Keep All Alive: An Aboriginal Model for Sustainability

Karl-Erik Sveiby

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionScientificpeer-review


sustainability over 40 000 – 60 000 years of dramatic events, until the Europeans’ arrival in 1788. This paper examines how the Nhunggabarra people of Australia organised their society to survive for so long; their rules of
governance. The article is based on a selection of Nhunggabarra law stories as told by their custodian, Tex Skuthorpe. The content and interpretation of the stories form the core of the data, and written sources, interviews and site visits complement the stories. The study is, as far as I know, the first serious attempt to use Aboriginal traditional law stories for their original purpose: to convey knowledge about the law. It is also the first attempt to recreate their society model from an organisational perspective.
The Nhunggabarra society was carefully balanced with checks and balances and reinforcing loops. Their economy
was dominated by intangible production and consumption. The farming methods were built on intimate
knowledge of the ecology of the land. Individual know-how was the decisive power factor; keeping a tight rein on
men’s ego-drive spread leadership roles; building community also outside one’s own country kept peace and
increased survival rates. Their spiritual belief was that ‘all are connected’, the core value ‘respect’ for all life, so
care for the ecosystem was not only a matter of immediate survival, but also the purpose of humanity: to ‘keep all
The paper argues against the perception that modern industrialised societies cannot learn from indigenous
societies. Although many practices and solutions are not viable for our time, we can learn from the principles and
the governance model as a whole. The Nhunggabarra society model provides a set of principles for sustainability,
which can be used as starting point for a discussion about a model that fits our times.
The paper is based on research done for (Sveiby & Skuthorpe 2006), Treading Lightly – the hidden wisdom of the
world’s oldest people.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication13th Annual International Sustainable Development Research Conference. Critical Perspectives on Health, Climate Change and Corporate Responsibility
Publication date10.06.2007
Publication statusPublished - 10.06.2007
MoE publication typeA4 Article in conference proceedings
Event13th Annual International Sustainable Development Research Conference (ISDRS): Critical Perspectives on Health, Climate Change and Corporate Responsibility - Västerås, Sweden
Duration: 10.06.200712.06.2007
Conference number: 13


  • 512 Business and Management


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