Householder Bushfire Preparedness Survey

Do you live in Australia? If so, please click here to participate in our online survey of householders’ bushfire preparedness. The survey takes 15 minutes to complete.

The survey is being conducted by AUSCCER and the Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires at the University of Wollongong as part of a study funded by the NSW Rural Fire Service. It will support the development of an online Bush Fire Household Assessment Tool.

Please complete the survey by 20 February 2013 and forward the link to colleagues, neighbours, friends and family who might be interested in taking part in this study.

For further information, please contact Dr Christine Eriksen via email: ceriksen(at)uow(dot)edu(dot)au

Thank you in advance for your time and contribution.

The Gendered Dimensions of Natural Disasters

Call for Papers: Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers (AAG), Los Angeles, California, April 9-13, 2013

Session Title: The Gendered Dimensions of Natural Disasters

Session Organizer: Christine Eriksen, AUSCCER, University of Wollongong

The aim of this session is to evolve the growing awareness within both academia and emergency services of the gendered nature of disaster risk engagement, response and recovery. Covert and less visible as well as overt gender roles and traditions have been shown to be important factors in understanding how women and men engage with risk. The ‘doing of gender’ in everyday practices, for example, has with time ensured the normalization of hegemonic masculinity in everyday life. Research has furthermore shown how the normalization of patriarchal relations through discursive practices is legitimized through the media, while institutional patriarchal structures resistant to change reinforce them. The applications of shifting scales of analysis have, however, revealed gender relations and gender identities as being socially constructed and ideologically premised. It has highlighted the importance of understanding how boundaries are drawn and redrawn and how gender identities are performed over time. Hegemonic masculinity in many rural landscapes has, for example, been challenged on many fronts since the 1970s due to the demographic and structural changes associated with amenity-led migration from urban centers to rural landscapes. The outcomes of particular discourses (such as communicating in recovery or wildfire management) may furthermore be quite pluralistic as there are manifold ways of acting upon it. It is therefore important to pay greater attention to explicitly gendered social experiences and the construction and performance of gender identities within the context of, for example, risk mitigation, disaster management, and trauma recovery. What, for example, are the implications of embedded gender roles on the vulnerability and resilience of the growing number of people living in wildfire-prone landscapes at the wildland-urban interface today?

This session seeks paper contributions on the gendered dimensions of a wide variety of natural disasters and associated aspect of risk engagement, mitigation, response and recovery.

Please email a 250 word abstract to Christine Eriksen ( by Friday 12th October 2012. Successful submissions will be confirmed by Wednesday 17th October 2012 and will be expected to register and submit their abstracts online at the AAG website by October 24th 2012 ( Please note that a range of registration fees will apply and must be paid before the submission of abstracts online.

Online survey: Diverse cultures, diverse households

We invite Australian residents from all backgrounds to participate in our online survey.

Households in Australia are currently facing a number of challenges posed by rising costs of living, economic uncertainty and advice about more sustainable lifestyles. These challenges are taking place in a context of high cultural diversity. At AUSCCER, we want to find out more about the diverse ways of living and cultures of sustainability that exist in our community.

Provide your contact details on the final page of the questionnaire to have the chance to win 1 of 5 $100 shopping vouchers (to be announced 15.12.12).

You can access the survey in 6 languages via the following links:

If you have any questions about completing this study contact Dr Natascha Klocker on

Thanks for your participation!

Contest/ed Scenes and Spaces: Exposing Cultural Infrastructures

Call For Papers Association of American Geographers (AAG) Annual Meeting 2013, Los Angeles April 9-13th

Session Title: Contest/ed Scenes and Spaces: Exposing Cultural Infrastructures

Session organisers: Chris Gibson (University of Wollongong) and Lizzie Richardson (Durham University).

