By Daniel Rothenburg
Another edition of our regular publications round-up, presenting the Networks’ member publications from September 2019 to February 2020.
Once again, these publications testify to the great variety of topics being worked on which cover the environmental history of Australia but also Asia and ancient Egypt. Among them are nature writing pieces as well as timely contributions concerned with the state of the Murray-Darling Basin, the Australian’s relationship to fire and fire-plant-people alliances in the Anthropocene.
Congratulations to Christine Eriksen and Susan Ballard, Russell McGregor, Celmara Pocock and Emily Potter for the publication of their books, and congratulations to Sue Castrique for receiving the 2019 Nature Writing Prize by The Nature Conservancy Australia for her essay “On the Margins of the Good Swamp”, listed below!
As usual, thanks to our members who continue to regularly submit their publications. The next call will be published in September.
Peter Ardill: Colonial and Twentieth-Century Management of Exotic Species Threatening Intrinsically Valued Indigenous Flora: Susan Island, Lumley Park, Broken Hill; in: Australasian Plant Conservation 28 (September-November 2019) pp. 26-28.
“In this article I describe historically significant colonial and Australian management of exotic species which threatened the integrity of intrinsically valued indigenous flora i.e. not commercially/instrumentally valued, and some contemporary conservation lessons that can be drawn from these three long-term historical projects. The lessons are nothing new but the long-term outcomes are encouraging.
In particular, much of the historical conservation management research relating to Susan Island, Grafton, New South Wales, is original and published for the first time. The conservation management work there, in the form of lantana management to protect the rainforest community, appears to represent an early example of such work in post-1788 Australia.”
Richard Broome, Charles Fahey, Andrea Gaynor, and Katie Holmes: Mallee Country: Land, People, History. Clayton: Monash University Publishing 2019.
“Mallee Country tells the powerful history of mallee lands and people across southern Australia from Deep Time to the present. Carefully shaped and managed by Aboriginal people for over 50,000 years, mallee country was dramatically transformed by settlers, first with sheep and rabbits, then by flattening and burning the mallee to make way for wheat. Government backed settlement schemes devastated lives and country, but some farmers learnt how to survive the droughts, dust storms, mice, locusts and salinity – as well as the vagaries of international markets – and became some of Australia’s most resilient agriculturalists. In mallee country, innovation and tenacity have been neighbours to hardship and failure.
Mallee Country is a story of how land and people shape each other. It is the story of how a landscape once derided by settlers as a ‘howling wilderness’ covered in ‘dismal scrub’ became home to citizens who delighted in mallee fauna and flora and fought to conserve it for future generations. And it is the story of the dreams, sweat and sorrows of people who face an uncertain future of depopulation and climate change with creativity and hope.”
Susan Broomhall and Andrea Gaynor: Leonardo da Vinci Revisited: Was he an Environmentalist Ahead of his Time?; in: The Conversation, 01 April 2019.
“Leonardo’s notebooks are filled with illustrations of nature, both plants and animals, their interactions with humans and in local ecosystems. Did his deep engagement with the natural world make him an environmentalist ahead of his time?”
Sue Castrique: On the Margins of the Good Swamp; in: Griffith Review.
“Gumbramorra Swamp is a kind of touchstone for many people in Marrickville. It is somewhere out there, in another historical world, just beyond our reach. It is a landscape that we sometimes speak of so clearly that people living interstate ask to see it when they visit. It is unlikely to be a tourist destination. So much of the swamp lies deep under a suburb of saw-toothed factories, asphalt and concrete gutters, and cannot be seen. What lies above ground is cryptic and difficult to decipher. Yet it continues to shape the land and the way it is used in profound and unexpected ways.”
Nicole Y. Chalmer: Brumbies (Equus ferus caballus) as Colonizers of the Esperance Mallee-Recherche Bioregion in Western Australia; in: Ulrike Kirchberger and Brett Bennett (eds.): Environments of Empire: Networks and Agents of Ecological Change. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press 2020, pp.197-223.
