I supervise and mentor postgraduate researchers on various topics on Indigenous knowledge of astronomy, geology, and mathematics. If you are interesting in pursuing a project, please contact me. Indigenous students are highly encouraged to apply!

Celebrating Mabo Day 2015 at AIATSIS.
Celebrating Mabo Day 2015 at AIATSIS. L to R: Bob Fuller, Melissa Razuki, Dr Duane Hamacher, Trevor Leaman, Michelle Gantevoort.

Current Supervision

  • Trevor Leaman (PhD, UNSW) – Wiradjuri Aboriginal Astronomy
  • Bob Fuller (PhD, UNSW) –  Astronomy of the Saltwater People of SE Australia
  • Carla Guedes (MA, UNSW) – Cultural Competency for Astronomers

Past Supervision

  • Imogen Casey (Hons) – Morning Star Ceremonies in Northern Australia
  • Michelle Gantevoort (Hons) – Tasmanian Aboriginal Astronomy
  • Emma McDonald (Hons) – Worimi Aboriginal Astronomy

Want to Study With Us?

There are a number of degree programs available for those wishing to study Indigenous astronomy at the Honours, Masters, and Doctoral levels.

  • Bachelor of Arts with Honours
    • Duration: 1 year.
    • Thesis: 15,000 – 18,000 words (plus coursework).
    • Entry: 3-year Bachelor degree in relevant area with minimum overall grade of Distinction (70%, GPA = 3.0).
  • Master of Arts or Master of Philosophy
    • Duration: 1.5 – 2 years.
    • Thesis: 30,000 – 40,000 words.
    • Entry: 4-year Bachelor degree with Honours (H1, H2A, or H2B ) in a relevant area from an accredited university.
  • Doctor of Philosophy
    • Duration: 3.5 – 4 years.
    • Thesis: 100,000 words.
    • Entry: 4-year Bachelor degree with Honours (H1 or H2A) in relevant area from an accredited university or a Master’s degree with a thesis component of at least 25% of the overall degree (at 2A or above if graded).

International Students: Students who obtained their degrees from overseas will need to check with us before applying. A substantial senior thesis (15,000-20,000 words) as part of an undergraduate degree may meet the equivalency requirement for an Honours thesis.

Mature-Aged Students: Most of our team are mature-aged students coming to academia after a career in industry or other long period since graduating. For those who wish to pursue postgraduate studies but earned their degrees more than 10 years ago, it’s best to complete an Honours or Masters degree before attempting a PhD. This will arm you with the tools necessary to tackle a PhD and get you up to speed on the current scholarship.

Research Requirements: Coursework Masters degrees with < 25% research component will only be competitive if the student has published research in the form of refereed books, book chapters, journal articles, or conference proceedings through reputable scholarly publishers. In the absence of a research thesis, admission to Masters and PhD programs with a scholarship will be difficult to obtain.

Relevant Areas: Students planning to enrol in an Honours or Postgraduate degree program at the Monash Indigenous Centre must have some background in the social sciences or humanities. The more relevant disciplines (depending on the proposed project) include Indigenous studies, anthropology, archaeology, sociology, human geography, history, cultural studies, linguistics, philosophy, etc.

An “appropriate background” can range from a full degree program to some established upper-level coursework (with sufficiently high marks, >70%). If you have an undergraduate degree in STEM, you will need to gain some social science background before enrolling. This may include a Graduate Diploma, Graduate Certificate, or some upper-level coursework in the social sciences. 

Due to the interdisciplinary nature of this research, students with no background in science may need to audit a couple of relevant courses, such as first year astronomy or environmental science units.

Language Requirements: There are no requirements for learning a second language but students from non-English speaking countries must meet English language requirements. However, learning a second language – particularly an Indigenous language – is encouraged.

Contact: Feel free to email me if you have any questions or if you are interested in pursuing studies under my tutelage. When enquiring, please include the following:

  1. a CV or Resume;
  2. a copy of your university transcripts (unofficial copies are fine);
  3. an example of your writing, such as a thesis, term paper, or publication; and
  4. potential project that interests you (see below for suggestions);

Potential Student Research Projects

The following is a list of potential Honours, Masters, and PhD projects. Other projects are available or may be proposed by students.

Planets and Planetary Motions in Astronomical Traditions

Many Aboriginal and Islander cultures differentiated planets from stars, but little is known about these traditions. This study will survey the ethnographic, archaeological, linguistic, and historical records for information about the role planets had in astronomical traditions. This will include investigating planetary motions, the retrograde motion of Mars, brightness changes, their relationship to stars along the ecliptic, and understanding how the planets were incorporated into oral traditions of Indigenous groups across the continent.

