Triple treat for Top End research scientist 

Social scientist Dr Lisa Petheram

Social scientist Dr Lisa Petheram has three good reasons for returning to the Territory this month: the Charles Darwin Symposium, her academic graduation and the NT Government’s Research and Innovation Awards.

Each event is indelibly linked to her PhD research, which explored using visual methods to facilitate joint learning and communication in environmental management in remote Indigenous communities.

The research took Dr Petheram to Cat Tien National Park in Vietnam and Dhimurru Protected Area on the western edge of the Gulf of Carpentaria, where she investigated the potential of visual techniques such as video, photography and mapping, to understand the perspectives of local Indigenous people on natural resource management issues.

“My enquiries focused on payments for environmental services [in Vietnam] and the adaptation to climate change [in Arnhem Land],” she said.

“I found that different techniques were useful for different purposes. Some were more effective in engaging people or for enhancing recall and others more effective in encouraging thinking in unrestrained ways.”

Dr Petheram will draw on her research in the NT to deliver “Strange Changes: Indigenous perspectives of climate change and adaptation in NE Arnhem Land” at the Charles Darwin Symposium 2011 next week.

“The Yolngu people attribute some of the changes they have observed in their ecological landscape to climate change and they are concerned that there has been a minimal allowance for input from Indigenous people in the development of strategies and policies for climate change adaptation,” she said.

“They have ideas and preferences for strengthening community adaptive capacity to adapt to climate change – ideas that tend to lead towards greater self-sufficiency, independence and empowerment.

“An interesting pattern to emerge was that the discussions about climate change habitually became conversations about daily issues in their lives such as poverty, health and education.

“It’s an important lesson that when planning climate change adaption we don’t separate climate change from what’s happening in people’s lives today but rather that we look at climate change and present day issues in tandem.”

Dr Petheram, now a Post Doctoral Fellow at the School of Sociology at Australian National University, will deliver “Strange Changes" on Thursday 13 October from 11.30am to 12pm at The Holiday Inn, The Esplanade. For the Symposium program visit

The following evening she will be a guest of the NT Government at the NT Research and Innovation Awards gala dinner where she is a finalist for the New Generation Award.