Fiona Walsh


  • The University of Western Australia (M051), 35 Stirling Highway,

    6009 Perth


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Personal profile


Fiona earned a B.Sc. in Zoology and a Ph.D. in Botany and Anthropology from The University of Western Australia. Her Ph.D. was reported as the first UWA cross School Science – Social Science enrolment. Its topic was on contemporary land use and management practices and concepts of Martu Aboriginal people. She received the Catherine Berndt Award for the best Ph.D. contribution to Australian anthropology from an independent nomination. She has co-received other national and Territory awards.

Fiona has continued cross-cultural and transdisciplinary, applied and practical research throughout her 39-year career. Dr Fiona Walsh is one of Australia’s leading non-Indigenous ethnoecologists. She works in cross-cultural contexts with Aboriginal people in inland Australia and in transdisciplinary contexts with researchers from physical, biological, and social science disciplines.  Throughout her career, she has co-developed, practised, and reported on ethical approaches and methods for two-way science and knowledge sharing, that is beneficial to Indigenous knowledge holders as well as researchers. Her transdisciplinary approach has necessarily taken her outside traditional academia, to also do research directly and intensively with Indigenous people and communities on Country.

Ethnoecology blends ethnography and ecology to examine interconnections between people and ecosystems. The discipline is critical to understanding relations between contemporary and past Australian Indigenous people and their country with its plants, animals and landscape processes including burning and plant movement. Increasingly these processes are recognised to be ecologically transformative of Australian landscapes. Ethnoecology interprets this through comparison and contrast to science-derived information.  Since receiving her Ph.D., Fiona has expanded the field in Australia through major contributions for academia and land management practitioners.

She also learns and uses sophisticated video and written tools to aid intergenerational knowledge transfer and communicate new two-way-research findings.  Her work has been adopted by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal schoolteachers for two-way science frameworks in the classroom.

Fiona has an applied co-research approach with Indigenous people who both study and live their cultural ways.  She consistently foregrounds Aboriginal people, benefit sharing and culturally-appropriate media sometimes at the expense of research publications. Fiona’s research methods weave information from multiple sources – scientific and Indigenous, local and documented, artworks and archival film works. She triangulates to compare and contrast information from multiple sources. Not all strands are, or need to be, complementary. Her role as a facilitative leader is reflected in repeated requests for co-research with leading Aboriginal organisations and universities.

Fiona works across the lands of more than nine Aboriginal language groups in WA, NT, and SA. She has lived in arid Australia for 30 years. This allows her to observe the long-term variability of desert landscapes and ecosystem processes at a national scale. Ecologists residing in Australia’s arid regions are getting rarer.

Fiona and her partner had two sons both born in Alice Springs. The younger son died when 3 years old. The elder son is a fine young man now studying Industrial Design at RMIT.

Fiona has been resident in Mparntwe / Alice Springs since 1993. She maintains friendships and collegial relations with Aboriginal leaders, people, and organisations across Central Australia. She also plays active roles amongst landcare and community groups.

Roles and responsibilities


UWA title

Research leader: Desert people and spinifex termites in Australia’s desert grassland ecosystems

Principal and consultant: fionawalshecology

The University of Sydney, Senior Research Associate, ARC Kaytetye and Warlpiri ethnobiology and song

Current projects

UWA (Engineering and Biological Sciences) 2019 - :  ‘Desert people and spinifex termites in Australia’s desert grassland ecosystems’, Joint project with Martumili Artists, Australian Wildlife Conservancy and independent individuals

University of Sydney 2022-2024:  ARC ‘Kaytetye and Warlpiri ethnobiology and song’

Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa 2023:  ‘Connecting women across desert Australia’.

Central Land Council 2020 - 2023:  ‘Healthy Country Planning’ with traditional owners of ranger regions

Alice Springs Landcare 2022 - 2023:  ‘Ways to manage Buffel grass’

Funding overview

Recipient individual awards

2022:  Yitpi Award, $15,000

2020:  Australian Academy of Science Award, $25,000

2017 – 2023:  as independent consultant secured repeated contracts with external agencies to sustain enterprise

2004 – 2016:  fulfilled or exceeded CSIRO required external earnings equivalent to 40% - 60% of salary

1993 – 2000:  secured and managed c. $2.5 million contracts with Land and Water Australia (LWA), Rural Industries Research Development Corporation (RIRDC), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) and Landcare Australia.

Teaching overview

Fiona provides formal and informal mentor support to younger staff working in the intercultural sector especially those in Aboriginal managed organisations.

2022-23 Industry supervisor to Matilda Nelson (UWA BEng Sc Honours), ‘Linking Aboriginal art and knowledge with numerical modelling to understand ponding rainwater on termite linyji’

Fiona has previously supervised three Honours students.

She intermittently examines Ph.Ds on request and reviews research papers on request.

Industrial relevance

The industry of Aboriginal people has shaped the Australian continent for more than 60,000 years. Fiona works at the interface between Aboriginal people and Settler Australians. Her alignment with nationally recognised industry includes in conservation and land management, fire and environmental management, ranger work and training, commercial bush food and medicine developments, two-way science and knowledge sharing, intercultural learning. As a Principal consultant, Fiona is in constant demand for projects run by Indigenous people and their organisations and relevant government agencies at state to national levels.

Previous positions

2004 – 2016     CSIRO Research Scientist, Ethnoecologist, Alice Springs

2000 – 2004     Principal and consultant: fionawalshecology

1993 – 2000     Central Land Council, Coordinator, Land Survey and Planning

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
  • SDG 6 - Clean Water and Sanitation
  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
  • SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals

External positions

Ethnoecologist, CSIRO - Ecosystem Sciences


Principal, fionawalshecology


Coordinator, Central Land Council CLC



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