This thesis describes and analyses the process of conducting a collaborative ecological research project. The project was conducted by a Ph.D. candidate at the Northern Territory University, Australia, and community rangers and traditional owners living on Aboriginal land in two areas of Arnhem Land. One study area was a national park jointly managed by traditional owners and the Northern Territory government; the other was solely managed by traditional owners with assistance from community-based organisations. The ecological research project was designed to investigate sea cucumbers that inhabit the intertidal and subtidal zones around the coast in those areas. Standard western-based ecological survey techniques were employed to conduct the sea cucumber research. A framework to guide the researcher and enhance community participation in the research was developed, and data about the research process collected and analysed. Research findings from applying the process at the two study areas are narrated. Roles, structures and mechanisms that were useful in the research and during the process are detailed. The thesis recommends an alternative process for conducting participatory ecological research with indigenous Australians, a process that offers greater equity in the research partnership. This ideal process is used as the platform for analysing the similarities and differences between the study areas. Implications for future participatory research with indigenous Australians are discussed and linked to current knowledge. The thesis concludes that large components of the work did not fit the description of collaboration, largely because of the divergent worldviews present. Results suggest that western worldviews prevail and manifest themselves in current approaches to participatory research, in ways that perpetuate inappropriate research paradigms and worldviews. The thesis recommends that western researchers make the same cultural shift as Aboriginal Australians have taken in recent generations to redress the inequity in current participatory ecological research projects.
Submitted in fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Northern Terrritory University, 2001.