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Celebrating Millenia of Indigenous Engineering at Melbourne Connect

Melbourne School of Engineering

Sandra Aitken holding the eel basket at Tyrendarra Indigenous Protected Area, Budj Bim, November 2020


The Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology has commissioned an eel basket from Gunditjmara weaver and artist Sandra Aitken. The eel basket is displayed at the entrance to the Faculty office on Level 7 of Melbourne Connect.

The Budj Bim Cultural Landscape, located in the traditional Country of the Gunditjmara people, contains one of the world’s oldest aquaculture systems. For over 6,000 years, Gunditjmara people have engineered the Budj Bim lava flows to create a complex system of channels, weirs and dams in order to trap, store and harvest kooyang (short-finned eel). This highly productive aquaculture system enabled the community to establish permanent housing and villages.

Sandra Aitken explains: ‘The Indigenous art of basket weaving was passed down to me through generations of my ancestors. I was taught and shown by my father’s sister Auntie Connie Hart, who was a highly-regarded Gunditjmara basket weaver and a Community Elder.’

The Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology is collaborating with the Gunditj Mirring Tradition Owners Aboriginal Corporation and Gunditjmara community to document and understand the sophisticated aquaculture systems of Budj Bim.

An ARC project awarded in late 2020 aims to elucidate the engineering processes that enabled the Gunditjmara to site, plan, construct, operate and maintain this aquaculture complex, to show how it may have evolved over time, and how it responded to changing social and environmental circumstances. This project will develop geospatial methods to uncover and document the technological foundations of the aquaculture complex, and contribute to the understanding of the Gunditjmara technological knowledge and history.

Students are working collaboratively with the community to undertake engineering and interpretation projects that will protect the landscape, benefit the community and support tourism.