The dominance of a particular figuring of the ‘cultural and creative economy’ (Landry and Bianchini, 1995, Landry, 2000; Florida, 2002) has recently been undermined by interventions that seek to relocate and revalue creativity. Such interventions attend to a variety of marginal and vernacular forms of creative practice that have been underplayed or overlooked in previous scholarship. An emphasis on the contributions of cultural and creative industries to urban and regional development has also stifled engagement with other, more critical threads of theoretical and political thought in geography. This session seeks to contribute to this work by positioning creativity in forms of performance, such as music, theatre and spoken word, and by exploring such performances in heterodox material spaces. Rather than isolating creativity as an individual talent, the aim is to explore how and with what implications practices of cultural production involve collective or distributed agency, and claims over space (as political, as performative). To reclaim creativity from the neoliberal agenda of economic growth and urban regeneration, the session is looking for contributions that expose the hidden cultural infrastructures supporting and/or limiting particular performance scenes. This values performative possibilities but also highlights the challenges of the fragility of such material creative networks. How do contest/ed scenes operate in dis/connection with more stable cultural institutions? What kinds of relational or liminal spaces of cultural production are necessary to exceed easy or conventional categorisation – and might this undermine more permanent claims for political/politicised spaces of cultural infrastructure? Decentring creativity, what is the potential in creative spaces for new forms of sociality, conviviality and politics? In contrast to its positioning as a neutral driver for economic growth, we want to examine how creativity is contested and how contest occurs through creativity.

We seek contributions on but not limited to:

  • Hidden spaces cultural production
  • Successful/failed cultural infrastructure
  • Theorisations of creativity that intersect with critical threads in postcolonial, radical, feminist and queer thought
  • Mixed or multiple forms of creative practice/space
  • Making and delineating scenes through material practices
  • Intersections between institutional and non-institutional performance

Please send a 250 word abstract to Chris ( and Lizzie ( by Friday 28th September, 2012.

Successful submissions will be contacted by Friday 5th October 2012 and will be expected to register and submit their abstracts online at the AAG website by October 24th 2012. Please note that a range of registration fees will apply and must be paid before the submission of abstracts.

Engage. Communicate. Interrogate Power.

I’ve just recently returned from a fantastic trip abroad that combined two conferences, writing on the road, and some vacationing. I’ve returned to Australia travel weary but excited about moving forward with my work at AUSCCER.

Bred sterile Qflies for biosecurity programs

At both conferences, I spoke about human-nonhuman relations within horticultural production networks in Australia – focusing on the ways in which Queensland fruit flies and European honeybees participate in, shape and are shaped by commercial production on-going in parts of the Murray-Darling Basin.

at the first conference … Continue reading

Illawarra Flame – UOW and the International Solar Decathlon

Some recent AUSCCER Blog posts have been exploring issues around practical responses to climate change, including how we keep warm or keep cool in the Illawarra. In this vein, for the last few months, I have been working with a team of students, academics and professionals from UOW, Illawarra TAFE, and local professional practices, on UOW’s entry in the International Solar Decathlon. This team will pit its skills at designing, building and retrofitting a solar-powered house against some of the best universities in the world in the finals of the 2013 Solar Decathlon: China competition. Team UOW will compete against 24 teams from 13 countries in a bid to design, build and operate an advanced and appealing solar-powered house that is not only energy efficient but also cost effective to build. Continue reading

PhD Scholarship: cultural geographies of human-plant relations

Applications are invited for a PhD scholarship in the broad area of cultural geographies of human-plant relations. Specific areas of interest are open and could include for example invasive plants, food, urban ecology, biodiversity or conceptual questions.
A stipend of $23,728pa for three years is available. The project is supported by a generous fieldwork budget as part of Professor Head’s ARC Australian Laureate Fellowship.
Applicants should have a Bachelor Honours degree, with a mark of Second Class/Division I or higher, or equivalent, in human geography or a relevant discipline (e.g. anthropology, biogeography, environmental social science). (Current students expecting such a result at the end of 2012 are welcome to apply.)
Current staff and students in AUSCCER come from backgrounds in human and physical geography, environmental history, political ecology, archaeology and cultural studies. Located in a world-class School of Earth & Environmental Sciences, we have good working relationships with colleagues in the natural and environmental sciences. Facilities include a state of the art human geography laboratory with specialist field equipment and spatial analysis (GIS) systems.
AUSCCER provides a vibrant and supportive environment for postgraduate research students – have a look around this blog for recent activities.

