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Australia’s first Indigenous Chair for Biodiversity and Environmental Science

Media release

Curtin University has appointed noted Australian ecologist Dr Stephen van Leeuwen as Australia’s first Indigenous Chair for Biodiversity and Environmental Science.

Dr Stephen van Leeuwen
Dr Stephen van Leeuwen

The Biodiversity Chair will be the first of its type in Australia and one of only a few globally that directly engage with First Nations Peoples. A key focus of the position will be building a Western-Indigenous science interface, so that landscapes for threatened species can be managed in new ways that are sympathetic to the maintained stewardship provided, over the last 65,000 years, by the Aboriginal people.

Curtin Vice-Chancellor Professor Deborah Terry said she is thrilled that a person of Professor van Leeuwen’s outstanding scientific and national profile has accepted the prestigious role.

“The appointment of Dr van Leeuwen is testament to his influential leadership in his field and will bring an Indigenous focus to the University in a way that will create healthy ecological and healthy cultural outcomes for Western Australia and the nation,” Professor Terry said.

“Professor van Leeuwen’s commitment to delivering innovative and enduring positive outcomes for biodiversity management through collaboration with both Traditional Owners and other land managers, made him an outstanding candidate for the role.

“We are also delighted that Dr van Leeuwen is returning to his university ‘home’, where he completed his PhD in 1997.”

The newly created role is part of the long-term partnership between Curtin University and BHP, which over the past decade has supported engineering and chemistry studies at the university including through funding for new facilities, and scholarships to help increase female, indigenous and regional student participation.

Dr van Leeuwen is a Noongar man with strong links to Country in the Busselton and Margaret River areas of south-west Western Australia.

He spent three decades as a senior scientist with the Western Australian Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions and is a leading botanical landscape ecologist.

As the inaugural Chair for Biodiversity and Environmental Science, Dr van Leeuwen’s key task will be to lead research programs promoting excellence and innovation in the fields of biodiversity and environmental science through collaborative networks within Indigenous communities, the broader academic community in Western Australia, Australia and internationally.