“After escaping human control […], brumbies became widespread and numerous during the late nineteenth century through to the 1970s. They were able to occupy habitats along the coast and inland from west of Esperance town to the east and north beyond Cape Arid. However, since the 1970s, as humans continued appropriating space and resources from non-human nature, their numbers have plummeted as vast tracts of land were cleared and fenced for industrial agriculture and other areas were alienated into Parks and Reserves. Brumbies are now reduced to two small populations, one of about 30-40 in less than 200 square kilometres in the well-watered coastal Cape le Grand national park, the other inland in the arid eastern Mallee–Woodlands, where fewer than 50 or so may be left. Nevertheless, their continued presence and the purposeful trail pads they have developed over time reflect ownership and agency in their country and how in the past they successfully colonized the Esperance Mallee–Recherche bioregion. […]
I argue that brumbies have culturally adapted to the Mallee-Woodlands and shaped the ecology in ways that maintain landscapes shaped by earlier herbivorous mega fauna and Aboriginal inhabitants. In this way, the history of brumbies in colonial and post-colonial Australia suggests that in certain instances the introduction of domesticated animals from Eurasia into the so-called ‘New Worlds’ can be understood as a type of continuity rather than an abrupt change brought by the onset of European colonialism.”
Christine Eriksen and Susan Ballard: Alliances in the Anthropocene. Fire, Plants, and People. Singapore; Berlin: Palgrave McMillan 2020.
“This book explores how fire, plants and people coexist in the Anthropocene. In a time of dramatic environmental transformation, the authors examine how human impacts on the planetary system are being felt at all levels from the geological and the arboreal to the atmospheric. The book brings together the disciplines of human geography and art history to examine fire-plant-people alliances and multispecies world-making. The authors listen carefully to the narratives of bushfire survivors. They embrace the responses of contemporary artists, as practice becomes interwoven with fire as well as ruin and regrowth. Through visual, textual and felt ways of being, the chapters illuminate, illustrate, impress and imprint the imagined and actual agency of plants and people within a changing climate — from Aboriginal ecocultural burning to nuclear fire. By holding grief and enacting hope, the book shows how relationships come to be and are likely to change due to the interdependencies of fire, plants and people in the Anthropocene.”
Linda Evans and Philip Weinstein: Ancient Egyptians’ Atypical Relationship with Invertebrates; in: Society & Animals 27 (7/2019) pp. 716-732.
“Despite the ubiquitous presence and vital role of invertebrates in all known ecological systems, insects and arachnids are largely viewed as repugnant by people. Consequently, until nature intervenes in the form of infestations, swarms or plagues, we largely prefer to ignore them, lest our attention invite unwelcome interaction. In contrast, the people of ancient Egypt did not distance themselves from invertebrates but instead celebrated their myriad forms. Egyptian appreciation of insects and arachnids is reflected in a range of art, artefacts, and texts dating from the predynastic era until the Greco-Roman period, revealing many positive cultural roles, from practical to conceptual. By assigning them a useful function, they were rendered visible and relevant to Egyptian society. The Egyptians’ example suggests that as necessity forces us to acknowledge the value of invertebrates—from their function as pollinators to becoming future food sources—our respect for them may also grow.”
Andrea Gaynor (ed.): George Seddon: Selected Writings. Carlton: Black Inc./La Trobe University Press 2019.
“George Seddon was renowned for championing a ‘sense of place’, giving that phrase a uniquely Australian substance. He was a connoisseur of landscapes, from the rugged Snowy Mountains to the humble domestic backyard. With wit and deep knowledge, he radically rethought our relationship with the environment, considering everything from water to mining, suburbs to wilderness.
Seddon was an extraordinary polymath: a professor of geology, the history and philosophy of science, and environmental science, who also taught in departments of English and philosophy. He broke new ground in urban planning, landscape architecture and environmental conservation. The highlights of his wide-ranging and always illuminating work are selected here by Andrea Gaynor, with a lively introduction by historian Tom Griffiths.”
Andrea Gaynor, Susan Broomhall, and Andrew Flack: Frogs and Feeling Communities: A Study in History of Emotions and Environmental History; in: Environment and History (epub ahead of print, December 2019).
“This article offers an overview of some approaches from the history of emotions that environmental historians could employ in order to sharpen engagement with emotion, and applies some of these approaches to a long history of human–frog interactions, by way of example. We propose that emotions have played a key role in the constitution of human communities, as well as enabling or inhibiting particular kinds of human thoughts and actions in relation with the living planet. In tracing human–frog relations over time we tease apart the complex historic relationships between cultural frameworks, scientific expectations and conventions, and the texts and images emerging from these contexts, which operate explicitly or implicitly to train and discipline the emotional selves of human adults and children.”
