Booklet

This booklet can be downloaded from this link. It was developed by Museum Victoria’s Scienceworks and has been modified for Queensland Museum school audiences.  The resource includes Australian Curriculum links, dinosaur learning activities and much more.

3. Book a Dinosaur school program.

The  entire suite of 10 school programs is being reviewed and refined ready for 2013 by QM’s teachers and learning officers. Two interactive dinosaur-themed programs are available: Dinosaurs and Fossils (Y 4-7) and Dinosaur World (P-3) You’ll need to book these programs on-line before planning your visit.

4. Access Queensland Museum online dinosaur learning resources

On-line exploration can be done before or after your visit to the museum. This premium learning resource was developed by one of our science teachers-in-residence in liaison with museum paleontologists  As such we are sure that students will find the information stimulating and engaging. Explore Dinosaurs Climate Change and Biodiversity  to find information on Queensland dinosaur discoveries, extinction theories, student games and downloadable fact sheets.

5. Borrow a Dinosaur Specimen

QM Loans has museum specimens and discovery kits  for your school to borrow. Collections range from casts of dinosaur ribs and footprints to models and molds

Motherly instincts shown as a dinosaur guards her clutch of eggs

Australian Curriculum Links

From an education and learning perspective, several explicit links can be made with the dinosaur exhibition and the Australian Curriculum for school teachers and their students.  There are some oblique references to the ancient past in the science curriculum, but we are in warmer territory with history, geography and English. History will be taught as a mandated subject for the first time in many years in Queensland from the beginning of 2013.  We know of several schools that have visited the museum this year that have been trialling the history curriculum this year. In Year 7 students will be expected to undertake an investigating of the ancient past, specifically, “How historians and archaeologists investigate history, including excavation and archival research.  Further relevance to the Explore-a-saurus exhibition can be found in the requirement for Year 7 students to, “Understand the nature of the sources for ancient Australia and what they reveal about Australia’s past in the ancient period, such as the use of resources.”  Additional details can be gleaned by interrogating ACARA curricular information on history from this link

Experiential and immersive experiences are great for stimulating kids and generating their creative thinking skills. Teachers often face the challenge of encouraging students to write imaginatively without recourse to a regurgitation of what they have seen on TV or the latest DVD. I would argue that seeing and hearing a life-size Tyrannosaurus Rex (the undisputed King of the Cretaceous Period) in a recreated prehistoric environment at the museum would be a good springboard for some imaginative English writing back in class.

The new Geography Curriculum will be launched in digital form in December 2012 after an extensive consultation, which has been flagged by the Geography Association of Queensland. We look forward to scouring the detail of the new geography document to establish what learning potential there may be with the museum’s extensive geological collection and palaeontology specimens which are mostly held at our Hendra site. The QM Learning Services team will continue to liaise with local teacher reference groups to monitor and share ideas about the phasing out of SOSE as well as the staggered introduction of AC: history and geography over the next couple of years.

Test your knowledge about the Triceratops

We hope to see you at the Explore-a-saurus exhibition next term.

Let us know what you think in the comments section below after previewing the exhibition.

Posted in New Science Exhibitions, School Programs, Science Learning Resources | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Message Sticks: rich ways of weaving Aboriginal cultures into the Australian Curriculum

Map showing large number of different Indigenous language groups in Australia

Map showing large number of different Indigenous language groups in Australia Source:

In terms of classroom learning and the Australian Curriculum, the exploration of message sticks brings together history, science, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, literacy and art. Coupled with a trip to a museum and contact with a local Aboriginal Group where possible, the links to both Historical Knowledge and Understanding and Historical skills for Foundation to Year 3 are strong. As well as being sources of information of the past about which students can easily pose questions, message sticks are an example of how stories of the past are communicated, why museums have such artefacts and can elicit reflection on the impact of changing technology on traditional Indigenous practices. By also immersing students in the spiritual connection that Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islanders have with the land and sea and the great diversity of each group’s connection, students begin to understand why message sticks and other forms of communication (stories, dance, music, art) are so important to Indigenous identity. In terms of science, message sticks hit the mark for Year 1, chemical sciences and also a number of the Years 1, 2 and 3 English descriptions.

