Medicinal Plants of the Mbabaram people

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"Culture is not static, it's ongoing,
you can build your culture back again by being on country."

Mbabaram Land Managers surveying Mbabaram medicinal plants on country. L-R: Jordan Turpin, Jermaine Turpin, Valmai Turpin, Gary Congoo, and Cheryl Douras.

Mbabaram country stretches west from Herberton to Almaden and south from Dimbulah down to Mount Garnett in north Queensland, Australia. The Mbabaram Aboriginal peoples were originally moved off their country because of mining and pastoral leases during the early colonisation of the area by people European descent. For many years Mba­baram peoples worked to restore ownership of their land. Beginning in 2001 and continuing to present day, Mbabaram have received eight of nine native title claims. Despite being native title holders, years of displacement have degraded Mbabaram culture and language. Today, there are only 300 words left in language and only a small fraction of Mbabaram people remain on their land.

A day in the field

A group of Mbabaram elders sitting together on country.

With the Tropical Indigenous Ethnobotany Centre acting as a cultural broker, a group of young Mbabaram men and women conducted a survey of plants previously identified by Mbabaram elders as being traditional medicines. The group learned the skills necessary to identify plants, collect samples, and use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to record the location, habitat, soil, and geology associated with the plants. After the collection of these data, plant sam­ples were pressed, tagged and submitted for process­ing. Through these methodologies, young Mbabaram people learned new skills while spending time out on country with members of their community.

Working with scientists

Four Mbabaram representatives visited the National Institute of Com­plimentary Medicine at Western Sydney University to observe the testing procedures and meet the par­ticipating researchers. 18 plant samples were  tested for their amicrobial and antioxidant activity against four different microorganisms. It was found that four samples were able to kill bacteria effectively at low and high concentrations and two samples showed higher levels of antioxidant activity than Vitamin C. Throughout the project, researchers agreed to keep the identity of the samples anonymous to protect Indigenous rights to the knowledge. Likewise, the results of the study were published under joint authorship with Mbabaram peoples. The co-research methods conducted throughout this study exemplify equitable collaboration between Indigenous people and researchers and provide a foundation for future partnerships.

NICM labs. Gerry Turpin (L) and Jordan Turpin

WHAT'S NEXT?

- Involve more Mbabaram people in future plant surveys on country

- Investigate other medicinal properties (anti-inflammatory, wound healing, etc.) of Mbabaram plants

- Create accredited training camps for young people in the community

- Conduct similar research projects for water quality and land management