Ranger Esperance Tjaltjraak’s zamia palm project merges cultural knowledge and science


Doc Reynolds is in search of knowledge once held by his ancestors.

It is part of a project, launched on the south coast of WA, which goes to the heart of today’s celebrations of Mabo Day and National Reconciliation Week.

By merging local indigenous knowledge with Western scientific methods, the Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation hopes to shed light on the culturally significant zamia palm.

The zamia palm was also known by several traditional names, including bayoo, jeeriji, and grenning, and scientifically known as macrozamia dyeri.

Mr Reynolds, senior cultural advisor at the Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation, said the project could have far-reaching implications.

“We want to prove that cultural science has been around for many, many, many thousands of years. And how we can begin to correlate with Western science today.”

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Bringing together indigenous knowledge and western science at Esperance’s Cape le Grand
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Lab tests could reveal secrets of plants

In the 1980s, scientists found evidence of a zamia roasting pit in Cape le Grand National Park, east of Esperance.

A man standing in the bush wearing a shiny work shirt and hat.
Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation, Doc Reynolds, Senior Cultural Advisor for Aboriginal Society, stands behind the culturally significant zamia palm.(

ABC Hope: Emily JB Smith


The site, which is now on the list of national heritage places, said that 13,200 years ago people processed the plant, presumably to eat it.

But Mr Reynolds said much of the knowledge about which part of the plant to treat, how to treat it and its nutritional value has been lost.

“[We are now trying] to relearn some of those things that have been taken away from us by past acts and practices that have sidelined our people from not being able to engage in culture. “

Through the federally funded Tjaltjraak Healthy Country program, the group aimed to merge local cultural knowledge with current scientific methods, to learn more about the plant.

Three people walking in the bush to collect seeds.
Tjaltjraak environmentalists and rangers work together near Wharton Beach.(

ABC Hope: Emily JB Smith


The first step was to send pieces of zamia from around Esperance for testing in Perth, to find out its nutritional value and potential toxicity.

Genetic testing on local plants could also determine whether zamia plants were naturally dispersed or carried by the ancestors of the Nyungar.

Zamia were considered poisonous

Environmentalist Nathan McQuoid said the zamia palm was decried by early colonizers, resulting in a vast loss of knowledge associated with it.

A man in a wide-brimmed hat standing in the bush with the ocean behind him.
Environmentalist Nathan McQuoid hopes to help rediscover knowledge about the culturally significant zamia palm. (

ABC Hope: Emily JB Smtih


“And now there’s a chance to fix that, as well as recover that knowledge. To help rediscover these lost technologies and lost foods.

“As a whitefella, there is a legacy from some of my predecessors who took this away from the Nyungar people and I am very keen to try and help them get it back again.”

He said modern science knew little about the plant apart from basic taxonomic information.

“A great sense of cultural empowerment”

Doc Reynolds was heavily involved in the Indigenous title claim filed by the Esperance Nyungars, which was determined in 2014.

He said those looking for determination always hope it will lead to projects like this.

“When I started the conversation with the original native title claim, it was the wishes and aspirations of all the old guys back then, and they entrusted me in all family groups to be able to start. this process, ”he said.

“Old guys who want to do this stuff now to see their grandchildren participate in it, for me personally, it’s a great sense of cultural empowerment. It’s pretty special to me.”

A man collecting seeds in the bush.
Tjaltjraak ranger Jeremy Smith is eager to see what the Zamia Palm Project uncovers. (

ABC Hope: Emily JB Smith


Jeremy Smith is the grandson of the late Tom Bullen, who was one of the driving forces behind the Aboriginal title claim.

Mr Smith is now one of the rangers in Tjaltjraak and has said that being part of the zamia project is a “privilege”.

“The most rewarding thing for me would be to bring this practice [of treating the plant] come back and be able to do it the right way, ”Smith said.

Merge two knowledge systems

Mr Reynolds said the zamia project showed how important it was to bring together western and indigenous knowledge systems.

While they each represented different ways of knowing, he believed they could complement each other in a myriad of ways.

He explained that indigenous systems tended to take a broader view of the world, never looking at any aspect of an environment in isolation, but as part of a single big picture.

“It’s our science from the start. This is how the culture stays strong, because of this big picture that we always look at.”

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