Reflections on the 2013 Institute of Australian Geographers Conference

AUSCCER’s Alex Tindale and Charles Gillon attended the 2013 Institute of Australian Geographers Conference in Perth from July 1 to 4. Here they reflect on their experience.

Alex Tindale
Early this month I attended the 2013 Institute of Australian Geographers (IAG) Conference in Perth, Western Australia. In the lead-up to the conference I was quite nervous. As a first-year postgrad student, I was a little intimidated by the thought of presenting alongside some of Australia’s most prominent and respected geographers. Having only commenced my PhD candidature four months ago, I was still a little anxious at the (apparently common!) thought that perhaps my research wasn’t valuable or significant enough for the academic world. I had planned to present some preliminary research findings, and was falling into the trap of doubting myself as I prepared my presentation in the days leading up to the trip. I had no idea at that stage that a conference like this was going to be exactly what I needed.

Alex Tindale presenting in the Social Geography and Planning Session, July 3rd 2013 (Photo Credit: C. Gillon)

Along with five fellow AUSCCER postgrads, I arrived at the University of Western Australia on the first day not knowing quite what to expect. The first thing that grabbed our attention was the beauty of the campus at which we’d be spending the next three days. The classic early 20th century architecture, combined with plenty of trees, open areas and water features (and even a few peacocks!) helped us feel both relaxed and in awe as we instantly assumed the role of tourists and whipped our cameras out. At the opening plenary we saw Iain Hay talk on the geographies of the super-rich, in one of the most inspiring and captivating presentations I’d ever seen. I felt instantly excited about geography and the chance to hear about the diverse and interesting topics being explored and problems being tackled by geographers.

The first two days blew my geographical mind as I realised that there were so many areas of geography that I never knew I’d have an interest in. I rapidly scribbled down notes as I learnt about new authors, issues and bodies of literature I could explore once I returned to Wollongong. In the final session on the final day of the conference, it was my turn to present. The feedback I received was incredibly helpful and it felt fantastic to hear that other geographers were interested in my work.

I have returned to Wollongong and my PhD with a renewed and refreshed perspective on my research and how it could contribute to solving important problems. I no longer feel doubts about whether my topic is relevant or important. The IAG Conference was an amazingly unexpected springboard for my research and I can’t wait to have similar experiences at other conferences.

Charles Gillon
The 2013 IAG Conference was held at the University of Western Australia (UWA) at the beginning of this month – July 1st to July 3rd. Six postgrads from AUSCCER made the journey over to Perth – Steph Toole, Justin Westgate, Ellen van Holstein, Nick Skilton, and Alex and myself. All six of us had abstracts accepted, and were presenting for the first time in front of our peers in the wider Australian geography community.

This was my first ‘big’ conference, and as such I was feeling quite nervous leading into the first day after a long domestic flight from Sydney. However, once we had arrived and settled into the rhythms of how the conference played out, it was hardly as scary as it first seemed. Sitting in on various sessions, it was comforting to see how supportive everyone was of each other’s work. Questions and comments were constructive, stimulating further discussion. As well as this, in the breaks between sessions academics were very approachable.

There was a lot of buzz around the large cohort that had travelled from the University of Wollongong. AUSCCER had a very strong representation over the three days across a wide range of themed sessions. It was great to watch all of the AUSCCERites – staff and postgrads – present their papers. Wherever possible, we were all there to support each other.

I was scheduled to present on the Wednesday morning, in the first of three Urban Political Ecologies sessions. As I am only in the early stages of PhD topic development I chose to present results from my Honours thesis, conducted last year. The results in my talk discussed human/nonhuman relations inside a rural residential estate, focussing on how nonhumans are part of residents ‘everyday’. This can manifest itself in multiple ways when outside nonhumans enter the private lot – certain nonhumans are treated as neighbours, while others challenge notions of comfort and cleanliness, and can be negotiated or excluded as a result. I was given a really supportive reception, and got some useful feedback – which will help me when trying to publish these results, and also for my PhD candidature. It was great to see so many people from AUSCCER in the audience, their presence certainly helped calm the nerves!

Charles Gillon presenting in the Urban Political Ecologies themed session, July 3rd 2013 (Photo Credit: A. Tindale)

Ellen and I were also given the opportunity by our theme organisers Donna Houston and Kristian Ruming to chair a session each. It was great to experience another element of being a part of a conference – introducing peers, timing their talks, and mediating questions and comments.

The IAG was an excellent introduction to the conference scene, getting to know some of the faces behind the articles and books that we cite – the ‘humans in Human Geography’. A social element was very much encouraged, through welcome drinks on the Monday night, and the Conference dinner on the Tuesday. It was great to see a strong postgrad community develop – a group of us headed out to the Little Creatures brewery in Fremantle on the Wednesday night, and celebrated a job well done. It will be great to meet up with these guys next year in Melbourne!

It cannot be stressed how invaluable the support of all of the AUSCCER staff was before, during and after the IAG. It is great to be a part of such a supportive and talented bunch. Special thanks to Leah, Gordon and Catherine for allowing some of the postgrads to have a run-through before leaving for Perth – their advice and input greatly improved all of our talks.

Alex and Charles are both completing their PhD with AUSCCER. You can follow them both on Twitter @atindaleuow and @cgillonuow

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