Associate Professor Liz Cameron

Liz Cameron is a member of the Dharug nation in north-west Sydney, Australia. Liz is an artist, spatial designer, academic, and researcher. Her artistic endeavours involve a diverse range of mediums that actively incorporate Aboriginal practices, relationships, and knowledges.

About Associate Professor Liz Cameron

Liz Cameron is a member of the Dharug nation in north-west Sydney, Australia. Liz is an artist, spatial designer, academic, and researcher. Her artistic endeavours involve a diverse range of mediums that actively incorporate Aboriginal practices, relationships, and knowledges. Drawing upon her extensive experience in the visual arts and Indigenous knowledge systems, Liz’s research primarily revolves around practice-led research within artistic domains, by utilising decolonial theories and embodied visual communications.

Liz implements Country-guided practices that authentically reflect the essence of cultural place. Her interests delve into exploring various subjects such as identity, belonging, and the global impact of design. Within the realm of the built environment, Liz’s research specifically focuses on cultural representation, examining the connection between Indigenous cultures and national identity.

Liz continues to build on her PhD studies in how creative making plays an important role in health and healing.


Cameron, A. E. (2018). Communication partner training delivered face-to-face and via telepractice with health professionals, health professional students and people with aphasia. . Aeipt.225667.

Cameron, E. (1979). Flying catchers (Some birds of southeastern Australia). IELAPA, 298–303.

Cameron, E., Cogger, H., & Heatwole, H. (1978). A natural laboratory (Torres Strait island fauna). IELAPA, 190–197.

Cameron, G. E. (2011). Can conflict resolution education help young refugee students cope in the classroom? . Aeipt.200407.

Cameron, L. (2010a). Supporting Indigenous Nursing Students. The Australian Nursing Journal: ANJ, 18(6), 39.

Cameron, L. (2010b). Supporting Indigenous Nursing Students. The Australian Nursing Journal: ANJ, 18(6), 39.

Cameron-Traub, E. (1990). Nursing, education, practice and health care for women. IELAPA, 73–77.

Dalman, E. C., & Trouton, L. D. (2004). Interculturalism and dance-theatre: interview [by Lycia Danielle Trouton] with Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, (OAM) choreographer-dancer. Bungendore, A. C. T., Australia, January 18, 2004. IELAPA, 168–186.

Gruppetta, M., Southgate, E., Ober, R., Cameron, L., Fischetti, J., Thunig, A., Heath, T., Burns, K., & Clifton, S. (2018). Yarning the way : the role of Indigenous education paraprofessionals in guiding the post-school transitions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth. . Aeipt.220480.

Mason, P. H., & Dalman, E. C. (2009a). Brain, dance and culture 2: evolutionary characteristics in the collaborative choreographic process of Elizabeth Cameron Dalman. Brolga: An Australian Journal about Dance, (31), 19–26.

Mason, P. H., & Dalman, E. C. (2009b). Brain, Dance and Culture 2: Evolutionary Characteristics in the Collaborative Choreographic Process of Elizabeth Cameron Dalman. Brolga: An Australian Journal about Dance, (31), 19–26.


Video Transcript

How would you like to introduce yourself?

Hi, I’m Liz Cameron, I’m of Dharug  descent and I work at  the University of Newcastle  in the School of  Architecture and the Built Environment.

Can you tell us about the varied fields in which you have studied, worked and researched?

So probably starting from school, I  didn’t enjoy school that much.  I wasn’t very good at it and was told I  was a bit of a dreamer.  So I decided to get into nursing because  that was at that time,  that was the job that you got  paid for.  So I thought money was  pretty important at that time.  So I took up nursing.  I lasted there about three years and then  I went into the creative arts.  From there I went into some post-grad  studies at Macquarie  University which was on Indigenous  social health and then working in the  university setting led me  to start my Masters which I  transferred up to a PhD in Indigenous  Knowledges from a creative standpoint.

Can you tell us more about the focus and your experience of doing your PhD?

