Public Environmental History Prize – Winners


The 2022 Prize was judged by Professor Emerita Heather Goodall (Uni. Technology Sydney) and Emeritus Professor Tom Brooking (Uni. Otago).

Joint Winners

Margaret Cook

Floods in Southeast Queensland
Dr Cook has undertaken exemplary research on the complex river system known, on its lower reaches, as the Brisbane River. Drawing on scientific, policy and media archives and community memory, including consultation with Indigenous community members, her A River with a City Problem builds to a fearless critique of the continuing damage done by prioritising development over river health and human safety. Dr Cook has brought this research to both cross-disciplinary research and practice seminars and to many speaking occasions with both public and policy-making audiences. All have argued that ‘flooding’ in built environments is no ‘natural’ disaster but is generated by urban planning and political calculations, now exacerbated by human-induced climate change. Margaret Cook’s work has been innovative in identifying the emotional dimensions of river and flood management, both in long-term personal impacts of flooding disasters and their ‘clean up’ stages but even more importantly in the emotion-laden commitment to searching for technological solutions, no matter how futile. She has tirelessly developed her role in the multi-disciplinary bodies where planning and disaster policies are debated and re-made, pointing out that communicative terminology for many audiences – eg from hydrology to the public and to policy makers – is essential. Despite her unwavering critique of development-prioritised State Planning, she has brought grace and generosity to all her public engagements, with expanding impact on policy makers. An example includes her role in the Flood Community of Practice since 2019 as the only humanities scholar, among 600 disaster experts. Another was her 2021 role assisting inaugural Queensland Disaster Management Research Forum, at the invitation of the Queensland Inspector-General of Emergency Management. Such interactions have resulted in cross-disciplinary publication extending both Dr Cook’s interdisciplinary network and influence on policy-making in Queensland and nationally, in addition to her continuing reach into public audiences.

Grace Karskens, Leanne Mulgo Watson, Erin Wilkins, Jasmine Seymour, Rhiannon Wright and Cindy Laws
The Real Secret River: Dyarubbin
This innovative submission is based on extensive linguistic analysis of place names given by Darug and Darkinjung people to the Rev John McGarvie in 1829 for locations along Dyarubbin, the Hawkesbury River. This allows the co-researchers to show a very different view of the past of the river and the impact of colonisation and recent development. The submission points out that ‘McGarvie’s list was probably his own initiative, but nevertheless, this is a collaborative document, for Aboriginal voices spoke these words, spoke back to the coloniser. This list records moments of crossing-over, generosity, sharing and trust.’ An important achievement of the project is recognition of the continuing agency of Darug and Darkinjung people. The project has been a collaboration in research and presentations between Indigenous researchers Leanne Mulgo Watson, Erin Wilkins, Jasmine Seymour, Rhiannon Wright and Cindy Laws and historian Grace Karskens, with both research and public engagements led by the Indigenous team. In turn, this group has collaborated with a wide range of other professionals, enabling collaborative learning as well as analysis. The public outcomes have been one exhibition already and another in preparation and an innovative digital map design with high production values, combining visual and textual dimensions. Both exhibition and digital map showcase creative art work and photographs, communicating emotional and spiritual meanings. The leading role of the Indigenous co-researchers is a visible and powerful demonstration of the continuing presence and commitment of First Nations communities. The official recognition of these Darug and Darkinjung place names along Dyarubbin has begun and will in the future expand public recognition of the past and present of this river and its people.

Highly Commended

Robyn Gulliver

Women in the Environmental Movement from 1980
This valuable project – comprising Robyn Gulliver and Jill Ferguson’s book, The Advocates, and Robyn Gulliver’s essays in The Commons Social Change Library – offers insights into the motivations and experiences of the women involved in environmental activism. The sources for this writing, based substantially on in-depth interviews with the women environmentalists profiled, are most welcome contributions in their diversity and subtlety when compared to the offerings in most accounts of environmental movements which either ignore women or offer only simplistic and shallow accounts of how they become involved in environmental issues. There are no stereotypes in this project! Instead, the portraits in The Advocates and in the Commons essays offer nuanced and complex analyses of the many sources of these women’s participation and perceptions. Each of the chapters in The Advocates, while taking one woman’s life experiences as the central thread, uses this to unfold broader stories, either of the area or the person’s history. So the overall trajectory of the book is both to show the diversity of women’s involvements, (particularly the long commitments and staying power of these particular women), but also to show the diverse environments across the country and the challenges these environments are facing. In addition to this writing, Gulliver has authored an accessible article about the campaign to protect Perth’s Scarborough Beach in the open-access journal Arcadia (Rachel Carsons Centre, Munich). An important source for much of this writing is the citizen science online database, the Campaign Explorer, to which Gulliver has contributed a significant design and maintenance role. This is an innovative online database which invites citizen scientists and activists to contribute details about their organisation and campaigns. Together, the various writings and the online database make exciting contributions to better understanding of grass-roots environmental activism.

Lucy Mackintosh

Deep Histories of Auckland
Lucy Mackintosh’s important book, Shifting Grounds: Deep Histories of Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland researches the deep history of three sites in present-day Auckland, linking history with archaeology. She demonstrates not only what was present there at various times in the past but how and why these earlier material histories were overlaid or destroyed physically and culturally. Mackintosh demonstrates a long history of Māori cultivation and management of rich volcanic lands, despite later European difficulty in using these areas as pastoral or agricultural land (when applying inappropriate technology and techniques such as ploughing). She shows that many of these Māori cultivation sites were not fortified, despite this fiction being used not only to justify eviction and confiscation of land but wider colonial control. Identifying and explaining this physical and narrative erasure are major contributions to an understanding of the interactions of the human and physical world of Auckland, before and after colonisation. Continuing her recognition of Auckland’s complex post-colonial intercultural relations, she considers the role of Chinese market gardeners and overseas markets outside the United Kingdom. These achievements mean that her beautifully produced book (thanks once again to Bridget Williams Books) is the best history of Auckland so far published. It is also the deepest history of any part of Aotearoa written by an environmental historian rather than a geologist or archaeologist. Mackintosh engages with many publics, including the Māori communities most closely associated with the three sites considered, demonstrating their sustained interactions with Europeans. She has used a range of communications media to reach the widest multicultural audiences of Aotearoa New Zealand. She has been a co-curator of the important exhibitions of Auckland Museum, and organised the large conference which included contributions from international speakers. Her Radio NZ interviews, now online, have been widely heard, especially those in 2019 when she spoke to support Māori demonstrations of their ownership of Ihumātao.