Barbara Holloway: The Federation of Clouds; in: Merrill Findlay (ed.): Dark Sky Dreamings: An Inland Skywriters’ Anthology. Brisbane: Interactive Press 2019 pp. 84-91.
“I belong to a long line of hunter-gatherers, farmers, pastoralists, sports enthusiasts and washing-day observers who read the clouds to know what to expect this morning, or tomorrow, or in an hour’s time; an ancient tradition of water vapour and fog lovers, classification geeks, of cumulophiles whose eyes gleam at opulent storm clouds towering over the horizon, or who join groups of smokers outside buildings just to see what’s happening in the skyways. (I’m not forgetting the professionals, the meteorologists.) […]
I like knowing how clouds enter language, participate in cosmologies, industries, beliefs and arts. Some are ways of experiencing or talking of clouds that humanity has only found recently; some are age-old. Clouds are used to name insoluble mysteries of their time and to trace seismic shifts in technology, in narratives that are at times deeply evocative, at others bare and practical. What follows is a pattern in which one aspect of clouds lights up another, beginning long ago.”
Sue Jackson and Lesley Head: Australia’s Mass Fish Kills as a Crisis of Modern Water: Understanding Hydrosocial Change in the Murray-Darling Basin; in: Geoforum 109 (2/2020) pp. 44-56.
“In the summer of 2018/19, a series of fish kills on the Darling River attracted international attention. We analyse the disaster as a crisis of modern water within the hydrosocial cycle framework formulated by Linton and Budds. Using archival analysis we identify four phases in the emergence and transformation of modern water in the Murray-Darling Basin generally and the lower Darling specifically; navigation flows (1850–1900s), entitlement flows (1880–1940s), exchange water (1950–1990s) and saved water (2000s-present). The phases are driven by conceptual abstraction and commensuration, leading in turn to the material abstraction of water from the lower Darling, rendering the river and its communities vulnerable. We reveal three previously unidentified social processes contributing to the current crisis. First, the development of a model of hydrological productivity that rationalised the Basin scale as a unit of governance and deemed some places ‘effective’ and others, like the Darling, ‘ineffective’. Second, an early form of offsetting in ‘exchange water’ that disembedded water at least three decades before market environmentalism took hold. Third, accounting technologies that enrol evaporative water into basin water governance and politics. A crisis like the fish kills reveals the ways in which the hydrological cycle overflows with social content, internalising scientific expertise and dominant modes of water governance that include settler colonialism. However, hydrosocial framings need to better capture the diversity and complexity of co-existing Indigenous ontologies, and their different expressions of the social and experiences of the material. These ontologies both intersect with and exceed modern water.“
Daniel May: To Burn or Not to Burn Is Not the Question; in: Inside Story, January 17, 2020.
“As successive royal commissions have found, prescribed burning is a tool, not a panacea. […] This practice — also known as hazard reduction burning, control burning or planned burning — uses deliberately lit fire, under favourable conditions, most commonly to reduce the fuel available for future bushfires. Because Indigenous burning is often conflated with prescribed burning, I’m frequently asked an ostensibly simple question: does it work?
To say that experts, researchers and practitioners disagree about the answer is to put it mildly. […] Among experts, suspicions about motives and trench mentalities abound, tied up with cross-disciplinary rivalries, political ideologies and implicit knowledge hierarchies. […]
Fire management, and especially prescribed burning, has dominated public discussion in recent weeks. In this highly charged political context, I must admit to some scepticism about the calls for a royal commission or other inquiries. […] Three bushfire royal commissions over the past century demonstrate how prescribed burning can become a proxy for other political issues.”
Russell McGregor: Idling in Green Places: A life of Alec Chisholm. North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing 2019.
“Alec Chisholm inspired Australians to see nature anew. His Mateship with Birds, published in 1922, is a classic of nature writing, and until his death in 1977 he urged his compatriots to cherish the natural world as their national heritage. Chisholm was a pioneer conservationist, a leading ornithologist, and much else besides. He earned renown – and some controversy – as a journalist, biographer, historian and encyclopaedia editor. Idling in Green Places is the first full biography of this intriguing and influential Australian.”
