FNQ Aboriginal girl preserves heritage with drone technology

Breaking down stereotypes

Jamie Jansen


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Gullara McInnes, 19-years old, sees it as her responsibility to protect traditional Aboriginal sites from land clearing. Image: supplied

Gullara McInnes, an Aboriginal teenager from Far North Queensland, inspires and encourages girls to break down the social barriers and to dream big. And she does this in a very special way.

The 19-year old James Cook University student uses the power of drone technology to preserve the history of the Wallara clan of the Koko-Muluridji people.

She has combined her love of drones and mapping with her passion for her traditional country to give local Elders the opportunity to identify traditional Aboriginal sites from the sky.

“As some of our Elders passed away and others were physically unable to point out certain traditional sites, we were faced with a problem,” Gullara said.

“It’s important that the knowledge doesn’t die and I see it as my responsibility to protect the traditional sites from any future developments and land clearing.”

To do this, Gullara uses two drones —one to provide a bird’s eye view and the other to get under the canopy. “There are big trees that surround the locations and restrict us from easily accessing them,” Gullara explained.

“Our part of mapping country involved either taking photographs and documenting the areas for our own purposes or the department of Aboriginal Islander partnerships. We have such a large land holding so we’ve only mapped 5% of our clan estate so far.”

Another motivation

Apart from preserving native history, there is also another motivation for mapping country.

“In Mareeba, there are a lot of non-native trees and grasses that threaten the important sites. By using geospatial mapping, we are able to use that data to safely burn these grasses without endangering the sites or any surrounding environments”.

Gullara’s innovative use of drone technology to ‘Map Country’ resulted in her winning the “Caring for Country Award” during NAIDOC Week in 2020.

She Maps

Gullara’s love for drones was ignited in 2016, when she accepted an invitation to attend a three-day drone camp hosted in Cairns by national drone and geospatial education provider She Maps.

The organisation was established to encourage more women and girls to engage in science, technology, engineering, and maths through drones and geospatial technology.

At the camp, Gullara learnt how to handle drones, and even how to code.

Being an inspiration to other girls

Throughout Gullara’s journey, stereotypes associated with her Aboriginal heritage and gender bias have constantly tried to hold her back.

“I’ve heard all of the disparaging comments. Aboriginals are lazy, you’re paid to win all your awards, you’re too smart to be Aboriginal, you can’t fly drones because you’re a girl.

“It’s normal to hear such comments. It annoys me but it doesn’t bother me as I’ve learned to ignore people with such views as many people experience such occurrences. Any ethnic group in any situation is bound to come in contact with ignorance.

“My message to other girls is: Never let anyone, including yourself, tell you that you can’t do it. Even if you don’t know what you want to do or where you’ll end up, if you find something you enjoy you’ll find your path. Because if there is no path before you create one.

“I’m a girl who loves science and drones, and no matter what people say, I’m not stopping until I’m the greatest female drone pilot in Australia. Then I’m setting my bar to global recognition, and I hope that one day, I’ll be able to teach the operation of drones to students”.

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