Dyason Lecture 2018: Dancing with Strangers. Imagining an Originary Moment for Australian STS

Courtesy Mitchell library, State Library of New South Wales

Helen Verran,
Professor, College of Indigenous Futures, Arts and Social Sciences, Charles Darwin University, Northern Territory.

Title: Dancing with Strangers. Imagining an Originary Moment for Australian STS.

In 1788 in what would in a few years become Sydney, not too far from the site where in 2018 a large group of scholars will meet to critically discuss the roles of sciences and technologies in modern cultures and societies, a group of sailors and soldiers danced with the strangers who had been warily awaiting them when they arrived on shore. Science and technology had also arrived, albeit to an extent unheralded. Of course, the strangers who at first hesitantly welcomed the group they assumed were mere temporary visitors, had their own highly elaborated traditions of knowing and doing that could with careful translation also have been understood as sciences and technologies. It is recorded in the colonial archive that as a start to that translation work, the two groups danced together. Each presumably also showed the other how to dance ‘properly’.

In this lecture I take this promising moment in which knowers in disparate traditions engaged each other with curiosity and respect, as occasion to articulate (another) originary moment in Australian STS.


Helen Verran grew up in her grandmother's house playing in the creeks that ran into the lower reaches of Sydney's Middle Harbour. Along with biology lessons at a lesser girls high school, the Long Reef rock shelf played its part, and to the bemusement of her family she went away to study science at university. In the 1970s the sciences in Australia were not welcoming for women rearing young children, so like many before her she turned to school teaching. An unexpected opportunity to teach science education in Nigeria led to a career shift, and returning to Victoria in the 1980s Helen joined Deakin University Science Studies Unit. It was here that her long engagement with Indigenous Australian knowledge traditions began. Retiring from nearly 25 years of teaching in the History and Philosophy Department at University of Melbourne, she took up a part-time professorship at Charles Darwin where her work with Aboriginal Australian knowledge practitioners continues.

The Dyason Lecture took place at the State Library of New South Wales on Thursday 30 August

Helen's talk commences around 11:00. You have to click in the sound bars to hear the talk.