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Aboriginal knowledge narratives and country: Marri kunkimba putj putj marrideyan

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By Payi Linda Ford

Published: 2010
ISBN: 978-1-921214-71-4
Pages: 230
Imprint: Post Pressed


Dr. Payi Linda Ford is a senior Rak Mak Mak Marranunggu woman whose country is Kurrindju in the Finniss River and Reynold River regions of the Northern Territory. Educated in an Aboriginal cultural context of Traditional knowledge and practices growing up with her Traditional mother, uncles, aunts, grandparents and extended family, she was authorised to use Rak Mak Mak Marranunggu epistomology and ontology by her Ah-la Ngulilkang Nancy Daiyi in her Doctoral studies at Deakin University and Charles Darwin University. Payi is currently Senior Lecturer with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Unit at the University of Queensland and a Board member of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS). As a mother, academic, researcher, educator and practitioner of Indigenous traditions, Payi Linda Ford possesses a unique experience that she now shares with those who wish to enhance their understanding of the Indigenous cross-cultural environment.

The thesis on which this book is based is a culmination of my research which drew on tyangi wedi tjan Rak Mak Mak Marranunggu and Marrithiel knowledge systems. These awa mirr spiritual knowledge systems have guided our Pilu for millennium and have powerful spiritual affi liation to the land and our continued presences. The understandings of the spiritual connectedness and our practices of relatedness have drawn on Pulitj, our deep awa mirr spiritual philosophy that nourishes us on our country. This philosophy gave us our voice and our presence to act in our own ways of knowing and being on the landscapes created by the Western bureaucratic systems of higher education in Australia to bring forth our Tyikim knowledge systems to serve our own educational interests.

From this spiritual ‘Puliyana kunun’ philosophical position the book examines colonising constructions of Tyikim peoples, Tyikim knowledge systems in education, Tyikim research and access to higher education for Tyikim students. From the research, it is argued that the paradigm, within which the enclave-derived approach to Indigenous higher education is located, is compatible with the normalising imperialistic ideology of higher education. The analysis of the Mirrwana/Wurrkama participatory action research project, central to the research, supported an argument for the Mirrwana/Wurrkama model of Indigenous higher education. Further analysis identifi ed fi ve key pedagogical principles embedded within this new model as metaphorically equivalent to wilan~bu of the pelangu. The book identifi es the elements of the spirituality of the narrative exposed in the research-in-action through the “Marri kubin mi thit wa!”. This is a new paradigm for Tyikim participation in higher education within which the Mirrwana/Wurrkama model is located. Finally, the book identifi es the scope for Tyikim knowledge use in the construction of contemporary ‘bureaucratic and institutionalised’ higher education ngun nimbil thit thit teaching and learning experiences of Tyikim for the advancement of Tyikim interests. Here the tyangi yigin tjan spiritual concepts of narrative and landscape are drawn upon both awa mirr metaphorically and in marri kubin mi thit wa Tyikim pedagogical practice.

Table of Contents


  • Dedication
  • Language use in this book
  • Acknowledgements
  • Overview
  • List of Acronyms
  • Index

Chapter 1 Introduction to the Study. Ma!

  • Introduction
  • My Research Project
  • Learning Sites, Narratives and Landscapes
  • Indigenous Knowledges and Western Education
  • My Research Direction and Focus
  • Conclusion

Chapter 2 Positioning the Researcher in the Study

  • Cultural Context of the Researcher
  • Tyangi wedi tjan kinin
  • Mathutapu – Holders of Mak Mak (Indigenous) Knowledge
  • The Researcher’s Journey in Education
  • Concerns about Indigenous Higher Education
  • Conclusion

Chapter 3 Positioning the Study

  • Introduction
  • Non-Indigenous (White) Constructions of Indigenous (Black) peoples as ‘Others’
  • Indigenous Knowledge Systems in Education: an overview of the contemporary scene
  • Indigenous Research Agenda and Indigenous Research Reform Agenda
    • Indigenous Research Agenda
  • Indigenous Research Reform Agenda
  • Indigenous Access to Higher Education
  • Conclusion

Chapter 4 Research Methodology

  • Introductory Comment: Indigenous Research Reform Agendas
  • Introduction to the Research Methodology
  • Mirrwana and Wurrkama Ceremony
  • Paigu, Kundu dap kunin Wurrkama ngun!(Working Together!)
  • Firing the pelangu
  • Participatory Action Research
  • Research Procedures
  • The Landscapes of the Research Project in Symbolic Form
  • Ma-wadi
  • Description of the Ma-wadi
  • Colours
  • Shapes
  • Interpretative Summary of the Ma-wadi
  • Marrung Pilu ni-nni (My story in the ma-wadi)
  • Concluding overview the ma-wadi
  • Conclusion

