New La Trobe Indigenous research centre launches

La Trobe University

La Trobe University today launched an Indigenous Research Centre to create and flourish Indigenous community research and provide a safe space for First Nations researchers.

The centre is known by the Indigenous name Gabra Biik, Wurruwila Wutja* – meaning Clever Country, Clever People – with words taken from four Indigenous languages.

Part of the University’s Indigenous Strategy launched in October 2023, it is a virtual and practice-based research centre that focusses on projects that promote cultural exchange and learning, fostering mutual respect and understanding.

Pro Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous) Associate Professor Michael Donovan said the research centre was established through consultation with Indigenous communities served by the University’s campuses across Melbourne and regional Victoria, as well as Indigenous and non-Indigenous La Trobe staff.

Associate Professor Donovan said the Centre would draw research from across the University and engage with Indigenous people to identify, design and conduct research and disseminate findings.

“First Nations Ways of Knowing have added depth and strength to ways of researching with communities. Sharing these insights across disciplines is critical to research and having an impact for Indigenous communities,” he said.

Director of the Gabra Biik, Wurruwila Wutja Research Centre, Professor Julie Andrews said the Centre was unique from other Indigenous-focused centres in that its emphasis would be on research partnerships with the Indigenous communities served by the campuses.

“The partnerships will provide not just collaboration between Indigenous community research priority projects, but also training for the community and La Trobe staff,” she said.

Professor Andrews said the Centre would also support Australia’s draft national research priorities, which highlight the importance of elevating and recognising First Nations knowledge systems and perspectives on science.

“Gabra Biik, Wurruwila Wutja Research Centre will work across all the proposed priorities to partner with Indigenous communities on research,” Professor Andrews said.

The first project underway is a collaboration with Transport for NSW and iMove – the national centre for transport and smart mobility research and development – investigating how Indigenous knowledge may be able to help improve the management of road networks, transportation systems and disaster response strategies.

Project Manager Ryan O’Callaghan said the project, ‘Aboriginal Cultural Landscapes Management Project’, aimed to understand how time-honoured practices that Aboriginal communities have used for generations to care for their lands and maintain their cultural heritage can be adapted and integrated into modern contexts.

“We’re particularly curious to explore how these traditional practices can be adapted and integrated into modern contexts. Can the methods that have safeguarded the land also contribute to improving our roads, transportation systems, and disaster response strategies?” he said.

Ryan said the project would consult with Aboriginal communities to ensure the sharing of knowledge is done in a respectful and ethically sound manner.

“We want to safeguard traditional knowledge and ensure that its sharing is guided by the wishes of the custodians of that knowledge,” he said.

The eight-year La Trobe Indigenous Strategy included the introduction of an Associate Dean (Indigenous) across its academic schools and implementation of an Elders Advisory Group and Indigenous Advisory Body.

La Trobe University fully commits to the principles of the Uluru Statement from the Heart and acknowledges our significant role as Victoria’s only state-wide institution of higher education to advance the treaty process.

/Public Release.