Gerry’s Deadly

DEADLY: Observing the natural environment.

Gerry Turpin has always had a strong passion for Indigenous plant use, and maintaining and documenting this knowledge for future generations has always been one of his top priorities.

By Haylee Asplin

Gerry Turpin is an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow in James Cook University’s Australian Tropical Herbarium (ATH) in Cairns. The Australian Tropical Herbarium is part of the Tropical Indigenous Ethnobotany Centre (TIEC), a joint venture between Traditional Owners of North Queensland, the Cairns Institute, James Cook University, CSIRO and the Queensland Government.

DEADLY: Observing the natural environment.

DEADLY: Observing the natural environment.

A great deal of traditional knowledge is disappearing as elders are passing on and TIEC is a way to bring economic benefits into Indigenous communities through their knowledge of bush tucker, bush medicine and long term sustainability of their country and communities.

Gerry says the main purpose of TIEC is to maintain and record the cultural knowledge so that it can be passed on to future generations.

“TIEC is the only Indigenous-driven Ethnobotany centre in Australia dedicated to Indigenous ecological knowledge of plants,” he said.

“Traditional Owners identified that it is a valuable means of supporting them in the conservation, management and communication of their ethnobotanical knowledge.”

Gerry has been the recipient of several awards, such as a Length of Service Certificate in recognition of 22 years of service by the Department of Environment and Resource Management and a Highly Commended Technical and Professional Excellence award for Herbarium surveying, mapping and monitoring of regional ecosystem projects. As well as these prestigious awards, Gerry and the Tropical Indigenous Ethnobotany Centre he leads have recently been nominated for a Deadly Award in the category ‘scientist or science project of the year’.

The Deadly Awards are known for showcasing the achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across all fields, such as sport, music, science, education, culture and more and Turpin values the recognition it provides.

“Since colonial times, Indigenous people have been portrayed as not having much to contribute to society. These awards show that Indigenous people do have abilities and can make valuable contributions to society in general, whether it is a sporting team, a workplace or politics,” Turpin said.

IN ACTION: Gerry gathering plant samples.

IN ACTION: Gerry gathering plant samples.

“If Indigenous people are recognised for their efforts, they will continue in their desire to excel, and other Indigenous people will see the possibilities and hopefully be motivated. Historically (or traditionally), Indigenous people have never been recognised for their scientific or long ecological knowledge systems, lore, and customary obligations they have to their country. Now the broader Australian society has an opportunity to appreciate and understand the intimate knowledge they do hold about their country.”

Director of the Australian Tropical Herbarium Mr Darren Crayn says Gerry has always held an extremely significant role and helps drive the TIEC agenda onward.

“The Tropical Indigenous Ethnobotany Centre (TIEC) is unique in Australia in being an Indigenous-led initiative devoted to the study of the cultural use of plants. It is truly cross-disciplinary, involving social scientists, botanists, and Traditional Owners,” Darren said.

“Gerry is the centre of the Centre, using his amazing skill set as an elder of the local Mbarbarram people with a degree in botany to drive the TIEC agenda forward.”

Although Gerry knows he is up against some tough competition and wishes there was more than one winner, he says that he is honoured just to be a finalist in such a huge award ceremony.

“I actually know a couple of the other finalists and I know that they are doing great things in their own particular fields – and I’m sure the ones I don’t know are outstanding as well,” he said.

“It’s a pity that there is only one winner, but for me, just to be a finalist is an honour.”

Voting is open until the 18th August and winners will be announced on 10th September 2013 at the Sydney Opera House.

To vote for Gerry Turpin follow this link down to the Scientist or Science Project of the year.