First Knowledges


What a fantastic initiative the First Knowledges series of books has been! I've now read all six that have been published so far, and I'm looking forward to reading the next volumes on Law and Plants when they become available. Possibly I'm the ideal reader for these books -- someone who is (mostly) uninformed but interested, and eager to find out more about Indigenous knowledge and practice. These volumes are not too long or too academic to be daunting, but I've learned so much from them.

Design: Building on Country by Alison Page and Paul Memmott explores both the history of Aboriginal building practices, and an approach to building and architecture in Australia that is highly responsive to the landscape -- the flow of air and sunlight, an interplay between outside and inside, and a recognition and respect for cultural requirements that allows for gathering spaces and spaces for separate withdrawal. I must admit I hadn't given much thought to Aboriginal structures (colonial baggage!) but of course there is a very long history of temporary building -- from windbreaks by a fire for a single night's camping, to semi-permanent stone footings with seasonal roofing, like those seen at the Brewarrina and Budj Bim fish traps, where food was abundantly available for long stretches of the year. I love the idea of these impermanent structures and the way they sit so lightly in the landscape, so different from the concept of a permanent house and home that I am personally so attached to -- it really challenged my ideas of what a home means. Of course, for First Nations people, their Country is home.

Astronomy: Sky Country by young female Indigenous astronomers Karlie Noon and Krystal De Napoli opens with personal, sobering accounts of how they developed their interest in the stars and the challenges they each faced in accessing schooling and further education. It introduced me to the idea that Country comprises the sky as well as the land, and warns of the danger to star observation posed by light pollution everywhere. In one of those weird coincidences that seem to dog my reading journey, on the very day that I finished this book, I turned on the radio and found Noon and De Napoli discussing their work with Phillip Adams on Late Night Live!

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