Emu oil and Emu Dreaming: More-than-human geographies/natures and colonial biopiracy

A/Prof. Daniel Robinson1, Dr Margaret Raven1, Dr John Hunter2

1UNSW, Sydney, Australia,

2Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia


The Emu is one of the world’s largest flightless birds, endemic to Australia. It is an iconic species featuring in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island People’s Dreamings, a major feature of Aboriginal Astronomy, a totemic species for some Indigenous Australian peoples and families, one of the two animals on the Australian Coat of Arms, and features on Australian currency. Yet there has been no critical discussion of the appropriation, commodification and patenting of emu oil products to date. This article seeks to firstly utilise the more-than-human geographies literature through an examination of the significance of emus, and then a critical analysis of the production and patenting of oil from emus (emu oil). Secondly the article provides insight to legal geographies of animals in light of the patentability of life forms, the international legal regime on ‘access and benefit-sharing’ (ABS) under the Nagoya Protocol, and other relevant legal considerations such as Indigenous customary law. Last, the article argues for a decolonization of the discourse around ‘traditional knowledge’ and suggests ‘Indigenous innovations’ as an alternative in the emu oil case and others.


A/Prof Robinson is the project lead and CI of and ARC DP on Indigenous Knowledge Futures with co-CI Dr Margaret Raven. He is the project manager for the GIZ-led, EU funded multi-donor Access and Benefit Sharing Capacity Development Initiative (ABS Initiative), the Academic Co-Lead for the Pacific, for UNSW Institute for Global Development, and has been a researcher and policy adviser to multiple governments in the Asia-Pacific, UN agencies and INGOs.

Email: d.robinson@unsw.edu.au

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