Australia is a vast land. Not surprising then that it is home to a large number of different indigenous cultural groups. Over tens of thousands of years, “a rich diversity of tribal groups, each speaking their own languages and having a variety of cultural beliefs and traditions” has emerged (Hill, C. 2004). It is estimated that around 250 distinct    indigenous languages were spoken in 1788 with around 600 dialectal variations.  Message sticks have played an important part in communication between Aboriginal groups across the immense Australian landscape. In our classrooms, message sticks offer a way of understanding the diversity of indigenous cultures in a way that most students can relate to. Whilst the diverse oral culture of Aboriginal people is well-known, message sticks may not be something teachers are familiar with, hence this background briefing blog.

Message sticks are a form of communication between Aboriginal nations, clans and language groups even within clans.  Traditional message sticks were made and crafted from wood and were generally small and easy to carry (between 10 and 20 cm). They were carved, incised and painted with symbols and decorative designs conveying messages and information. Some were prepared hastily, like you might create a note left on a friend’s desk or a quick text message; others were prepared with more time to make the markings neat and ornate. There were always marks that were distinctive to the particular group or nation sending the message and often marks identifying the relationship of the carrier to their group. This way it could be identified and authenticated by neighboring groups and by translators when the message stick was taken long distances.

Image of a message stick from the QM collection

A hastily made message stick sent by an Aurukun man to a Weipa man consenting to the marriage of his sister. The message also asks for payment of a cloth from the woman, singlet and trousers from the man and the completion of an abode. Source: QM

Message sticks helped support the oral message that the carrier would provide, especially when languages of groups were very different.  But there were enough marks to ensure that the original message would not be misinterpreted. More importantly, the message stick itself was a ‘passport’ which gave the carrier protection. When someone carrying a message stick entered another group’s country, they announced themselves with smoke signals and were then accompanied safely with the message stick to the elders so that they may speak their verbal message. Group members would then accompany the carrier safely back to where they came from with a reply. The message stick also helped to secure safe passage across long distances and through many groups. This was because  each time the messenger was directed to meet the elders to show the stick and request permission to pass through and deliver the message to its final destination.

The subject matter of message sticks varies much like the text types of many written languages. Notices about meetings and events, invitations to corroborees, ceremonies and fights, notices/ requests of marriage arrangements, notification of a family member passing and requests for objects are some of the types of information placed on message sticks. They were also used for trading journeys; curators know that many artefacts could not have been made at the locations where they were found because the materials they were made from, were found and traded across great distances (Jacob 1991, pg 260). Some message sticks were created with unique markings that were used only at certain times, and were only allowed to be carried by particular people for special rituals.

The story telling text types are generally not seen on message sticks. These of course are shared within the clan, passed down through rich oral traditions including The Dreaming, music and dance. These ‘stories’ of country vary greatly from region to region because they describe the journeys of ancestral spirits who created the features of a particular area.  But not just the geographical features.  Helen Nunggalurr from a clan in north–east Arnhem Land explains, “First all things in our environment were created by spirit beings which we call Wangarr. They created the different tribes and their languages. During their creation journeys they created animals, plants, waterholes, mountains, reefs, billabongs and so on. Today we can see their tracks in our land and where they stopped we can see their signs. These are the features in our landscape. This is why these places are our sacred areas which we must respect and care for” (Smyth, D.,1994, p 3).

At Queensland Museum and Sciencentre you can see many examples of message sticks and engravers in the Dandiiri Maiwar Exhibition. In some cases, the museum has acquired the stories associated with particular sticks. For example, Bishop White of Carpentaria described how he delivered a message stick on behalf of an Aboriginal boy in Darwin to a boy in Daly Waters. Bishop White asked the Darwin boy to explain the message. The boy read the message symbols which requested headbands and boomerangs from Daly Waters. The Bishop delivered the message stick (shown below) and asked the recipient to tell him what the message was. The boy interpreted the message stick exactly as the Darwin boy had explained it.

