PhD Stephanie Beaupark, wearing a black shirt and green skirt, stands against a tree. She holds a handful of red berries towards the camera.  Photo: Paul Jones

Ngugi scientist and artist receives prestigious Australian Academy of Science Award

Ngugi scientist and artist receives prestigious Australian Academy of Science Award

UOW PhD student Stephanie Beaupark uses art to foster collaboration between science and First Nations communities

As a scientist, artist and researcher, Ngugi woman Stephanie Beaupark draws her inspiration from the thousands of generations of First Nations scientists who came before her. Their work, in creating and learning alongside Country, influences every aspect of Stephanie’s research as a PhD candidate at the University of Wollongong (UOW).

“First Nations scientists have never been limited by disciplinary boundaries and have always known the reciprocal relationships between all levels of life,” Stephanie said. “Indigenous knowledge is Indigenous science.”

Crossing disciplinary boundaries and bridging the gaps between different types of knowledge is evident in Stephanie’s PhD; as a chemistry student, she is focusing on art as the conduit between physical sciences and Indigenous communities.

Stephanie was announced today as the recipient of the prestigious 2023 Australian Academy of Science Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Scientist Award. 

The award honours outstanding research from emerging Indigenous scientists who are PhD candidates and early- or mid-career researchers. Stephanie was recognised alongside Michelle Hobbs from Griffith University.

Established in 2018, the award recognises research in the physical and biological sciences, allowing interdisciplinary and sociocultural research straddling the social sciences and humanities.

PhD Stephanie Beaupark, wearing a black shirt and green skirt, stands against a tree. Photo: Paul Jones

An Associate Lecturer in the School of Geography and Sustainable Communities at UOW, Stephanie said she was thrilled to receive the award, as this would ensure her First Nations research collaborators were paid for their time and input.

“I feel very grateful to be one of the two recipients of this award in 2023. This award is a product of all the hard work from all mob and women who came before me,” Stephanie said.

“With this opportunity from the Australian Academy of Science, I can finally move ahead with community collaboration. I have spent a fair bit of time ensuring that I can pay people at a standard that ensures that all First Nations contributors can benefit from being involved. This year is going to be exciting to be able to progress in my PhD research in the right cultural way.”

Additionally, Stephanie will use the award to create an honours scholarship for an Indigenous student to join her on the project, and pay Indigenous artists who work with natural materials to yarn and create art with her.

Stephanie is studying the colour chemistry of natural dyes from Australian native trees, such as Eucalyptus cinerea, and using an Indigenous methodology that involves yarning with other Indigenous natural dye artists and weavers.

Stephanie’s research brings together her dual passions of chemistry and visual art, and was inspired by an internship she undertook at UOW’s Centre for Atmospheric Chemistry.

As part of this experience, Stephanie examined how Indigenous knowledge of weather and climate is not mirrored in the European model of seasons that has been adopted in Australia.

One thing led to another, as Stephanie, who is also an artist and exhibition curator, used her honours thesis in 2020 to focus on where colour comes from in native plant dye mixtures. This is being expanded in her PhD to understand how the changing seasons influence the colours and dyes derived from native plants. She is also ensuring this knowledge prioritises Indigenous leadership and collaborative Indigenous research methodologies.

“I’m looking specifically at the eucalyptus dye used to make artworks and how the colourant compounds interact with the dye mixture to fix onto silk fabric and wool,” said Stephanie, who is a descendent of the Ngugi people of Quandamooka Country.

“The aim of this project is to define how creative practice can build connections between chemistry and Indigenous ways of being and gaining knowledge.

 “I hope the better integration of these knowledge systems will also allow us to better take care of Australia and create a sustainable future for textiles colourants and alternatives to mainstream artmaking materials.”

An outstanding and creative scientist, Stephanie is committed to using her research and her teaching to continue building the connections between Indigenous knowledge, science and art.

“Art is science, science is art, all united by Country.”