ANU History Scholar Awarded Nugget Coombs Scholarship

ANU School of History PhD student Aileen Marwung Walsh has been awarded a Nugget Coombs Scholarship. The Nugget Coombs Indigenous Australian Scholarships are awarded to undergraduate and graduate Australian Indigenous students, to support fieldwork and research.

Aileen came to ANU in 2018 after receiving one of three new Deep Human History Laureate PhD Scholarships. Her work forms part of the Deep Human History project, an effort to transform the scale and scope of history, and to analyse Australia’s epic Indigenous narratives alongside new scientific evidence, to create a new and expansive understanding of the history of Greater Australia and Sahul.

“The deep human time project is pushing the historiographical boundaries by using evidence that is not text based. The rules governing the types of evidence that historians can use to support historical narratives has been text based since the inception of Western history,” Aileen says of the project’s aims.

“The importance of the discipline of history to realise its potential as a discipline that can include everything, including knowledge from other humanities and science disciplines means that there is a possibility of generating a larger and greater world view that makes the world more comprehensible and should not be underestimated by the discipline. Knowledge for its own sake is inadequate. Knowledge creation or generation to understand reality, especially to understand how we got here, is I suggest an important purpose of life.

With the Nugget Coombs Scholarship, Aileen will conduct fieldwork in Spinifex country, examining the rules around transmitting knowledge.

“Aboriginal people have been able to maintain knowledge that has been proven to be correct and true for up to 7000 years in some places. That means that knowledge has been passed down and through many more thousands of generations of Aboriginal people without written texts.”

Examination of such knowledge and its longevity, challenges historical notions of Indigenous knowledge of the past as mere mythology. New research has highlighted the accuracy of stories dating back thousands of years.

“The relationship between Aboriginal people and place is thus very long in the minds of Aboriginal people and very strong because it is still remembered. Connection to country then is not just some mystical feeling or association, but a very strong genealogical relationship physically and philosophically.”