Russell McGregor: Mateship with Birds: An Australian Plea for Conservation; in: Arcadia 42 (Autumn 2019).
“Mateship with Birds was Australian naturalist Alec Chisholm’s first book, written during his eight-year sojourn in Brisbane. Over a long life (1890–1977) he wrote more than 20 books, mostly on birds, but none had a more evocative title than this one, published in 1922. “Mateship” was meant in the common Australian sense of comradeship, and Chisholm deliberately tied his usage of the word to the powerfully nationalist resonances it had already acquired. Australians, he urged, should open their hearts to their avian compatriots.
From the 1920s to the 1960s, Chisholm was one of Australia’s most popular nature writers. His writings were exuberant, conveying an emotional response to the natural world while at the same time minutely documenting it. He wanted Australians not only to observe and understand nature but also to love it and to embrace Australia’s birds and animals as their friends—their mates in the local idiom. Only by doing so would they come to feel that they truly belonged to the land in which they lived. […] A place-centered nationalism, he believed, would benefit both the Australian people and their non-human compatriots. It would also kindle a commitment to conservation.“
Russell McGregor and Patrick White: New Bradfield’: Rerouting Rivers to Capture a Pioneering Spirit; in: The Conversation, November 27, 2019.
“Civil engineer John Bradfield devised [his] original scheme in 1938. His plan would swamp inland Australia by reversing the flow of North Queensland’s rivers. Similar proposals go back to at least 1887, when geographer E.A. Leonard recommended the Herbert, Tully, Johnstone and Barron rivers be turned around to irrigate Australia’s ‘dead heart’.
As the ‘dead heart’ became the ‘Red Centre’ in the 1930s, populist writers revived the dreams of big irrigation schemes. These schemes have always been contested on both environmental and economic grounds. A compelling history of Bradfield’s proposal reveals many errors and miscalculations. But what the scheme lacked in substance it made up for in grandiose vision. Water dreaming has been a powerful theme in Australian history. The desire to transform desert into farmland retains appeal and discredited schemes like Bradfield keep reappearing.”
“The ‘New Bradfield’ scheme is more than an attempt to transcend environmental reality. It seeks to revive a pioneering spirit and a nation-building ethos supposedly stifled by the bureaucratic inertia of modern Australia.”
Russell McGregor: The Garden of Birds; in: Australian Garden History 31 (January 2020) pp. 11-13.
“Alec Chisholm’s books all reiterated the primary message, that Australians must cultivate a ‘fraternal attitude towards birds if we as a nation are to develop any real measure of alliance with our native earth’. In his third book, Nature fantasy in Australia (1932), he exemplified that theme in an affectionate portrayal of Mr Harry Wolstenholme, ‘the Birdman of Wahroonga’.”
Emily O’Gorman, Thom van Dooren, Ursula Münster, Joni Adamson, Christof Mauch, Sverker Sörlin, Marco Amiero, Kati Lindström, Donna Houston, José Augusto Pádua, Kate Rigby, Owain Jones, Judy Motion, Stephen Muecke, Chia-ju Chang, Shuyuan Lu, Christopher Jones, Lesley Green, Frank Matose, Hedley Twidle, Matthew Schneider-Mayerson, Bethany Wiggin, and Dolly Jørgensen, Teaching Environmental Humanities: International Perspectives and Practices: in, Environmental Humanities, 2, November 2019, pp.427-460.
“This article provides the first international overview and detailed discussion of teaching in the environmental humanities (EH). It is divided into three parts. The first offers a series of regional overviews: where, when, and how EH teaching is taking place. This part highlights some key regional variability in the uptake of teaching in this area, emphasizing important differences in cultural and pedagogical contexts. The second part is a critical engagement with some of the key challenges and opportunities that are emerging in EH teaching, centering on how the field is being defined, shared concepts and ideas, interdisciplinary pedagogies, and the centrality of experimental and public-facing approaches to teaching. The final part of the article offers six brief summaries of experimental pedagogies from our authorship team that aim to give a concrete sense of EH teaching in practice.”
Celmara Pocock: Visitor Encounters with the Great Barrier Reef. Aesthetics, Heritage, and the Senses. London: Routledge 2019.
