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Technologists in remote Aboriginal communities : a regional approach for community-building technology

Anda, Martin (1998) Technologists in remote Aboriginal communities : a regional approach for community-building technology. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This study developed from technical research and development of an ablutions facility for remote Aboriginal communities by the author. The poor state of environmental health and essential services in these communities were the inspiration for the study and are described in the context of current and emerging approaches to service delivery in Western Australia. The fieldwork associated with the deployment of the ablutions facility provided the opportunity to conduct research into these approaches by technologists and has resulted in both the evaluation of the ablutions facility and formulation of Appropriate Technology approaches to service delivery using grounded theory methodology.

Contained within the ablutions facility, known as the Remote Area Hygiene Facility (RAHF), were several discrete technologies also under development by the author and associates: a plastic solar water heater, a pour-flush toilet and an evapotranspiration wastewater disposal system. The technical appropriateness of these artefacts was assessed through action research trials in Aboriginal town camps and there were both successes and failures in this dimension of technology-practice. The structural design of the RAHF changed considerably over the period to meet the requirements of the users. The trials found that the solar water heater was able to function as required in the short term, but further development was required to provide suitable plastic components for continuous operation at high temperatures and under ultraviolet irradiation. The pour-flush toilet met all of its technical objectives, but further development was required to produce a durable, low-flush cistern. The evapotranspiration trench performed entirely satisfactorily and was thereafter implemented at other sites throughout Western Australia.

The fieldwork combined with a review of Appropriate Technology, community development and aid projects in developing countries inspired a concept to address the social and cultural dimensions of technology-practice: Community-building Technology. Community-building Technology is a simultaneous process of service delivery and empowerment which introduces technology to a community by means of training programs, community participation in construction projects, or cultural activities. One RAHF project was able to validate this concept. As a result of the fieldwork becoming an exercise in service delivery the establishment of regional, Appropriate Technology, training and manufacturing centres was attempted. One centre was established, but the attempt was unsuccessful at the other two sites. Additional fieldwork was conducted by the author to determine the requirements for regional technology information services. This ongoing work with remote Aboriginal communities motivated the development of two further concepts complementary to the first: Community Technology and Regional Technology. The former required the establishment of an ensemble of integrated technologies within a community and could not be validated within the scope of the study. However, some legitimacy could be shown for the latter through a review of approaches in central Australia, the aspirations of some regional organisations in WA, and the successful establishment of the Remote Area Technology Centre as a regional Appropriate Technology agency. Finally, the strength of these three concepts was found to be as components of an integrated framework for sustainable service delivery, management, and maintenance in remote Aboriginal communities which combined the resources of a number of communities in a region. This improved mode of technology-practice, the integrated framework, is termed Regional Technology.

Publication Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Environmental Science
Supervisor: Ho, G. and Mathew, K.
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