Yeah, so I never thought I was a writer.  I remember that clearly  and I was really challenged  to think that I could ever complete. I  think the artworks by  doing the arts practice really  helped me and built my confidence at that  time. I spent a lot of  time with some community,  particularly some artists, around  traditional knowledges, particularly from  a creative standpoint.  I started to build more knowledge as I  went on, which led to  different avenues to look  at what was important about traditional  knowledge. I guess my main  mission was to restore and  revive some of the traditional  knowledges, particularly around  creativity.

Do you want to tell us about a research project you are currently or recently involved in?

I’m involved  in two research projects at the moment.  One is at an Indigenous  school in Cairns where we’re  looking at working with community in  co-designing a school that’s suitable for  the students, for the  staff and the greater community. This  involves flying up, being  with community, being with staff  and hearing their voices. One of the  things that we did, which was really  successful, was to work  with the students in a more arts-based  inquiry. So we got them to do  a great big map of the school  and then they were filling in things that  they would like to see at  their school. I was quite  amazed. I thought there would be some  really interesting,  innovative ideas, but there are also  many practical ideas that came out of  that. One was they wanted some  swings at children’s parkland  for the younger children and they wanted  a lot more shade because  up there it’s terribly hot  and also gets terribly wet. So they were  talking about they want shades on the  pathways, they wanted  shaded areas to sit for lunch. Those were  the things that were  really important to them.  The other projects that I’m going to be  working on next year is with some  colleagues and community  groups about looking at edible and  medicinal plants from my country around  the Hawkesbury River or  Dyarubbin River as it’s called. And we’re  investigating whether  what plants are still around,  what value they can still have and how do  we preserve them and  educate local community  about their value. So one of those is the  yams. We’re going to be  looking at not the little daisy,  but trying to find the larger size yam  and looking at some of  the health benefits from  some of the traditional plants, natives.

What have been some of your experiences of leadership within academia?

So leadership can be a tough call. I can  remember I came with great  passion, great ideas, and  I wanted to solve the problems of the  world. But when I actually  went down to a university  in Victoria, it was more about listening  to the students,  listening to the staff and the  local community and working out ways we  can build together to  improve the educational  outcomes for Indigenous students. So some  of the things you need  to … in a leadership  role is to really navigate some of the  data that’s available to  you through universities  or libraries or different research areas  just to determine what  are some of the gaps in  service delivery, what are some of the  improvements that you can  make and what does the general  community think is needed in an  Indigenous centre.

What was that role?

I was  the director of the Institute  of Koorie Education, now called the  NIKERI Centre. It’s an  Indigenous specific centre  for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander  people. It also has  accommodation where students  actually fly in and fly out from their  own community and come to  intensive learning sessions  at Deakin. The program’s really  successful for both young  students and also mature-age.  It was a very successful and well-needed  program. One of the targets that was  really important to me  in leading Indigenous education was to  fill some of the gaps,  particularly in the sciences area  and environmental space. I think we need  a lot more people  thinking about caring for Country  techniques, also managing Country better  than we’re doing at the  moment and protecting Country  is really important.

Can you please talk about Dharug understandings of the human senses, that you have written about?

