SCU plays key role in desert project

Published 12 December 2003

Southern Cross University (SCU) will play a key role in a $94 million collaborative research project aimed at improving the sustainability of remote desert communities.

Dr Kurt Seemann, a senior lecturer in SCU’s School of Education at the Coffs Harbour campus, has been recruited to lead one of the research tasks, which will form part of the Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), announced in July this year.

The Desert Knowledge CRC is one of a number of scientific research projects funded by the Federal Government and industry and will receive approximately $94 million over seven years. It involves a range of partners including ATSIS, CSIRO and the Northern Territory Government, as well as universities, other Government departments and desert community organisations.

Dr Seemann said the overall purpose of the project was to enable Australia to become a leader in the development of sustainable communities in arid zones. Within the overall project there are a number of research themes targeting: natural resource management; technical services for improved community economies; governance, management and leadership for sustainable futures; and integrated systems for desert livelihoods.

“All over the world human settlements are encroaching into deserts, or else the deserts are advancing, but the understanding of how to live in arid zones is not very well developed. In Australia we have the advantage of a rich knowledge base among indigenous communities and long standing plastral and mining towns to draw upon.” Dr Seemann said.

“If after seven years Australia can corner the international market of what it takes to live there that would be something other countries could buy off us. It’s all part of the reality of the emerging knowledge and innovation economy sweeping the world.”

Dr Seemann, who will head one of the research teams, is well-equipped for the job after spending more than 12 years living in Central Australia and working for an Aboriginal research organisation.

“It is a real coup for Southern Cross University. This Desert Knowledge CRC funding is the first CRC grant won by this campus (Coffs Harbour) and it’s the first one won by the Division of Arts and School of Education. It signals excellence and confidence in the university’s research strengths.

“We are a small player, but a key player in the project.”

Dr Seemann’s project, which comes under the umbrella of technical services for improved community viability, is focussed on improving the lifecycle of infrastructure in remote communities.

“The project is worth around $1m. That is just the first stage and then we have seven years to go for this research. The desert communities in Central Australia are in a crisis. People of all cultural and economic backgrounds are struggling to sustain a livelihood, while at the same time the Federal Government is unable to get an accurate picture of the problem.

“They are looking for best practice strategies that will help keep arid communities healthy and viable.”

Dr Seemann said part of his project would involve the creation of computer models that would enable strategic policy and planning in remote human settlements.

His team will look at areas such as improved telecommunication to allow the remote delivery of services which will help extend the lifecycle of housing and other infrastructure.

All innovative scenarios will be explored with communities. For example, one community may seek to maintain the health services and provide them to others via broadband, while another community may seek to main maintain the education services or parts supply for fixing houses and technical equipment.

The project will involve a number of PhD students who will work closely with remote arid communities. The first scoping stage of the project will begin next year.

Media contact: Brigid Veale, SCU Media Liaison, 66593006 or m. 0439 680 748.