Photo of the message stick delivered by Bishop White of Carpentaria from a boy in Darwin to a boy in Daly Waters. Source: QM&S

Message stick delivered by Bishop White of Carpentaria from a boy in Darwin to a boy in Daly Waters. Source: QM&S

The essence of message sticks, apart from their obvious purpose, is the way they signify the carrier’s identity with a particular group (the senders). As a result of the WIK decision of 1996, Queensland Museum invited school groups to make message sticks called WIK sticks so that others could glean a sense of who they are just by viewing the stick. This idea could easily be replicated in schools and WIK sticks could be shared between schools from very different regions. Individually, students could create small WIK sticks on thick cardboard to represent their own unique identities.

In summary, message sticks are a rich source of historical and cultural learning for Foundation to Year 3 students in particular. Along with the many other artefacts on display at QM & S, the online resources and the various relevant loans kits, teachers can go a long way to developing an appreciation and respect for the great diversity and richness of Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islanders cultures and histories.

Below you will find some interesting contemporary representations of message sticks with some useful reference sources and information to use with students in the classrooms or at home with your children.


References and useful sources:

Hill, C. , 2004. Indigenous Australian Languages Fact Sheet 

Jacob, T., 1991. In the Beginning: a Perspective on Traditional Aboriginal Societies, Ministry of Education, Western Australia, pp 311-313.

Smyth, D., 1994. Understanding Country — The Importance of Land and Sea in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Societies, Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, Commonwealth of Australia

Useful Websites:

ABC Online Indigenous Language Map

Our Languages, administered by Arwarbukarl Cultural Resource Association Inc.  Miromaa Aboriginal Language & Technology Centre

Torres Strait Island Culture 

Queensland Museum. Find out about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures

Queensland Museum Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures Factsheets 

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Conservation Matters: is the glass half full or half empty?

I shared some ideas in an earlier blog about how to “Teach kids to be scientifically discriminative”. This blog builds upon the idea of discussing contemporary conservation issues coupled with scientific solutions, acknowledging our influential position as teachers and parents in helping to shape student and childrens’ viewpoints.  Teachers are bound to present a balanced perspective in the classroom about contentious issues, whatever their personal beliefs. The Australian Curriculum: Science, notably the Science as a Human Endeavor strand, notes that,   “Science involves the construction of explanations based on evidence and science knowledge can be changed as new evidence becomes available”.  News stories in the media are useful to review in order that students develop the skill of weighing up evidence and we’ll start by looking at some of these.

Kids can be taught to use Google’s powerful advanced search features

There is a plethora of local and international media coverage about science and conservation matters, with stories often duplicated through syndicated news services. Primary aged children can be taught to search for these stories using the default search tool “Google”.  The Advanced Search feature can find exactly what children are looking for by typing in the key word or phase.

 Good news stories

If you Google“good news conservation stories in Australia” the first couple of links unearthed are from reliable and authoritative sources; this is not always the case when searching for well-substantiated facts on the internet and careful judgement needs to be exercised.  These information sources highlighted below will extend teachers’ background knowledge about conservation and environmental matters as well as helping upper primary and secondary students become better informed about complex inter-relating issues.  I am a regular reader of  The Conversation which provides independent analysis and commentary on a wide range of issues written by academics and researchers. Impartiality is assured and declared by the writers in their disclosure statement; it is hard to find better balanced and well-argued viewpoints expressed in our state and national newspapers. For example, this short article on industrial-scale commercial fishing in the Conversation declares that, “the scientific and public debate around the super trawler, reflagged as the Abel Tasman, has been significant, lively and at times, heated. The debate has been worth it: the outcome – an amendment to the EPBC Act, passed by the Senate is good news for Australian marine life.”

Wind farms are contributing to Australia’s growing renewable energy capacity

A second good news story, specific to our shores, which presents a “glass half full” picture has been researched and written by The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF). The opening of Australia’s first community owned wind farm is not the only good news story. From this adventure emerged Embark. Embark Australia is an independent not-for-profit organisation dedicated to eliminating the barriers holding back the growth of a powerful community renewable energy sector across the country.

