• Matt Sykes

Bush University, lessons from Aboriginal professors

My gateway into Aboriginal culture was through the search for Sustainability. It was 2008 and I was in my final year of landscape architecture at Melbourne University. For our design studio we were asked to research a sustainable technology. My friends were gravitating to new trends, like bioremeditation and permaculture, but there was something missing.

Image 1 - Lurujarri Dreaming Trail, Western Australia, an ancient Aboriginal songline

Aboriginal songlines were the technology I selected and in doing so, I became a student of Australia's 'Bush University'. First Nations' Elders became my professors and a whole other world view opened up. An elective at RMIT led me to the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail, a 9-day guided walk along the coastline north of Broome, guided by the Goolarabooloo community. I figured that if the tradition of walking Country, and recalling the stories of ancient ancestors, had served Aboriginal people for millennia, there must be something to it.

Walking Country isn't just a holiday with some feel-good stories, its caring for Country. It's practicing culture, promoting community wellbeing and its the business of managing land and sea resources. You don't get that in a business textbook! Look at the way fire is used to regenerate the land. As the name of this blog signifies, the burning of Country leads to Yuta Bitpit, new shoots and regeneration. This concept isn’t just about plants, it also relates to people and business.

I've always believed in studying with the best teachers and at the best institutions. In the western context, that includes design at Melbourne University, business at Cambridge University and ecotourism in Tasmanian Tafe. But it’s by listening to the intellect and wisdom of Aboriginal 'professors' that I’ve come to a kind of what Potawatomi Native American woman Robin Wall Kimmerer calls ‘two-eyed seeing’.

Image 2 - The wukalina Walk near the Bay of Fires in Tasmania invites non-Aboriginal people to experience Country, and history, from a different perspective of seeing

Let me give you an example, Regeneration Projects is currently collaborating with Dr Carolyn Briggs AM, from the Boon Wurrung Foundation, on a cultural education program. Aunty often talks about parts of the landscape as if they we an organ of the human body and then how that relates to managing it and the myriad of life it supports. She talks about Nerm / Port Phillip Bay as a filter, like lungs. It’s a beautiful way of thinking but your western mind is probably asking, what’s the relevance?

In Environment Victoria’s report to the Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability, the authors value Port Phillip Bay’s ‘water filtration services’ to Melbourne and the surrounding catchments at around $11 billion per year. (1) The question then becomes, is the business community managing Nerm as if it were an $11+ billion natural, cultural, wellbeing and economic asset?

The regenerative future is about how we bring these different ways of seeing together. That's going to take a different kind of leadership, one that's bold enough to bring First Nations' voices to the boardroom table AND one that's bold enough to step into the Bush boardroom.

PS: I highly recommend adding the Lurujarri Trail and the wukalina Walk to your post-COVID travel list.

Image 3 - Nerm / Port Phillip Bay provides Melbourne with ecosystem services valued at over $11 billion annually


(1) Eigenraam, M., McCormick, F., and Contreras, Z. (2016) ‘Marine and Coastal Ecosystem Accounting: Port Phillip Bay’. Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Victoria. Accessed on August 22 at

49 views0 comments