Who owns Knowledge (Water)

This is the first of many blogs that will explore the depths of the Knowledge Water enterprise. I draft these ideas but what are their sources? Who owns them as they flow though this author’s mind and the keyboard to you? Are they now yours?

Mixing Knowledge Waters, Sisters Beach, Tasmania, downstream of where i learnt to swim

The natural resources, the means of production and intellectual property of the branding of Knowledge Water will be owned by the traditional owners. That is simple. These are legal facts.


But as with many things the whole is greater than the sum of the parts in what has been brought together in this partnership and I hope you find this journey into the depths of mixing knowledge water as enriching as I have.


Mrs D. N. Ngurruwutthun, the principal of the two schools at Yirrkala and later their senior cultural advisor was my principal teacher of yolngu knowledge and her guidance and company are much missed. There are other Yolngu elders and teachers I will reference when I speak of the layers and depth of knowledge they have shared.



I arrived in Yirrkala in 2004 as a 32-year-old teacher with two tertiary degrees and a head full of ideas structured by western science and philosophy. The works of Joseph Campbell had opened my eyes to unifying themes running through the stories of all cultures so my preconceptions were tempered by a willingness to let go and learn. The nerd in me was enthralled with similarities between the space-time of Einstein’s relativity and Gurruthu (kinship) and the presence of recurrence in both western mathematics and the Gurruthu system. Speakers of multiple languages will understand that Yolngu concepts are not simply western concepts by another name but their own uniquely constructed universe offering its own insights into the nature of being.


I got lucky and was adopted by a young man into his family full of teachers. This young man played bass and wrote and sang songs in the school-based band and was a shining light for the future. I remember early in our relationship his mother, Mrs D Ngurruwuthun, drawing my attention to one of his songs titled ‘water of knowledge’.


The Yolngu style of teaching is by gentle hints at depths for the student to find for themselves and over the years the many applications of the knowledge water metaphor was revealed and deepened. In this way knowledge is earned and not simply given. A language is a river and for a yolngu child the mixing of two rivers from two countries represents the mixing of the mother’s and father’s clan languages within their own identities. Years later I read a book while in India talking of the two rivers in their cultural history - the Dravidian and Arian sources of culture. The sources of concepts mixed into our own English language can also be understood with this metaphor.


And so this metaphor provides one conceptual framework for combining all the required knowledge and skills from western and Yolngu knowledge systems to make this enterprise a success. I hope you will enjoy my attempt to share the intellectual richness of Knowledge Water and explain the practical application of all the required skills and resources for a successful enterprise.


Knowledge Water. Closing The Gap Through Indigenous Enterprise

Go to the knowledge water website for more information or go straight to chuffed to support us

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