Holistic knowledge – Ngunnawal

This task will look at how holistic societies and knowledge systems function. It focus on the knowledge systems of the Ngunnawal people, who live around Canberra in southern Australia.

Two ways of working with this topic are suggested below:


1. Draw a circle on a page.

2. Write these categories around the outside of the circle. Space them evenly around the edge:


Meeting Points

Topography (landscape)

Technology/ Defence

Seasons of year





3. Read the articles below and make notes in the circle you have drawn.

This website is made by the Ngunnawal people. It introduces visitors to their culture and history. Read the “Ngunawal People” section of this website:


As you read, stop each time you find a new piece of information, decide in which categories it fits, and draw a line between these categories. Make a note of which bit of information the line represents either along the line, or add it at the edge. For example, when you read that Ngunnawal collect food from hunting, you draw a line between Food and Nature, and write the word “hunting” along that line.

4. When you have finished, discuss these questions:

a. How is holistic knowledge formed?

b. In what way does nature play an essential role in Ngunnawal life?

c. Think of other societies you know well. Are there holistic elements in the knowledge systems of these societies?

d. What are the advantages and disadvantages of holistic knowledge systems?


Alternative way for doing the task:

Nine pupils stand in a large circle, with each person representing one of the categories mentioned in part 2 of the task above.

As the other pupils work with part 3 of the task, instead of drawing lines, they send a line of thread or a rope between the categories. When the pupils are finished, there should be lines criss-crossing the circle.

Then the teacher can start cutting the lines ,discussing what happens when they are broken. Categories can also be taken out (discuss how this might happen in real life situations) and pupils can discuss how this will effect the lines in the circle as a whole.

Pupils can then discuss the questions in part 4 of the task above.

(When the circle is broken down, there will also be the opportunity to discuss how different government policy has worked for some indigenous societies, what sort of help is needed in holistic societies and what challenges there are in giving the right sort of help. This could also be linked back to the differences between indigenous and western knowledge systems – see here)


More information:

For more information on holistic systems within indigenous societies, look at http://firstpeoples.org/how-our-societies-work.htm