60,000 Years of Expertise: Engineering as Indigenous Knowledge
“When I was at school I was good at science…and a teacher one day said ‘Wow you’d be a good draftsman’, and then another teacher said ‘No skip draftsman, why don’t you become an engineer?’”
Dennis Jose, a Wanyurr man from the Yidinyji Nation, grew up in Far North Queensland and now owns and leads his own 100% Indigenous engineering company, Jabin Project Management.
Jabin is the Yindiny word for the crest of the Cassowary, and just as the Cassowary moves confidently forward without fear, so Jabin Project Management aims to move Indigenous enterprise forward in Australia.
Having earned a Bachelor of Engineering (Civil) and a Master of Environmental Engineering, Dennis set up Jabin in 2016 after realising that there were not a lot of Indigenous engineers, and recognising a chance to use his skills and expertise to further diversify the professions that Indigenous people undertake.
“Following a path is easier if someone has walked it before, and I wanted Jabin to be that pathway, to show Indigenous children and people that the opportunity to study in engineering is real,” said Dennis.
“I think we have to get better at promoting it, and promoting the opportunity to go back to communities, as an engineer, and provide the water supply, repair the sewage treatment plants, manage the solid waste components: all of this to do with improving living conditions in our communities.”
Lawyer and Government Advisor Arabella Douglas, a Minyunbal woman from South East Queensland and Far North New South Wales, similarly believes that Indigenous skills and achievements need to be much more visible in the Australian science and engineering fields.
“When I say ‘what are the best building stories that you know? What are the greatest engineering feats that you know of?’ I’m yet to meet an engineer that’s told me anything about an Indigenous engineering feat, in this continent, when they answer that question. That needs to change,” she said.
“You need to reposition the history of 60,000 years and how people have actually harnessed land, used land for cooperative existence, and those stories need to come alive.”
Arabella believes that young Indigenous students should be encouraged to understand their histories, and the huge contributions that Indigenous knowledges have made to the sciences globally.
“Architects and engineers need to get excited and say ‘I can actually be excited because I’ve got a historical, vibrant, really powerful history of engineering here, and I get to do something on top of that’,” she said.
“If you actually believe that something is in your blood, that you’ve done it before, that you can do it easily, you are more likely to feel a confidence about that, and that’s what young students need to understand – they come from a very lush cultural historical base. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Dennis Jose and Arabella Douglas were in conversation with EWB-Australia as part of a story series celebrating Indigenous engineering, supported by Bindy and David Koadlow.
For more information on Dennis and Arabella or other stories of Indigenous engineering success, visit the Engineers Without Borders website here.
Photo: Jeff McAllister