The activities that took place during the 18th and 19th century are what make up the Royal Botanic Garden.
The aim of the patch of landscape was to mirror those found in the United Kingdom and to document the floral diversity of New South Wales.
This was powered by the economic driver to find plants that held potential for new and existing industries, a scenario that was mirrored across Australia and throughout the world.
The presumption was that the plants were not known by humans before they were discovered.
Many are named using Latinised terms to describe various features and a number are named after politicians or patrons.
We are becoming more aware that this is not realistic. George Hibbert, who made his fortune from slave trading, was the subject of a recent article by my colleague Dr. Kevin Thiele.
The plants in the environment of the aboriginal people are detailed and advanced based on thousands of years of exploration. They have had the opportunity to observe and record how species change in response to the environment and how different species can be used for the benefit of their community.
A core component of our organisation's role is "discovering" new species, and scientists like myself still get excited by it. We do this because we want to protect these species from the ravages of climate change before they become extinct.
There is a lot of commentary on "decolonising" collections across the globe and how this might happen. Ensuring that the Indigenous perspective on nature is a core component of both our displays and educational programs is a starting point. We have had great success with Indigenous education programs at the Royal Botanic Garden. The Latin version of plant signs is being used to educate visitors about how Indigenous people used the plants. Given that botanic gardens are usually located in places that hold significance to local aboriginal communities, there is still a lot of work to be done.
Enhancing the involvement of Aboriginal people in our science programs is an issue that affects every field of science. Programs such as Deadly Science run by a Stem expert are doing great things to inspire a love of science in Indigenous kids and should lead to a group of scientists in the future.
We need to explore and expand opportunities to increase the involvement and recruitment of aboriginal scientists in a meaningful way across the entire science and research sectors. In sciences focused on the natural world, this is important as these are areas likely to have an impact on the care and management of Country into the future and which need the input of Aboriginal people to be appropriate and meaningful.
When describing new species, Indigenous languages could be used. In collaboration with the Indigenous community, wherever possible, spend time in that community and approach the research in a humble manner. Ensuring that the collaboration is reflected in the outputs of research papers and reports is important.
The past 250 years of science in Australia can't be changed. This knowledge and perspective can be incorporated into a new approach that can result in a more effective way of managing our environment. The Royal Botanic Garden has recently launched its First Nations Engagement Strategy and has a strong focus on recognizing the connection between the gardens, plants and knowledge.
Hopefully this will foster the broader community's understanding of the depth of knowledge about the flora that has existed for thousands of years.