So looking at the seven Dharug senses and  how that relates to  connecting with Country,  that’s about understanding that, like a  lot of other Indigenous  nations, we have a different  understanding about how our body connects  to place and how that  experience can build  a sense of belonging and also can help us  to identify changes  within the environment  and just be a little bit more aware of  what’s going on in this natural world.  So we have the five Western senses, you  know, the sights, smell,  etc, but we don’t categorise  them. So from a Western perspective,  there’s a high, you know,  sight is the most important  sense and we tend to rely on that and use  that in prioritising  all decision making and  understanding a sense of place as well.  But you know, one of the  strongest senses is actually  smell. They’re the things we remember. So  when we place it in a  hierarchy system, it  doesn’t work. We forget, you know, our  other senses. So the  sense of smell, for example,  we remember the smell about walking into  our grandmother’s room  or the scent of perfume  or the scent of the bush or the coming  rain, all those sorts of  things. And they are far  more thought provoking than sight alone.  But from the Dharug  standpoint, we also have  two other senses, which we call the  internal senses, and  they’re about Oolgna, which is your  gut feeling. So Oolgna or Oolgna, it might be  called as well. That’s  your gut reaction. And that  is the most important, that’s far more  important than, you know,  the head brain, this belly  brain is your determines your instinctive  behaviour. We all have  it, many of us ignore  it. And we all justify not experiencing  it, experiencing it,  experiencing it because of  our logic. And our logical mind can  interfere with really  connecting with country. The other  one is Ngara, which means to be  imaginative. This means  like attuning ourselves to our  dreams, attuning ourselves to our  ancestral thoughts. An  example of that might be when  I’m actually, you know, painting, and I  might be painting right  into the late at night time.  And then I’ll realise, oh, no, I’ve made  this awful mistake, and  I’ll stop work. And I’ll  actually go to bed and fall asleep. And  I’ll wish for a dream. And  I often have these dreams  where I believe ancestors, my ancestors  guide me into making the  right decision. So it’s  about problem solving too. And so I’m  known to rush down at  three o’clock in the morning  and have the solution to the problem,  finish the painting, and  it’s done. And I feel really  confident about it. So those two internal  senses are really  important and should not  be overlooked when we look at connecting  with Country, building  our sense of awareness of  place, and really feeling that these  internal senses are just  as important as our external  senses.  How do these senses relate to individual and collective wellbeing?  How do the senses  relate to the well-being?  For example, our stomach area actually  contains the most high levels of  serotonin, which is  your natural, happy drug.  I think many Westerners tend to focus on  the mental health  rather than the gut health.  I think if we change some of these  perceptions and start  to care for our gut,  including what we eat, what we drink,  what we consume, and listen to those  little ripples or rhythms  that we have within the gut,  we would probably be a lot healthier and  more connected to Country and ourselves.  So when we know that serotonin is  actually manufactured in the gut, it says  a lot about maybe we  should start looking at the gut  and some of the preservatives and things  like that we are actually eating and  start living a bit more healthily.

Can you talk about your contributions to Indigenous health and wellbeing research and teaching?

So one of the philosophies a lot of  Indigenous nations have is ‘healthy  Country, healthy people’, where Western  society may think they’re different, the  other way around. Healthy Country  guarantees healthy people and I think  when we start to look at caring for  Country and caring for our landscape  including all living and non-living  things, we’ll be able to understand not  only ourselves but the health that  surrounds ourselves within country and  I think this is often a neglected area  because people tend to prioritise their  own health over others. They tend to  prioritise their own landscape or  geographical area over others. They tend  to have a lack of disconnection, like  they feel disconnected with place because  they might be new migrants to  Australia or they might have been living  here but don’t have that long  ancestral lineage and so it’s really  important that we start to look at the  social emotional health of both people,  place and that includes you know animals  and plants. We can no longer start  neglecting country because when we  neglect country we  will neglect ourselves.

How are you finding your recent shift to the field/department of Architecture and the Built Environment?  

I work at the University of Newcastle in  the School of  Architecture and Built Environment.  One of my roles here is to work with a  small Indigenous team,  there are five colleagues  all up, and our role is to embed  Indigenous knowledges  within curriculum to transform  Indigenous ideas into place keeping and  place holding, to  increase the number of Indigenous  students as there are so very few  Indigenous architects in Australia.  When I first applied for the position, I  thought, is this the right job for me?  Because we always, for Indigenous people,  we think architecture  in the built environment  is destructive, and so we tend to perhaps  not enter into that discipline.  Yet, this is, from working here for the  last 12 months, it’s  really changed my positioning  because I feel extremely passionate about  working in the built environment.  I can see that we can make, as Indigenous  people, make radical changes to the  colonial infrastructure  that’s just soaked up these lands.  I think we can make a real difference in  showcasing how architecture  can work within Country and  how buildings can start fitting into  Country rather than fighting against it.  I think there’s lots of opportunities to  do some amazing things  in the future that reflect  the uniqueness of this place.  So when we think of architecture now, we  see fabulous buildings  such as the Opera House  perhaps or some skyrise or it might be a  building, a house, a  residential house, for  example.  But generally, it’s really  colonial or Western influenced.  We need to be seen as responding to  Country in a far better way.  We need to start thinking about the ways  we design and does  that fit into our seasonal  calendars, particularly our Indigenous  seasonal calendars, which  are far more accurate than  the four Western seasons, and how we can  relate these buildings  that actually just sit within  the environment rather  than really stick out.  So that’s the work we do at the moment.

