Why Dharmae? Rationale, collection development policy, aim and audience

In a changing climate, water raises increasingly complex challenges: concerning its quantity, quality, availability, allocation, use and significance as a habitat, resource and cultural medium. Dharmae, a ‘Data Hub of Australian Research on Marine and Aquatic Ecocultures’ brings together multi-disciplinary research data relating to water in all these forms.

The term “ecoculture” guides the development of this collection and its approach to data discovery. Ecoculture recognizes that, since nature and culture are inextricably linked, there is a corresponding need for greater interconnectedness of the different knowledge systems applied to them (1).

For example, science may be the best means of understanding the natural world, but it has so far proven less effective at producing change within cultural and political spheres than most scientists would hope. If we accept that humans are agents of undesirable changes in Earth’s climate, then cultures need to change. What will produce this change? It seems it is not simply more knowledge that is needed, but a different type of knowledge that is transformative or productive of action (2).

Dharmae therefore begins from the premise of respect for all knowledge systems or disciplines. After all, they would not have survived if they were not in their own way, rigorous, self-consistent and useful. For example, indigenous knowledge has developed over long periods of adapting to the changing environment and may improve our capacity to interpret conditions, changes and responses in the dynamics of ecosystems (cf. 3, 4). Local knowledge of the type provided in oral histories may provide clues to science, support new hypotheses or provoke new research questions. Knowledge systems run mostly in parallel, but Dharmae seeks out the points where cross-scale interactions occur: between global and local or across levels of abstraction. It aims to support researchers who are open to venturing from their disciplinary homeland into interdisciplinary territories, where perhaps new collaborations may flower.


Firstly we owe a huge debt of gratitude to the research participants who generously agreed to allow their contributions to be included. Particular thanks to Aboriginal participants, who are all too often asked to give their time to studies, but receive little in return. We thank you for your continued generosity of spirit. We have endeavoured to respect the wishes of all participants as communicated to the original researchers. If you feel that we have failed you in this regard, we apologise sincerely and ask you to contact us at atsida@lib.uts.edu.au (indigenous peoples and data) or data-librarian@uts.edu.au (other).

In keeping with its outward focus and ethos of interconnected open data, Dharmae includes links to, and/or data from a wide range of curated sources, which are acknowledged throughout the collection. These include, but are not limited to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Data Archive (ATSIDA), Atlas of Living Australia (ALA), State Library of New South Wales (Indigenous Unit), Geoscience Australia and Geonames.

Project Team:

UTS eResearch: Sharyn Wise, Carmi Cronje, Peter Sefton, Thom McIntyre, Kevin Davies, Mike Lynch, Paul Nguyen and Mike Lake

Contact: eresearch-it@uts.edu.au

UTS Library: Duncan Loxton and Kendell Powell

Contact: atsida@uts.edu.au 

Selected Resources

  1. Pretty, J., 2011. Interdisciplinary progress in approaches to address social-ecological and ecocultural systems. Environmental Conservation Vol. 38, No.131.

  2. Tàbara, JD, & Chabay, I, 2013. Coupling Human Information and Knowledge Systems with social–ecological systems change: Reframing research, education, and policy for sustainability. Environmental Science & Policy, Vol. 28, pp. 71-81.

  3. David M. J. S. Bowman, Jason Gibson & Toshiaki Kondo 2015 Outback palms: Aboriginal myth meets DNA analysis. Nature Vol 520, 33. doi:10.1038/520033a

  4. Reid, N, Nunn, Patrick, Sharpe, M. 2014. Indigenous Australian stories and sea-level change. Foundation for Endangered Languages; Proceedings of the 18th Conference of the Foundation for Endangered Languages / Heinrich, P Ostler, N (eds): pp.82-87