Professor Tim Flannery, Chief Commissioner of the Australian Climate Commission, speaking at a public forum in Brisbane

Moving closer to home, the Climate Change Commissioners, led by Professor Tim Flannery, visited Queensland last month and held a series of public forums around the state. The findings and recommendations in the highly readable report Critical Decade: Queensland Climate Impact and Opportunities  are clear.  A sense of cautious optimism was expressed by the commissioners that scientists are developing a growing understanding of how to mitigate the effects of global (or more specifically ocean) warming.  Another positive observation was the packed house and well-informed level of questions posed by the general public who attended the Brisbane based forum. The commissioners were particularly impressed with the efforts of John Paul College in putting sustainable environmental solutions into practice in their grounds and buildings.

The other side of the ledger

An important caveat to these encouraging developments was cited by Queensland Conservation who made the following observation. “Unfortunately for Queensland, the new State Government remains ‘unconvinced’ by the science of human induced climate change, but appears to have no credible science to back this position up.”  Polarised viewpoints may be challenging and confusing for students and teachers to dissect and interpret. However, the organisational wing of the Liberal National Party’s vote to “remove environmental propaganda” on climate change from Queensland schools” cited in The Australian is likely to narrow rather than broaden student and teachers’ considered opinions on this important issue.

It’s often been noted that bad news sells newspapers. Although the market share of traditional newspapers is declining this is compensated by the rapid growth of people reading breaking news via mobiles, Ipads and on-line news feeds. In terms of the balance between good and bad news conservation stories, it is far easier to find stories of doom and gloom. Another reliable Australian news source on science and conservation matters is Science in Public whose aim is to help scientists and science organisations present their ideas in the public space. An alarming multi-syndicated headline from this source flagged the fact that the Great Barrier Reef has lost half of its coral in the last 27 years. The loss was due to storm damage (48%), crown of thorns starfish (42%), and bleaching (10%) according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this month. This research was undertaken by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) in Townsville and the University of Wollongong.

A Crown of Thorns starfish destroying coral

Avid listeners of Radio National may have picked up a positive news story about the deleterious impact of the rapidly proliferating Crown of Thorns starfish. An Australia-based team of marine scientists have developed what may prove an effective control for the dreaded Crown of Thorns starfish (COTS), which periodically ravages coral reefs across the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS) at James Cook University (JCU) have discovered that a harmless protein mixture used to grow bacteria in the laboratory can destroy the starfish in as little as 24 hours.

The view through different lenses

I recall Berlak (an educator and author) noting that similar scenarios can be viewed and interpreted through different narrative lenses.   This is very much the case in terms of weighing up the effectiveness of strategies that are designed to conserve our natural heritage.  There is plenty of scientific evidence through satellite images that paints a damning picture of the world-wide loss of native forests, land and marine life. The projected growth of an additional two billion people on the planet before the world population reaches its anticipated peak towards the end of the century will add to the pressures on land use for growing food and building dwellings.  As such the future looks bleak to some.  But viewed through a more positive, rose-coloured lens, efforts made by conservationists in stemming the tide of habitat destruction and the extraordinary lengths that concerned communities will go to save rare or endangered species needs to be acknowledged to present a balanced picture to school children and students.

In pre-industrialised Europe, and prior to European settlement of Australia, the land was considered by many to be largely unexploited and a haven for wildlife. Early Australian colonial paintings of this era depict a balanced co-existence between aboriginal hunter gatherer societies living in harmony with nature.  50,000 years of  human habitation in this country prior to European contact is considered to be an ideal before the introduction of feral animals, alien plants and pests. However, this early inhabited period coincided with the extinction of Australia’s megafauna; one view held by anthropologists and paleoentlogists  (which is hotly contested) is the blitzkrieg theory that suggests that aboriginal people hunted these large slow-moving animals into extinction.

Australia’s original aboriginal inhabitants managed the landscape through selective bush-burning.

Furthermore, a book by historian Bill Gammage, author of The Biggest Estate on Earth – How Aborigines made Australia  indicates that the land was comprehensively managed by burning bush.  Environmentalist’s utopian view of an untouched and pristine landscape in 1788 is therefore not quite accurate. The way that teachers interpret these events is critical to students’ understanding and their ability to weigh up scientific and historical evidence.

