Australia is a vast landscape made up of a wide range of ecosystems spanning vast deserts, large areas of relatively intact tropical savannah, thick rainforests, stone country off-shore islands archipelagos, mangrove systems, fringing coral reefs and complex river and wetland systems.

Sharing Knowledge Project

Australia is home to a rich array of plants and animals found nowhere else on the planet, not to mention the world’s largest coral reef system. Over 80 percent of Australia’s mammals, reptiles, and flowering plants are found only in Australia. Unfortunately, Australia also has one of the highest extinction rates in the world, and the largest documented decline in biodiversity of any continent over the past 200 years. It also is typically cited as being one of the countries most at risk from climate change.

Kings Canyon, Northern Territory

In addition to pressing environmental concerns, Australia, like many countries, is facing concerns about the loss of its traditional cultures and languages. Aboriginal Australians have a long history of and connection to caring for the land, and are the keepers of a wealth of invaluable traditional knowledge related not only to the environment, but also to the arts, to culture, and to history here.

By the end of the twenty-first century, it’s estimated that more than half of the 6,000 world languages spoken today will be replaced by dominant languages, such as English. At the start of European settlement in Australia, for example, there were more than 700 spoken languages in Australia. Today, fewer than 200 of these languages remain in use, and all but twenty are considered endangered. As language embodies cultural, traditional, and ecological knowledge unique to its speakers, the loss of language embodies the loss of unique place-based knowledge.

Sydney, New South Wales

Australia has been working to institute programs and projects to help slow or stop these environmental and cultural trends, and to work toward sustainability of both its natural environment and its rich cultural heritage. These programs include efforts to incorporate sustainability and Aboriginal cultural heritage and history into school curriculums, joint initiatives between Aboriginal owners of the land and government or state entities, and grassroots efforts to preserve biodiversity in urban, suburban, and rural communities alike.

The Earthducation team will be learning and sharing information about some of these programs as they meet with schools and universities, Aboriginal communities and leaders, environmental organizations, and small businesses in New South Wales, the Northern Territory, and Queensland. They will travel from the most densely populated area of the country (the city of Sydney and New South Wales) to the most sparsely populated (the Northern Territory), as well as to the Great Barrier Reef communities of northeastern Queensland.

Sunrise, Kakadu National Park

Some of the topics that will be investigated during their travels include biodiversity, uranium mining, sustainable beef production, the history of distance education and the School of the Air in Australia, the worldwide importance of the Great Barrier Reef, the role of reconciliation in the recent history of Australia, and the contributions and insights of the Traditional Owners and Aboriginal communities to both the environment and the culture in this ancient and unique land.