This Alice Springs organisation is listening out for satellites

Peter Renehan, Central Arrernte man and CEO of the Centre for Appropriate Technologies (CfAT) knows that Indigenous people are no strangers to scientific understanding.

“We know that there’s a science and technology in the way that Aboriginal people have survived for up to 60,000 years,” Renehan told Cosmos.

“Traditional medicines and the ability to utilise your surroundings to survive tells me that science isn’t a new concept to Aboriginal people.”

He leads a non-for-profit, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander controlled organisation that has been running for more than 40 years, providing simple and effective solutions to remote Australian problems.

Recently though, the company has moved into a new space – hosting, installing, and maintaining satellite dishes on their Alice Springs HQ for companies around the world.

Peter Renehan. Credit: Lisa Hatz Photography

“Aboriginal people have linkages and stories that connect up to the constellations,” Renehan said.

“We’re an Aboriginal owned organisation, and we’ve got an Aboriginal workforce that we’re skilling up to be technical workers. They’ve been doing the maintenance on those satellite dishes and others.

“And that’s really attractive to external proponents who want to come to our site.”

The site does have a few advantages over other areas as well. They have 250 days of sunlight with no cloud cover, they’ve located right in the middle of the country, and have fibre optic cable.  

Currently CfAT hosts an Arianespace Project telescope, a Geoscience Australia ground station, and a Viasat Ground Station real-time Earth network.

The company in the past has worked on other radio and telecommunication technologies true to their name, designing a simple parabolic dish that points towards a phone tower, and funnels weak phone signals to your phone sitting on a holder.

The technology has no moving parts and doesn’t require electricity.

An installed CfAT Mobile Hotspot. Credit: Centre for Appropriate Technologies.

“A lot of people come in and they already have a preconceived idea or a solution that they think is going to be purpose fit for remote areas. Well, that’s not the case,” Renehan said.

“You can’t come in and not include local people in that discussion and come up with good solutions.”

In 2015, more than 30 of these devices were set up around remote locations in Central Australia to provide people with service along remote roads or communities.

Other projects that CfAT have been part of have been taken overseas to Southern India and Cape Town

“What we’d like people to understand is that there is a lot of knowledge in remote areas. Not all of the answers are in the cities,” he said.

“We want to be able to kick back against the trend and say, actually, people in other parts of Australia and the world want to connect and learn from people who live in remote areas.”

But Renehan is also proud of the other side of that coin – opportunities that they’ve been able to provide to local Aboriginal people living on their own land.

“They’ve been the most successful employment programme out in remote areas because it is providing linkages back for people to be working on their own country and living on their own country,” he added.

“Country needs people there to be healed, and people need to be healed when they’re on country.”

During NAIDOC Week (2-9 July 2023), an annual observance in Australia that celebrates and recognises the history, cultures and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, Cosmos is publishing a series of articles on Australia’s First Peoples and science. 

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