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Weaving together cultural connection: SCU Buzz

Three women smiling at camera outside the Living Lab Northern Rivers


Cloe Jager
8 July 2024

It is not through catching fish that a handwoven fishing net is nourishing people, but through connection to cultural practice, knowledge and community, according to Dr Kylie Day and Aimee Andersen. The pair spoke on SCU Buzz podcast about their research project into the sustainable construction of traditional fishing nets.

Stories behind the fishing net – sitting with the Aunties is a Community Engaged Research Project revitalising the cultural practice of string-making to construct a traditional fishing net. The project is funded by Southern Cross University’s Centre for Children and Young People.

Initiated by the late Aunty Gwen Williams, a senior member of the Bundjalung Nation and an honorary co-author in the research, the current project is co-led by academics Dr Kylie Day and Dr Jenelle Benson, Aimee Andersen from the Centre of Teaching and Learning and local Elder Aunty Jacqui Williams.

Speaking on SCU Buzz, Dr Day said the research project involved the selection of sustainable fibres, guidance from local knowledge-holders and collaboration between numerous community groups.

“At the University, we’re focusing on strength-based processes that Indigenous and non-Indigenous people can be involved in, in the community, to have an introduction to cultural practices,” said Dr Day.

“We’re concentrating on string-making and constructing a fishing net. It’s an active process that people are connecting with and having an immediate healing benefit from engaging in our workshop.”

Group of women sitting and making string
String-making workshop at Living Lab Northern Rivers

The project involved conducting research into the most sustainable fibre source for the string, with guidance from local weavers. String-making workshops were held which saw the sharing of knowledge and cultural engagement involving Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants. The string was then passed on to a group of men from Namabunda Farm in Alstonville to construct the net.

Ms Andersen said the project is an act of cultural revitalisation: “The impact of colonisation on this area with the Bundjalung people meant that weaving practice lay dormant in this area until around 15 to 20 years ago,” she said.

“It’s become a method of decolonisation for the non-Indigenous participants because they are connecting with Bundjalung people, they’re having an experience of weaving and it is community building. This project has also given local weavers agency to reclaim this cultural knowledge for themselves.

“We’re weaving a collection of our stories together in making this net, as Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants, and the impact of that cannot be understated.”

“We’re weaving a collection of our stories together in making this net, as Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants, and the impact of that cannot be understated.”

Kylie, Aimee and River in podcast studio with microphone in foreground

The research project was recently presented at the Rainforest Connections Conference in Ballina as an example of the environmental benefits of implementing Indigenous knowledge and sustainable ways of living.

“All of the nylon nets that have ever been made still exist. They take over 600 years to break down in the water,” Dr Day said.

“Our net would take 12 months to break down in the water and would become nutritious for the fish. There is a huge difference in the ecological impacts.”