30 Sept 2021


In the pilot episode of WWF-Australia Conversations, WWF-Australia CEO, Dermot O'Gorman is joined by Tyson Yunkaporta, Senior Lecturer Indigenous Knowledges, Deakin University, author of Sand Talk - How Indigenous Thinking Can Save The World and member of the Apalech Clan in Far North Queensland

Transcript from episode

If we are to truly tackle the challenges we face, you must radically change our mindset. What got us to where we are today. One get us to where we need to be tomorrow. We need to make space for new and different thinking, thinking that will actively challenge traditional ways of problem solving as community groups, businesses, governments, and NGOs. We need to work together to radically reinvent. We must apply innovative level thinking, adopt emerging technologies, seek to experiment and uncover new voices.

Joining WWF-Australia’s CEO, Dermot O’Gorman is Tyson Yunkaporta, acclaimed author of the award-winning book, Sand Talk - How Indigenous thinking can save the world. Tyson is a member of the Apalech Clan in Far North Queensland, is a senior lecturer on Indigenous knowledge at Deakin University, an art critic, and carver of Traditional tools and weapons.

He's talking to us today from the Kulin Land in Melbourne Australia. Welcome Tyson. And thank you so much for joining me today. Let's get started Tyson. I finished reading your book and in there, there's a beautiful story about a young boy and he's out of the box approach to problem solving. Society tends to place rules around how we learn and think and respond to problems. Disruptive thinkers, break those frameworks and ways of problem solving, and often that's not really well-received. So you, you wrote, and I love this, this phrase in your book that the next generation of disruptive thinkers could be found in the detention room of any high school, but in these times, are disruptive thinkers, really the rebels?

Tyson Yunkaporta:

But that, see that's interesting, just the concept of, you know, of good thinkers being sort of rebels or iconoclasts, you know, that's kind of a real mythology and I'm sure I've been radicalised by that since the seventies watching like every single movie, every single TV show, every single book is all about that rebel, who, you know, thinks his own way and goes his own way and bucks against the system, you know, and I guess a few decades of that, everybody thinks they're the rebel that's thinking differently, you know, and that has just, so exponentially increased. So it's interesting that that kind of rebellious disruptive thinking is now the norm and is now actually causing more problems, than offering solutions. So I guess you, your way around that is if you examine your thinking and if you, if you see yourself, your thinking as being diametrically, opposed to somebody else's, you know, rather than in dialogue with that, then probably you're not doing good thinking.

Dermot O’Gorman:

Climate change is going to result in Australia, looking very different. The climate risk is something that going to have to grapple with as a society over the coming decades, how will this impact where we decide to live, to build, to grow our food? And I think most importantly, to maintain the communities across Australia?

Tyson Yunkaporta:

Well, for a start, if you don't move with the land, the land will move you. Yeah. So it's being able to create populations that can be mobile, and that necessarily means rethinking, what real estate is. So, you know, you're unable to move to high ground as needed, for example, you know, so that needs to happen. And then also, you know, we need to learn a lot of the coping strategies for the big population disruptions that are coming and that's good, a good thing to talk to, that sort of recent knowledge from that you can find from Indigenous people, who've dealt with dispossession and all that sort of thing. But also, you know, a lot of refugee communities, you know. It's all these practices there's wisdom from all of the world's cultures and from all of everybody's ancestors have wisdom and everybody thinks they've lost it. You know, it's only been a century of industrialisation. It's only been a century that the system of nation has existed. Nationalism has only a century old, you know, there is wisdom handed down and it's in your language as in sayings, it's in songs, it's in all kinds of things. It's in prayers, it's in texts, all these things have been handed down and your ancestral wisdom is there.

Dermot O'Gorman:

Could you tell me a little bit about what that looks like at the work you're doing in the Indigenous knowledge systems lab at Deakin University, how do you integrate Indigenous thinking and ecosystems approach into academia and into traditional science practices?

Tyson Yunkaporta:

We have to step outside of the usual cycles of testing, measuring, investigating reporting, and then research translation at the end that you find in the academy traditionally, you know, we need to step outside of that. And so we're very committed to operating more like a think tank, but responding in real time so that there are ideas and our thinking is, is constantly publicly available. And every week you know, there's more of that thinking going out into the world and we'll pick up some of those threads and run the research projects. And, our grad students will be doing their thesis, around those things. But at the same time, we're seeding ideas out there. We're not, you know, holding these jealously guarding them, and that's our IP and all that sort of stuff. We're just, okay, well, we gotta be the goose that laid the golden egg, instead of getting one golden egg and clutching that forever and saying, that's mine. We need to be throwing out a golden egg a day, and we need to be putting that out into the world. So I guess at the Indigenous knowledge systems lab we're doing that. We're laying the golden eggs, and we're sharing them around.

Dermot O'Gorman:

Tyson, there's been a lot written in the last few years on this idea that we're going into the fourth industrial revolution, which if I simplify things is really focused on advances in intelligent technology. Do you think the next revolution has to be industrial, or should we be thinking about it as the first ecological revolution?

Tyson Yunkaporta:

Well, you know, that's tricky because, I mean, I think we need to be thinking about already, what's going to be needed for those next generations coming. That we'll be beginning that thousand-year cleanup, you know, because that will be the next revolution.

I think we're in a very short-lived revolution now, which is a digital one. You know, which requires just so much infrastructure just to kick the can down the road for a bit longer. But, you know, that can only last for as long as rare earth metals last, this sort of digital revolution right now, what's required to power it, you know, to fuel it, but also to build it, you know, the amount of sand that needs to be scraped out of the seabed, because the terrestrial sand is finished pretty much, you know, in order to build the buildings, to house the servers, which are increasingly massive, massive, massive, and to provide for the infrastructure for, increasing populations and populations moving, all these sorts of things.

Just to keep that growth going, you know, but I think we need to be looking towards what the next revolution will be, you know, and it can be, it can be a cataclysmic fall, or it can be, you know, something that's quite wonderful. But that's going to take everybody's mind working on that one in a massive changing of cultures, and it needs that thousand flowers blooming, you know, every bio-region every community doing things in different ways and, you know, but then being interdependent enough to be communicating what they find.

Dermot O'Gorman:

That's a really optimistic point I think to wrap up our conversation, Tyson, the fact that whilst we're all different, we are through our country interdependent on each other. And in some ways it's that collectiveness that can help to solve some of the big challenge that you talked to us about today. Thank you so much for joining us. Really appreciate it.

Tyson Yunkaporta:

No worries. Same way.