‘Camel country’: on radio 3CR & Geoforum

Camels are the focus of this week’s ‘Freedom of Species’ program on 3CR Independent Radio. AUSCCER’s Leah Gibbs will be talking with 3CR’s Emma Townshend this Sunday, 17 May, at 1pm on 3CR (855am). You can also catch the show later as an MP3.

The interview comes on the back of a paper recently published in Geoforum, by Leah Gibbs, Jennifer Atchison and Ingereth Macfarlane, titled: ‘Camel Country: assemblage, belonging and scale in invasive species geographies’. Below is a taster of the published paper.

Invasive species and their impacts have become a focus of global environmental policy and action. Invasive, alien and in Australia ‘feral’ species have come to represent categories of destructive animals and plants that do not belong. They are frequently pitted against ‘native’ species, which are deemed good and do belong. But in the context of contemporary environmental change and uncertainty, established categories such as ‘invasive’ species need to be examined more closely. 

In our recent paper – ‘Camel country’ – we argue that the apparently straightforward binary of native/invasive contains more subtle and complex elements, and that management of contentious species should take into account a broader range of objects, processes and relations at multiple scales.

Camels near Charters Towers, QLD. Photo: Jennifer Atchison.

We examine the place of camels (Camelus dromedarius) in Australia, and explore the changing context of the species through three distinct cases: the introduction of camels to the continent and establishment of a ‘thoroughly Australian camel’; a national program of culling from 2010 that aimed to reduce negative impacts of the species; and relationships between camels and weeds, in which the two ‘go together’ in degraded environments, and in places where other weed management strategies have failed.

Thinking beyond established categories of ‘invasive’ and ‘native’, and examining particular contexts or ‘assemblages’, reveals aspects of a species’ story that are often ignored in environmental management. At times these elements of a story are confronting. For example, settling camels in Australia was a part of a project of nation-building. While camels were deemed useful, their handlers were subject to racial vilification and racist policy. Second, culling removes living animals, but produces dead bodies, which continue to have material and ethical consequences.

The camel ‘problem’ in Australia is currently imagined as a national scale issue. But the ‘national’ is not necessarily the most appropriate scale for understanding species and environments. Thinking at one scale alone obscures effects at others; in particular, local effects of camels’ bodies (living or dead), and the global context of population decline and a species deemed ‘extinct in the wild’.

Finally, paying attention to ‘camel assemblages’ reveals processes and relations beyond the individual animal and species that are frequently overlooked in environmental management. Whether a species ‘belongs’ or not does not emerge from the species itself, but is contingent upon specific sets of relations in distinct places and times. Given that it is not the aim of management to remove camels altogether, our conversations must include how we are to co-exist with camels into the future.


Leah, Jennifer and Ingereth’s paper was published this year in the journal Geoforum: Gibbs L, Atchison J and Macfarlane I (2015) Camel country: assemblage, belonging and scale in invasive species geographies. Geoforum 58, 56-67. DOI:10.1016/j.geoforum.2014.10.013

Leah’s interview with 3CR Independent Radio’s Emma Townshend will be broadcast this Sunday 17 May at 1pm, as part of the program ‘Freedom of Species’. You can listen after this date by visiting the website.


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