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Bragg Prize runner-up: The Two Way Science

Bragg Prize

Congratulations to Kaya Kimla, for being a runner-up 2022 UNSW Bragg Student Prize for Science Writing

In her response to the theme “What is Science and Why Do We Need It?”, Kirrawee High School student Kaya Kimla explores Indigenous science – and its importance in contemporary STEM fields.

“I hope every student reads this essay and makes their own journey into understanding the value and depth of Indigenous science,” stresses Bragg Prize Judge and Head of Content at Refraction Media, Heather Catchpole. “A great topic and beautifully covered in this essay.”

Read Kaya’s full essay below.

“We all know the famous story of how Captain Cook first arrived in Australia, and claimed the land back in 1770 while the Indigenous people were still living there. However, let’s ask ourselves, how did the Indigenous survive for all those 65 000 years before Captain Cook set foot onto the island? Let me tell you, they used science. And not Western science: they lived and thrived with the elements that came from Indigenous science. Indigenous science was created and used by the Indigenous people, and this system of knowledge let them survive for tens of thousands of years.

“Indigenous science was created through the empirical knowledge and understanding of how the land was built, and the specific land placement and land care for environmental health of tribal lands. It is the process by which Indigenous people built their knowledge of the natural environment and that they developed differently and independently of Western science. It goes by the terms TEK (Traditional Ecological Knowledge), IPK (Indigenous People’s Knowledge) and even folk knowledge.

“We know that to eat food, men would go and hunt down animals in gathering groups. They created and used tools like boomerangs to slaughter the live prey, however, how did they come up with the boomerang and figure out it could be made into a deadly but efficient weapon by throwing it into the distance and in a couple seconds it would travel right back to you? How did the mothers and children know how to reproduce plants so that if they took a handful of berries, the plant would not stop growing? This was all thought out and created to help nourish and take care of the land, and to let Indigenous people survive for long periods of time.

“So why do we need to learn more Indigenous science and why is it so important, especially in today’s society?

“Indigenous science is based on spiritual, physical and social understandings. It helps people survive and contributes to their sense of being in the world. If we increased our understanding and taught more minds this important subject, we could shape our knowledge of modern science and look into the importance of Indigenous science. Modern science can sometimes not be as efficient as Indigenous science, because Indigenous science taps into the way nature creatively thinks and looks through all areas of the environment. It teaches students the links of survival to humans and how to use natural resources and elements in the wild, while it also gives students a different perspective other than modern-day science.

“Not only that, but the actual knowledge of Indigenous science connects students closer to Aboriginals and Indigenous cultures, and increases their understanding and identity with this area of life and culture.

“Modern science is extremely useful and it has shown and taught us many life-worthy skills and continues to do so. Modern science originated with the Ancient Greeks. It has come a long way and has shown us things like how to make electricity from coal, create Google Maps, and how to make slime at home. Modern science creates its knowledge through the understanding of the physical world, basing its information on observable evidence, reasoning, and trying different solutions multiple times. This type of science is all about making hypotheses and looking at the smaller picture, like, for example, bacteria or tiny microcells.

“If we look at Indigenous science, this looks at the picture from a bigger perspective or as a whole – how to care for the land, reproduce animals, survival tactics and the techniques for how to hunt your own food.

“For many generations, Indigenous people have used Indigenous science and it has worked very efficiently, and we as a society should be including more of it in our everyday lives.

“Modern science does show us some very good insights and information, but as we head into the future-world’s problems like climate change or the extinction of different species, Indigenous science can be a game changer. It has been proven through several studies that Indigenous science has much more practical effects and knowledge than modern science and because of this, we need to make more use of it. Cultural diversity even suggests that Western science and Indigenous Science should be viewed as co-existing or parallel to give students the opportunity to learn about both. As a result, we could completely change our understanding of science in a beneficial way and introduce students to this diverse and clever culture.”

For the 2022 UNSW Bragg Student Prize for Science Writing we asked Australian high school students to enter 800-word essays responding to the 2022 theme “What is Science and Why Do We Need It?”

Read the other winning entries:

  • 2022 winner Olivia Campbell, (Presbyterian Ladies’ College, Melbourne), explores the important role of viral science in our ever-changing world. Read her essay in full here.
  • Fellow 2022 runner-up Jasmin Wu walks us through her definition of science – and the impacts that social media has had on the field. Read her essay in full here.


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Love science and writing? The UNSW Bragg Student Prize for Science Writing opens for entries April 29.