What changes have you witnessed in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students’ and researchers’ experiences of universities over the last decade or so?   

Yeah, so when I first went into  university, either as a student or a  staff member, I experienced  the lack of Indigenous presence.  So lack of students, lack of staff, both  professional staff as well as academic  staff and researchers.  In each discipline there would be some  Indigenous knowledge that  they were taught by, often  by non-Indigenous academics, and now I’ve  seen that dramatically change.  Where Aboriginal and Torres Strait  Islander people are now  committed in higher education  and actually making a vast difference to  not only the students but  the staff and colleagues  that they work with.  I find the School of Architecture  absolutely fantastic to work in.  It’s not an Indigenous centre and it’s  not just dedicated to Indigenous staff.  It’s many staff from multiple cultures  and we all work together  with the same passions.  It’s been a very interesting journey for  once because now  Indigenous knowledge is starting  to be raised as important, particularly  to addressing things like  climate change, overpopulation,  etc, etc.  And so Indigenous knowledges are becoming  very vital to  addressing some of these key  issues and I’m finding now that  non-Aboriginal academics are now  embracing Indigenous knowledges  and really keen to learn about it.  So that’s been the hugest shift, that  equality particularly  in teaching and learning.

What barriers do you still see to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander involvement in academia?

When I look at the equity within higher  education, there are  still some challenges.  There are challenges within funding,  there are challenges  within relocation of staff and  students. So I’m talking about when  someone may be living in a rural or a  remote area wants to go  to university and they choose a Sydney  based university, it’s  often challenging to relocate.  They mightn’t know kin or friends. They  might find that transformation from very  different landscapes  quite confronting. They may be what’s  called longing for home  or longing for community,  so they might experience homesickness as  well. I think the really  important things that over  the years that we have done is  acknowledge these challenges really  impact on each student and staff  that relocate as well. And I think that  there’s been a lot of people  working very hard to create  safe cultural spaces for Aboriginal and  Torres Strait Islander people.  Beyond your own work, what is some of the most urgent research currently being undertaken by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander scholars?  Yeah, I think a lot of work still needs  to be done,  particularly in the environmental  learning space.  And I note that many universities still  to this day do not have  an Indigenous Aboriginal  Torres Strait Islander academic  researcher on board so  that students are immersed in  Indigenous knowledges.  I think there’s still some non-Indigenous  people playing that  role or taking that role  and need to really step aside and make  some spaces for Aboriginal  and Torres Strait Islander  professionals.  I think there’s also needs to be a lot of  recognition about qualifications.  I put Indigenous knowledges on par with  any Masters, PhD or degree.  I don’t think that you can say just  because you don’t have that  Western white paper, you’re  not qualified to work  in higher education.  I think the value of particularly when  you look at firestick  farming or cultural burning,  whatever you call that, that those  knowledges are so vital for this country.  We’ve just looked at, you know, two  hundred and so years of  complete neglect of our  environment.  And so without back burning or firestick  farming, we’re heading  into some really terrible  future if we don’t start doing something.  And it’s not about… bushfires are not  about the burning down  of trees and perhaps some  buildings.  It’s about the destruction they do to our  native animals as well as the danger they  are to people.  The amount of, you know, on the koala  population, for example, is just  extraordinary in decline.  And along with the 2021 environmental  report in New South Wales  that states New South Wales  is leading in the  decline of all marsupials.  And it’s time we started to take  responsibility for that and  have an sense of obligation to  place and caring for place.  Living here means nurturing  our natural world as well.  I think having Indigenous knowledges  within higher education  in environmental courses  should be just mandatory.

What would you like to say to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are interested to undertake university-based study? 

So in closing, I guess my last words  would be around inspiring others to come  to university and get a degree.  I think we are all capable of getting  that little bit of white paper,  and we’re all capable of installing  Indigenous knowledges within every  discipline of universities.  I don’t want people to think that they’re  not good enough, they’re  not capable of learning.  I came from a very  basic learning background.  I believe it wasn’t my capacity to learn,  it was more about my commitment.  And when you have a very strong personal  commitment, you will  achieve a great deal.  And look at that big blue tongue.  [laughs]  Yes, dinner!