“Visitor Encounters with the Great Barrier Reef explores how visitor encounters have shaped the history and heritage of the Reef. Moving beyond the visual aesthetic significance, the book highlights the importance of multi-sensuous experiences in understanding the region as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Drawing on archival and ethnographic research, the book describes how visitors have experienced the Great Barrier Reef through personal embodied encounters and the mechanisms they have used to understand, access and share these experiences with others. Illustrating how such experiences contribute to a knowledge of place, Pocock also explores the vital role of reproduction and photography in sharing experiences with those who have never been there. The second part of the book analyses visitor experiences and demonstrates how they underpin three key frames through which the Reef is understood and valued: the islands as paradise, the underwater coral gardens, and the singular Great Barrier Reef. Acknowledging that these constructs are increasingly removed from human experience, Pocock demonstrates that they are nevertheless integral to recognition of the region as a World Heritage Site.“
Emily Potter: Writing Belonging at the Millennium: Notes from the Field on Settler Colonial Place. Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2019.
“In Writing Belonging at the Millennium, Emily Potter critically considers the long-standing settler-colonial pursuit of belonging manifested through an obsession with firm and stable ground. This pursuit continues across the field of the postcolonial nation today; the recognition of colonization’s destructive impacts on humans and environments troublingly generates a renewed desire to secure non-indigenous belonging. Focusing on the crucial role that Australia’s contemporary literature plays in shaping ideas of place and its inhabitation, Potter tracks non-indigenous belonging claims through a range of fiction and non-fiction texts to examine how settler-colonial anxieties about belonging intersect with intensifying environmental challenges. Significantly, she proposes that new understandings of unsettled and uncertain non-indigenous belonging may actually be fruitful context for decolonizing relations with place – something that is imperative in a time of heightened global environmental crisis.”
Stanislav Roudavski and Julian Rutten. Towards More-than-Human Heritage: Arboreal Habitats as a Challenge for Heritage Preservation, in: Built Heritage 4, no. 4 (2020): 1–17.
“Trees belong to humanity’s heritage, but they are more than that. Their loss, through catastrophic fires or under business-as-usual, is devastating to many forms of life. Moved by this fact, we begin with an assertion that heritage can have an active role in the design of future places. Written from within the field of architecture, this article focuses on structures that house life. Habitat features of trees and artificial replacement habitats for arboreal wildlife serve as concrete examples. Designs of such habitats need to reflect behaviours, traditions and cultures of birds, bats, and other animals. Our narrative highlights the nonhuman aspect of heritage, seeking to understand how nonhuman stakeholders can act as users and consumers of heritage and not only as its constituents. Our working definition states that more-than-human heritage encompasses tangible and intangible outcomes of historical processes that are of value to human as well as nonhuman stakeholders. From this basis, the article asks how the established notions of heritage can extend to include nonhuman concerns, artefacts, behaviours and cultures. As a possible answer to this question, the hypothesis tested here is that digital information can (1) contribute to the preservation of more-than-human heritage; and (2) illuminate its characteristics for future study and use. This article assesses the potential of three imaging technologies and considers the resulting data within the conceptual framework of more-than-human heritage, illuminating some of its concrete aspects and challenges.”
Fiona Williamson and Chris Courtney: Disasters and the Making of Asian History, in: Environment and History, 26 Curated Special Issue (1/2020) pp. 1-5.
“Environmental historians have often been drawn to disasters. They have unearthed the often-forgotten stories of erupting volcanoes, raging rivers and rainless skies, and in so doing have reminded their colleagues from more anthropocentric disciplines that the societies, economies and cultures they study are part of broader physical systems. In addition to highlighting the agency of nature, however, disasters have also helped to remind us that environmental history remains at heart a humanistic discipline. […] It is perhaps for this reasons that environmental historians continue to use inherently anthropocentric words such as ‘disaster’ and ‘hazard’. These terms fail to recognise that disturbances that look catastrophic from the perspective of human beings might not have such negative effects when viewed from the perspective of an ecosystem. […]
Given this anthropocentric bias, it is perhaps unsurprising that it is Asia, the region most densely populated by human beings, that suffers by far the greatest number of disasters. […]
[T]his special issue chooses to embrace the diversity of Asian history, bringing together several authors working on different areas and from differing historiographical traditions. […] The subsequent articles range across Central, East, South and South-East Asia, following history through river valleys, across pyroclastic flows and amidst locust swarms.”