Researching the Astronomical Traditions of Particular Indigenous Communities

There are hundreds of distinct Indigenous language groups and communities across Australia, each with unique traditions and customs. This project will involve working closely with community elders and custodians to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the astronomical knowledge and traditions of a particular community or language group.  It is important to investigate the role of astronomy in both pre-colonial and contemporary Indigenous cultures and understand how it relates to identity and spirituality.

Celestial Navigation

Indigenous people across Australia and Oceania used the sun, moon, and stars for navigation, both on land and sea. Unfortunately, little is known about the navigational techniques of most Indigenous groups. This project will explore the historic and ethnographic record for information regarding navigation by Indigenous people. An ethnographic component is possible.

Astronomical Ethnomusicology

Many Indigenous communities shared information through song and dance. This project will involve working with communities to record and understand the role of astronomy in song and dance. In the 1980s, Richard Moyle conducted a comprehensive survey of Alyawarra music, in Central Australia. Some of which contains astronomical significance. Hundreds of other communities exists with similar songs, yet little is known about the musical structure or astronomical significance. Alternatively, the composition of new music based on Indigenous music are possible (click here for an example).

Astronomy and Rock Art

This project will involve surveying and studying rock art across Australia to study their astronomical significance. There is a probable anthropological component, as many of the sites are looked over by Aboriginal custodians, who will provide the meaning and context of the rock art.

Astronomical Orientations of Stone Arrangements & Ceremonial Sites

This project will involve surveying and studying stone arrangements across Australia to determine if they have astronomical orientations. Recent research shows that stone arrangements are oriented to the positions of the sun at solstices and equinoxescardinal points, or celestial objects such as the Milky Way.

Dark Constellations

The dark spaces in the Milky Way are seen by Indigneous peoples across the world as being “dark constellations”. These include snakes, kangaroos, emus, crocodiles, llamas, partridge, toads, and foxes to name a few. This project will investigate, analyse, compare, and contrast different views of dark constellations from around the world.

Solar and Lunar Traditions

The sun and moon play an important and role in Indigenous practices, culture, and traditions. This project will explore this link with respect to time keeping, calendars, tides, and many other solar-lunar relationships.

Cross-Cultural Study of Celestial Objects

Celestial objects, such as constellations, asterisms, stars, star clusters, galaxies, or nebulae, have a particular role in the astronomical traditions of Indigenous cultures. Curiously, many of these stories are very similar despite being separated by distance and time. Why, for example, are the Pleiades typically associated with women and the stars of Orion with men, chasing the women? Why is the Aboriginal name for the Milky Way so common across the country? This project will involve choosing specific objects and conducting a cross-cultural study to better understand the origins and connections of oral traditions across Australia and other parts of the world. Historical, anthropological, and linguistic analysis may shed light on these questions.

Theoretical Frameworks in Cultural Astronomy

Despite being an established academic field for well over 30 years, the interdisciplinary field of cultural astronomy – which merges the physical, natural, social sciences and humanities – it is still struggling to find its place in wider academia. Stanislaw Iwaniszewski once noted that “For a long time I have believed that such diversity [in cultural astronomy] requires the invention of some all-embracing theory. I think I was very naive in thinking such a thing was ever possible.” But as the scholarship evolves, we are developing new approaches to this, particularly in an Indigenous context. Using established and emerging scholarship, this project will explore ways in which we can develop new and innovative methodological and theoretical frameworks for cultural astronomy research and education.

Indigenous Knowledge and the Education Curriculum

Incorporating Indigenous Knowledge into primary and secondary school programs, particularly in the sciences, is essential for the new curriculum. But accomplishing this is difficult as few people have the broad background in education, Indigenous Studies, and science that is necessary to tackle the challenge. This project will involve using teaching pedagogies, combined with the latest research, to develop appropriate and regionally specific programs and materials for incorporating IK into the primary and secondary education curriculum.

Mathematics in Indigenous Culture

This project will explore the myriad ways in which mathematical knowledge is developed and used by Indigenous cultures (dubbed “ethnomathematics”). This may involve studying Indigneous number systems, understanding the algorithms of marriage or totemic systems, or geometrical and spatial skills.

Studies in Geological Knowledge

Many oral traditions describe various geological events, such as volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, earthquakes, and meteorite impacts. This project will involve surveying the historical and archival records for accounts of geological events, then working directly with community elders and custodians. Using geological and archaeological techniques, the student will analyse evidence of these events. For example, many Aboriginal traditions across Victoria and South Australia describe volcanic eruptions and tsunamis, but we do not know if these traditions are describing specific events. The project may also involve working with elders and custodians at places such as Liverpool Crater in western Arnhem Land or the volcanic Crater Lakes in northern Queensland.

Weather and Climate Knowledge

The student will investigate how weather patterns, seasons, and climatic cycles were used by Indigenous people and incorporated in their traditions. Relationships between the environment, climate change, land resource management, and weather patterns and their application will be studied.