Aboriginal Environments Research Centre

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Towards Novel Biomimetic Building Materials: Evaluating Aboriginal and Western Scientific Knowledge of Spinifex Grasses

The project contributes to an environmentally sustainable Australia by examining the potential value of a hitherto ignored natural resource and assessing its usage with sustainable harvesting.

Biomimetic theory advocates drawing from nature to find new technical solutions. This project will apply and advance biomimetic theory and produce practical outcomes in the context of Aboriginal traditional knowledge and new materials. Spinifex grasses have been largely ignored as a sustainable resource, despite their widespread distribution throughout Australia, and unique biology that has evolved within harsh environments. This project examines material properties and sustainable applications for spinifex using innovative methodology. Aboriginal traditional knowledge combines with Western science to evaluate spinifex properties in the context of traditional Aboriginal uses, ecology, sustainable harvesting, and novel biomimetic materials.

Burning the spinifex to allow researchers to determine regrowth patterns. Photos by Susanne Schmidt.

Elder Ruby Saltmere assists Aboriginal trainees in constructing a traditional shelter using spinifex. Photographs: Tim O'Rourke.

  1. Burning the spinifex grass. Photograph: Paul Memmott.
  2. Trainees overlay spinifex onto the timber frame of the shelter. Photograph: Paul Memmott.

  3. Trainees inspecting the completed shelter. Photograph: Tim O'Rourke.

  4. The completed spinifex shelter. Photograph: Merv Gordon.

1.2. 3. 4.

  • Apply and advance biomimetic theory and produce practical outcomes in the context of Aboriginal traditional knowledge and new materials.
  • Investigates the ecology of spinifex species in relation to sustainable harvesting.
  • Investigates the properties of spinifex in the context of traditional Aboriginal uses.
  • Investigates the material performance of spinifex thatch as a roof and wall cladding.
  • Investigates the identification and evaluation of potential novel biomimetic materials based on the properties of spinifex.
  • Investigates the development of biomimetic materials together with advancement of biomimetic theory and methodology.
  • Complete
  • 2008
Project Contacts
Partners & Funding Details
    Funding Body: 
  • Australian Research Council
    Funding Amount: 
  • $770 000.00
  • Memmott, Paul, Flutter, Nickolas and Penny, Marie (2009). Biomimetic design prospects from an understanding of Aboriginal uses of spinifex grasses.
  • Memmott, Paul, Hyde, Richard and O'Rourke, Timothy (2009). Biomimetic theory and building technology: use of Aboriginal and scientific knowledge of Spinifex grass.