The marsupial lion was one of Australia’s fiercest megafaunal animals. Was it climate change or human impact that caused its demise?

Back to the present day, the worst environmental excesses of the 1970’s such as wholesale land clearance and habitat destruction have been legislated against in Australia by state and federal governments.  There are small and dedicated organisations and community groups striving to save threatened native flora and fauna. The proposed fencing of the Freycinet Peninsular in Tasmania to protect endangered  Tassie Devils is a case in point and underpins the power of one individual’s initiative coupled with collective fund-raising action. Insurance populations of tumour-free devils are now being bred beyond Tasmania’s shores  in case the wild population succumbs entirely to the disease. For example, Princess Mary, a female devil with distinct genetics, has been introduced to a captive breeding program in NSW.

Tumour-free Tasmanian Devils are bred in protected areas and zoos to serve as an insurance population.

Millions of dollars are spent annually on eradicating plant and insect pests by Biosecurity Australia and this goes some way towards ameliorating the impact of natural and man-made environmental crises. A major project is underway for example on Macquarie Island to eradicate rabbits, mice and rats which were introduced by early seafarers and have bred and thrived in numbers despite the harsh conditions. The aim of the project is to return Macquarie Island to its original pristine state as a world-heritage listed icon renowned for its rich diversity of sub-Antarctic plants and wildlife. Nonetheless, pressures still exist between the co-existence of humans and native wildlife. For example, on world heritage listed Fraser Island a review of the dingo management plan has recently been announced.  Strategies being considered to protect visitors include fencing camping areas and the culling or relocation of some of the dingoes.

The glass may be half empty and dwindling in terms of our effectiveness in maintaining a rich biodiversity within Australia as the IUCN Red List of threatened species attests.  As teachers and parents we ought to consider sharing with our children the inconvenient truth that our stewardship of the land and our wildlife has, for the most part, been found wanting.  But we also need to highlight some of the current concerted measures being made to protect the native flora and fauna that remain.

Public education is critical to visitors respecting and coexisting with dingoes in their natural habitat.

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Indigenous Science: Shell middens and fish traps

This article continues the theme of early indigenous scientific knowledge which often centred around the collection of food.  Most shell middens were created in ancient (pre-European contact) times and can provide valuable information about Aboriginal hunting and gathering practices.


Necklace made from painted Melon snail (Xanthomelon sp) shells with natural fibre string

For thousands of years, Aboriginal people caught and ate large numbers of shellfish species in and around the mangrove mud flats and coastal areas along the Queensland coast. Often they would cook the meat and use the shells for a number of different purposes, or dispose of the shells in large dump sites. These dump sites would normally be near where they were camped and eventually form what is called shell middens. Shell middens have provided important information and clues for researchers about the Aboriginal people and the environment they lived in.  They tell the story of the Aboriginal peoples’ diet, food sources for that particular area, what species were available, the impact of biodiversity, environmental changes and marine ecosystems.



Shell Middens located on the beach of Palm Island

Different species of food sources found in shell middens include, mussels, oysters, clams, crabs, fish.  These food sources were highly prized as today we know they contain valuable nutrients such as zinc, iron, calcium and vitamins such as A and B.  These would have been hunted and gathered according to the seasons and particularly when they were in abundance.  The Aboriginal people would have known when the oysters were at their fattest, the crabs were at their heaviest, the mussels in abundance from reading the seasonal signs around them. This practice is still used today by many Aboriginal people.

Some of the species found included Geloina coaxan (Mud Clam), Nerita balteata (Lined Nerida), Telescopium Telescopium (Telescope Mud Creeper. Most of the food sources were collected during low tide as that was the time they were exposed in the mud or sand or attached to rocks and branches of the mangrove trees.

Once they were collected they would have been immediately eaten and then discarded in a nearby heap eventually forming into a midden. The Aboriginal people also found uses for the shells and used them for cutting and slicing or decoration.  Every year at the same time the shell midden would grow in size. In the Hinchinbrook area, between the North Queensland towns of Cardwell and Ingham shell middens sites have been found and from the research tells the story that it is a particular area that would have supported a large number of people.  Whilst middens are found there, a number of fish traps have also been found which reinforces that the area was a valuable nutrient rich environment.  All shell middens and fish traps today are protected sites.  They are protected under the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2003 and Torres Strait Islander Cultural heritage Act 2003.  One area protected for artefact scatters, shell middens and fish traps is an area at Palm Island.