Chapter 5 Case Study: Wurrkama - getting to the sweet bread in Mirrwana

  • Introduction: the Indigenous Metaphorical Underpinning to the Case Study
  • Phase 1: Talking the idea into existence
    • 1998: Beginning with my Mak Mak Marranunggu Family
    • 1998: Beginning with the Higher Education System
  • 2003: The Project Proposal
    • Objectives of Proposed Research
    • Description of Proposed Project
    • Expected Outcomes from the research
  • Phase 2: “Doing It’
    • The Action Research Project (ARP)
  • Week 1: Teaching and Learning Session
    • Post-session Reflections
  • Week 2
  • Weeks 3 to 6
  • Weeks 7 to 11
  • Weeks 12 to 15
    • Student Presentations: Week 12
    • The Indigenous Community Reference Group Presentation: Week 13
    • Faculty Academic Reference Group Presentation: Week 13
    • Indigenous Academic Teaching Group Presentation: Week 14
    • Linda Ford’s Presentation: Week 15
    • Done It!
  • Phase 3: ‘A Success or What?’
    • Beyond the ARP-based ETU323 Pilot of 2003
  • Concluding Comment

Chapter 6: Analysis on the Case Urra ngung ngi~ing yangi marri! “Give me your story!”

  • Introduction
  • My Project and Organisational Changes at CDU 2000 - 2004
  • 2003 Semester 3
  • Unit ETU323 as a cultural representation of the Indigenous Cultural Identity “Nginaba ngung?” “Who are you?”
  • Unit ETU323 and the ARP Project as an example of Indigenous Research-in-Action
  • The ARP Project and Indigenous Access to Higher Education
  • Conclusion

Chapter 7: Narratives and Landscapes in Indigenous Higher Education Kar-na Marri gu nidin kan!

  • Introduction
  • An Authentic Place for Indigenous Knowledge within Higher Education Institutions
  • An Expanded Mirrwana/Wurrkama Model of Indigenous Higher Education
    • Potential Barriers and Obstacles to the Mirrwana/Wurrkama Model of Indigenous Education
  • Pedagogical Principles in Indigenous Higher Education
    • Narrative as Pedagogy
    • Relationality as Pedagogy
    • Discursiveness as Pedagogy
    • Political Integrity as Pedagogy
    • Indigenist Research as Pedagogy
    • Pedagogical Principles as a holistic approach to Indigenous Higher Education
  • Conclusion

Chapter 8: Conclusion to the Study Marri gu Waki tjan!

  • Addressing My Research Questions
  • Marri yigin ga kabalwa parrp wanthi nging wa

Appendix 1 Ethics Application: Plain Language Statement for Student Teacher Participants

Table of Figures

Figure 1: The Action Research ‘Moments’ and Spiral
Figure 2: Mapping the Changes in Indigenous Education at NTU/CDU
Figure 3: The Mirrwana/Wurrkama Model of Indigenous Higher Education applied to one Unit of study in a Pre-service Teacher Education Degree Course at CDU
Figure 4: An Expanded Mirrwana/Wurrkama Model of Pre-service Indigenous Teacher Education
Figure 5: Addressing Indigenous Knowledge through Pedagogical Principles acting Holistically in Higher Education


Payi Linda Ford has written a groundbreaking book.

The book draws on the knowledge systems within which Payi grew up guided by her Elders; the tyangi wedi tjan Rak Mak Mak Marranunggu and Marrithiel knowledge systems. It was from within these same Aboriginal knowledge systems that Payi identified deep metaphors that her people, her Tyikim, had used to guide their understandings of spiritual connectedness and practices of relatedness that nourishes them on their country. In this book Payi has turned these metaphors to give voice for Indigenous action in ways of knowing and being on the contemporary landscapes created by the Western systems of higher education in Australia.

This book is a timely contribution to the debates over the place of Indigenous knowledges within universities in Australia and elsewhere in the world. It is particularly timely for Australian universities given that in this book Payi argues that it is time to move beyond the enclave-derived paradigm, now over thirty years old, for providing access to higher education for Aboriginal Australians. This paradigm provides, at best, limited respect for the knowledge and cultural positioning of Aboriginal adult students. Payi argues that universities are still trapped within colonising constructions of Indigenous peoples and their knowledge systems in education, research and access to higher education for Indigenous students.

Payi provides a description and analysis of a participatory action research project, centred in academic context of the Northern Territory University and on the Aboriginal countries of the hinterland of Darwin. From this project Payi presents, with the full support of her Elders, an argument for the Mirrwana/ Wurrkama model of Indigenous higher education. Through this model Payi shows how Aboriginal peoples can bring forth their own knowledge systems to serve their own educational interests. Recommended reading for those in universities and elsewhere seeking an avenue into a more powerful paradigm of Indigenous higher education.

Dr John Henry, Geelong, Victoria, Australia

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