From Smokebush to Spinifex: Indigenous traditional knowledge and the commercialisation of plants

Main Article Content

Terri Janke


Indigenous Australians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, have diverse relationships with plants and their seeds. This cultural knowledge has been passed on through the generations, creating a deep history that has produced sophisticated fields of knowledge intimately linked to both diverse cultural geographies and the natural environment across the country. Western scientific, government and private sector commercial institutions have been collecting Australian plant material for over 200 years. Sometimes, such ‘collectors’ obtain the Indigenous knowledge simultaneously with the plant material. On occasions, the culturally-based Indigenous ownership of that knowledge is acknowledged by collectors. However in the majority of instances that has not been the case. Furthermore, different western institutions take different approaches to the collection, management and use of Australian plant material and associated Indigenous plant knowledge. A particular challenge in this arena is the lack of any shared understanding of Indigenous knowledge and intellectual property issues that are involved, and how those might best be addressed. But there is a gathering momentum, from diverse quarters, to face such challenges. This paper aims to contribute to consideration of the issues involved in order to promote more robust inclusion of Indigenous rights, interests and concerns.

Article Details

Author Biography

Terri Janke, Terri Janke & Company Pty Ltd

Terri Janke is a Wuthathi/Meriam woman from Cairns. She is the Solicitor Director of Terri Janke and Company, a commercial law firm that specialises in Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP). She empowers Indigenous people so they prosper. Terri advises on legal matters including incorporation, joint venture, procurement, governance, employment and engagement. She is an international authority on ICIP and has written the leading protocols and ICIP models in the film, arts, museum and archival sector. She is valued mentor, an advocate for Indigenous business, an accredited mediator and governance expert.


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