STEAM Dreaming - a new community festival combining ancient Indigenous knowledge with space technology and steampunk - was launched in Armidale this weekend.
"We've set a precedent for how academia, business, and Indigenous culture can come together and learn from one another," organiser Kate Mitchell said.
The festival incorporated Aboriginal astronomy, ecology and environmental sustainability, and explored how ancient wisdom could pave the way for Australia's space age future.
Its mission: to send nearly 50 local children, plus their parents and teachers, to Space Camp USA - and maybe even to the stars.
The festival started at the Oorala Centre, UNE, on Friday with a smoking ceremony and a welcome to country by elder Bruce Cohen.
Keynote speakers Dr Tyson Yunkaporta (Deakin University) and Veronica Perrule Dobson, OA, explained how Aboriginal understandings of time, kinship and transmission of knowledge can help all of us reframe our place in our changing society and environment.
At the festival conference on Saturday, One Giant Leap Australia founders and festival sponsors Jackie and Bob Carpenter explained their vision for bringing regional kids into Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) careers.
Last year, their program 'Space, STEM and Your Future' saw 6000 students in two weeks in Sydney, Canberra, Wagga Wagga, Darwin and Nhulunbuy. They know the Armidale community will be just as inspired by their hands-on approach to aviation and aerospace.
"We use space as the hook," Jackie said. "But really, it's all about building relationships, and helping kids develop skills in problem solving, teamwork, leadership, and optimism about the future. We want them to reach for the stars."
The Carpenters and their five student ambassadors ran Destination Imagination for the children attending, and Mel Redding and Sally Browner from Coder Academy held workshops on Indigenous astronomy and current day astrophysics.
Meanwhile, the conference continued with a diverse and expert line up of speakers, all focused on what New England can do next to take a giant leap into our future.
Kate Mitchell, managing director of Australia's first carbon neutral accommodation provider, the Comfort Inn City Centre, wants Armidale to become the world's first carbon neutral CBD.
Cultural burning, Lesley Patterson from the Banbai Rangers and PhD candidate Michelle McKimey argued, could be used to manage our unique ecology, mitigate against another catastrophic fire season, and celebrate the contribution of Indigenous Australians to our nation.
Event MC Adam Blakester said: "The event was such a success in achieving a level of genuine, deep listening to each other across a wide diversity of perspectives - cultural, professional, and different points of interest across the spectrum of sustainability."
Kate Mitchell agreed. "STEAM Dreaming is a new paradigm for bringing Aboriginal culture into the middle of the conversation. No longer will we be satisfied with a token welcome to country at the start of an event - we want our Indigenous people to stay in the room and be part of what happens next."
STEAM Dreaming already has plans for the rest of this year. Kate Mitchell will launch a YouTube channel, On Country with Kate, where she travels around Australia and discusses with different people how our place in the land affects our perception of who we are and how we think.
One Giant Leap Australia want to bring Space, STEM and Your Future to Armidale mid-year, and are taking expressions of interest from kids and schools who would like to attend Space Camp in Houston, USA.