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Catch-up with one of our PhD Scholarship Awardees: Adam Thompson

Date posted: 30th of September 2020

Adam Thompson

PhD candidate at Menzies School of Health Research, NT

Project supervisors: Prof. Amanda Leach, Dr. Greg Leach, and Assoc. Prof. Anne Lowell

Adam received a 2-year CRE_ICHEAR top-up scholarship in 2018 to support his PhD working on the CRE_ICHEAR funded project Hygiene Hands.


What is your project title?                                                                                                                                                                  

The Soap Tree and other Medicinal Washes: using traditional medicinal plants to improve hygiene and decrease the prevalence of childhood infections in remote Aboriginal communities.


Tell us a bit more about your PhD project                                                                                           

This is a collaborative video project working with five communities across the Tiwi Islands and West Arnhem Land stone country to create short documentary films on the traditional medicinal washes that are used for hygiene and the treatment of skin infections.  It aims to understand the role traditional medicine can play in improving community health and explore new pathways to promote its use further including the use of traditional medicinal washes in new ways for the prevention of disease transmission.  The short documentary films created within the project are provided to the communities as records of their traditional knowledge to be shown in their schools and clinics for education and health promotion. 


When did you start your PhD and when do you hope to complete?                                                   

I began working on this project February 2017 and expect to submit in October 2020.


What got you interested in this topic? 

I had worked with Indigenous communities across the Pacific Islands as an archaeologist and witnessed the use of medicinal plants by many different cultures.  I have adopted the use of several different traditional remedies to provide for my own health and the health of my family.  I believe the ability to affect one's own health using the plants growing in one's environment is very empowering.


Other research interests? 

To date I have produced 25 short documentary films on traditional culture and science, all of which have been broadcast on public television or screened at international film festivals and conferences.


What did you do before starting a PhD? 

Prior to this project, I worked for 10 years as a Pacific Island Archaeologist across Micronesia and Polynesia, recording ancient sites like Nan Madol, dating the settlement of remote atolls, and recording the history of people based on the collaboration of their traditional knowledge and archaeological investigation.


What has been a highlight of your time doing a PhD? 

The best part of the project has been seeing the traditional medicine created by elders according to practices passed down for generations being used to help children.


See one of Adam’s PhD documentaries here:

 and here:


For researchers

Otitis Media (OM), sometimes known as glue ear or runny ears…

For health practitioners

Otitis Media (OM), sometimes known as glue ear or runny ears…

For families and communities

Many Indigenous children, and almost all Indigenous children living in remote communities...