Gift of the gab offers insight into ancient climate change - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Gift of the gab offers insight into ancient climate change

6 Jun 2019

USC Professor of Geography Patrick Nunn will reveal his new research on ancient stories that offer an insight in to how humans responded to rising sea levels more than 7,000 years ago – and what we can learn from this in 2019 – as part of the Royal Geographical Society of Queensland’s public lecture series.

Professor Nunn will present a free lecture on ‘Ancient Memories, Disappearing Knowledge: Indigenous stories that remember events more than 7,000 years ago’ at USC’s Sunshine Coast campus in Lecture Theatre 2 from 7.15pm-9pm on Tuesday 18 June.

The USC academic has spent decades researching ancient stories that recall events that occurred thousands of years ago, and in 2018 was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society of Queensland for contributions to the study of geography.

“We are all human and whatever race or place we identify with we have a collective responsibility to retain what we can of our human past before it is forever lost,” Professor Nunn said.

“Once a memory is lost, it cannot be recovered,” he said. “We're confronted by challenges to today that, while profound, are not unprecedented. We can learn from the past and even deep history.”

Professor Nunn said his research had given him an appreciation of the capacity and time depth of oral knowledge.

“In 2011, I read the work of linguist Robert Dixon on the Indigenous languages of north-east Queensland and encountered the throwaway line that “many of these tribes have stories about when the Great Barrier Reef was dry land”, a condition that may have last been correct more than 9,000 years ago,” he said.

“Reading other accounts, I realised that there were groups of Indigenous stories from about 23 places all around the Australian coast about a time when the sea level was lower, when the coast was further seawards, when what are now offshore islands were mainland promontories.

“Since sea level reached its present level around Australia about 7,000 years ago, this means that all those stories must be at least this old. There is a lot we can learn today from these ancient stories and I look forward to explaining these aspects at the public lecture.”

For more details about the lecture, contact 5430 1238 or email

- Megan Woodward

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