 Whilst shell middens have survived over thousands of years they are exposed to threats.  Threats include cyclones, (a shell midden at the Townsville Town Common was damaged by a cyclone), erosion from water and wind, vandalism and development.

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New Resources to Support Sustainability Education

Sustainability is a cross-curriculum priority of the Australian Curriculum. Sustainability addresses the ongoing capacity of Earth to maintain all life. The AC website states that: “Education for sustainability develops the knowledge, skills, values and world views necessary for people to act in ways that contribute to more sustainable patterns of living.”

In Science: “… students appreciate that science provides the basis for decision-making in many areas of society and that these decisions can impact on the Earth system. They understand the importance of using science to predict possible effects of human and other activity and to develop management plans or alternative technologies that minimise these effects.”

Many Australians live in coastal areas and occupy catchments which supply waterways that empty into the ocean. So there is a direct link between healthy waterways and healthy marine environments, and for much of Queensland that includes coral reef environments.

Reef environment

Reef environment

The catchment and/or marine environments are an ideal foci for a school sustainability program. Here are links to excellent educational programs and resources to support the implementation of a sustainability program in your school:

Organisations and educational programs

  • Reef Guardian Schools – Great Barrier Marine Park Authority. The program encourages schools to commit to the protection and conservation of the world heritage listed Great Barrier Reef. The program helps to protect the Reef by promoting their ideas, initiatives and activities to communities to encourage all people to “do their bit to look after it!”. It focuses on: Curriculum offerings; Management of Resources; On-the-ground projects in your school and community and Education of the community. “
  • ReefED: online resources and activities from GBRMPA.
  • Australian Marine Environment Protection Association: AUSMEPA provides FREE educational resources on this website to help teachers plan and undertake a unit of work about key marine environmental issues, including climate change and storm water pollution.
  • Reef Check Australia: The Reef IQ Educational Program includes courses and workshops that allow students to undertake simulated coral reef surveys in the classroom.
  • Marine Education Society of Australasia.
  • Ocean Life Education ‘Brings the Sea to You’ with fun marine education programs including live marine animals designed to inspire students of all ages to appreciate and take responsibility for the marine ecosystem.
  • The Global Learning Centre is a not-for-profit community organisation dedicated to supporting education for justice, peace and sustainability.
  • Healthy Waterways: An NGO that provides information and resources on water education in South East Queensland including: information, resources and games.
  • The Up a Dry Gully Schools Program challenges primary and secondary students to explore and understand how water must be safe, secure and sustainable for our future.
  • CSIRO: CarbonKids is an educational program that combines the latest in climate science with education in sustainability.
  • CSIRO Education, North Queensland: Eco-enigma – An environmental case study where the class becomes a scientific team preparing an environmental impact report. By measuring heavy metal levels in fish, analysing silt in a river etc, students find out who is responsible for the environmental health problems of Sunny Valley.
  • Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities: Australian water education resources.
Reef Biodiscovery microsite at Queensland Museum

Reef Biodiscovery microsite at Queensland Museum


Local Government

Many local governments have resources and staff to support sustainability education. For example:

Queensland Museum Resources

The museum has a rich repository of authoritative information and resources, including online content, interactive learning objects, games and school loan kits.

  • Biodiscovery and the Great Barrier Reef: Biodiscovery is the quest for bioactive chemicals from living organisms. Investigate some of the factors affecting the survival of reef organisms and how human activities and climate change are having an impact on the reef.
  • Backyard Explorer: An invertebrate biodiversity audit resource kit that can support biohealth assessment component of a sustainability program.
  • The museum provides loan kits that support object-based learning. For example: Marine Life: Explore a variety of marine life and how they interact with their environment and each other. Investigate interactions between living things and suitability for a marine habitat.Content of the Marine Life Loan Kit available from the Queensland Museum
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