Weaving, storytelling, a new branch of engineering: everything is connected.

This article is by Andrew Meares, Senior Fellow at 3Ai. Photographs were captured by Andrew Meares and Alison Kershaw.

Picture of ANU School of Cybernetics

Written by: ANU School of Cybernetics
14 Sep 2020


Weaving, storytelling, a new branch of engineering: everything is connected.
Weaving, storytelling, a new branch of engineering: everything is connected.

On the 3-4 September 2020, the #3Ai2020cohort participated in a cultural weaving workshop with Ngarrindjeri elder Aunty Ellen Trevorrow. The workshop was all about connection, using your hands and sharing stories, while exploring a different way into thinking about systems and networks. This is our story…

Sullivans Creek (once known as Canberry Creek) flows past the 3Ai building through Ngunnawal and Nambri Country where the ANU campus is nestled below Black Mountain, to the Molonglo River that divides Canberra and on to the Murrumbidgee River. About 800kms west at Boundary Bend the Murrumbidgee flows south to join the mighty River Murray. A further 500km downstream the Murray meets the sea on Ngarrindjeri Country. It is here that the flat-sedge rushes grow.


Nearby at the Meningie Post Office, which is also the town’s only newsagent and lotto outlet, Aunty Ellen Trevorrow packaged and sent bundles of carefully selected rushes back to the students at 3Ai. While she was there she collected a tablet 3Ai had sent her for the weaving workshop that was unable to be delivered in person this year.

At a sun drenched dining room table in a Canberra suburb, Distinguished Honorary Professor Diane Bell, established a Zoom call to Camp Coorong, Aunty Ellen’s home. “We can’t hear you” she said into her mobile phone, “You are on mute”. With a few taps of the tablet screen the phone is put away and we may as well be sitting at the same kitchen table as the conversations flowed. Partly family updates, partly reminiscing “remember when we were at Harvard”, partly technical discussing lighting and camera angles and the Zoom interface but also about the protocol of an online Welcome to Country. “Well, the way I see it you are in the room with me” resolves Aunty Ellen.

With masks on the students take their place, socially distanced, in the 3Ai workshop space. Aunty Ellen now on the big screen via Zoom delivers her Welcome to Country in language and Prof Diane Bell acknowledges the Welcome, also in language. And we begin to weave. Not just the rushes, but our stories, our cohort, our Institute, and maybe even a New Branch of Engineering.

Connecting to camp Corong

With the tablet on a stand positioned just over Aunty Ellen’s shoulder we can see what she sees. Her dextrous hands expertly threading the weaver as the centre rushes are bound together. We really are on Ngarrindjeri Country in the room with her. By lunchtime the students work is taking shape and stories are shared. Offcuts from the rushes litter the floor.

We have at a camera at 3Ai below the big screen so on the laptop at Camp Coorong Aunty Ellen can see the students. We have another camera pointing directly down at a desktop where a close up of the weaving allows Aunty Ellen to see the stiches. “That’s really good” she encouraged.

At the conclusion of the workshop the students gathered on the banks of the Molonglo for a mid-semester break sunset picnic. Together, via a course, a catchment, and a Zoom connection. As Aunty Ellen explains “Everything is connected”.

3Ai Picnic

You are on Aboriginal land.

The Australian National University acknowledges, celebrates and pays our respects to the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people of the Canberra region and to all First Nations Australians on whose traditional lands we meet and work, and whose cultures are among the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

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