Enquiries can be directed to Lesley Head (
Applications should be sent to Denise Alsop ( by August 31, 2012. Please format as a single document (pdf or word doc) that includes cover letter, Curriculum Vitae, copy of academic transcript, a brief research proposal (3 pages maximum) and contact details for 2 referees.

(Apart from this specific opportunity, don’t forget that you can apply to undertake postgraduate research at AUSCCER via the main scholarship rounds, the next one of which closes October 17, 2012 for commencement in March 2013. Details about the process here )

Adapting to climate change – just doing it

The Climate Adaptation in Action 2012 Conference, organised by NCCARF and CSIRO, wrapped up this evening after three days of engaged discussion. With 600 people and up to seven parallel sessions, everyone’s pathway through the conference was different. (Although they were all pretty seamless, thanks to excellent organisation.) Here are some of my impressions.

Local, bottom up, multiple
The conference didn’t waste too much time bemoaning the failure of national governments to have got anywhere at Rio+20. As Mark Stafford Smith put it in an excellent overview, we can’t depend any more on the utopian fantasy of planetary agreements. In the closing plenary, several speakers noted this conference as a moment when the research community admitted to itself that mitigation is not going to happen.

So people are getting on with things in a variety of ways: at the local government level, in NGOs, in businesses and in community groups. There were many examples of such initiatives presented at the conference. Rather than having a scattergun approach where people just hunker down and do what they can, Mark suggested this could be a strategic approach of consolidation for the next couple of years. Drawing on the work of recently deceased Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom, and presumably anticipating an Australian political context that will get more rather than less hostile to climate change initiatives, he envisaged solutions at multiple intersecting scales of governance. (There has been much discussion of this in the geography literature – Chris Gibson and I drew on some in our recent paper ‘Becoming differently modern’). Stafford Smith cautioned that, while localised bottom up processes may have to be the main focus for a while, we should beware of complacency and watch out for ‘creeping thresholds’.

Vulnerability as asset?
In the session in which I presented some of AUSCCER’s work on households (see Chris Gibson’s post below for further details), convergences between the papers were encapsulated by a comment from the floor that ‘vulnerability is an asset’. This is a risky idea to frame because it could potentially be used to reinforce existing disadvantage. And as Jon Barnett argued so well in the closing plenary, the social changes associated with climate change are already undermining fairness (more on this below). However, numerous examples emerged in different parts of the conference. Vulnerability can be an asset because of the way that it mobilises existing cultural capacities, adaptive behaviours and social capital. Poor people, elderly people, rural communities and people in the global south all have strong cultural capacities. Perhaps the wealthy are most vulnerable because they don’t acknowledge their own vulnerability?


Maybe I was just attuned to it but, gratifyingly for AUSCCER types who like a bit of big picture conceptual stuff with their empirical material, narrative got quite a guernsey. On day 1 Steve Dovers gave us a lecture on Policy 101, arguing that big policy changes come not from detailed prescriptions, but from the power of narrative and political argument. And on the second day ecologist Mike Dunlop argued – in the face of some pretty scary spatial modelling about future temperature extremes – that we need to shift the biodiversity narrative from stability to dynamism. Species will need to shift. (How they might do that across complex land-use practices and tenures was not discussed, at least not in the sessions I was in.) Theoretically the ‘new ecology’ has been stimulating the dynamism narrative for thirty years or more, but as Mike and I discussed later, the political narrative that built our present protected area system was framed around implicit references to a past state of being – protection, conservation, hanging on to things. For examples of that modelling, have a look at what the JCU people are doing.
Thought for later: do water people – attuned to the extremes of drought and flood – have less trouble envisaging a very different narrative than ecosystems people, who have fought long and hard for preservation?

The state as a social contract
Geographer Jon Barnett made a landmark statement in his closing plenary. I won’t try and summarise it all, as I hope he writes it up, but it was a manifesto for fairness in Australian society, and for a renewal of the contract between the state and society to protect public goods. Indeed, he argued, the state is a social contract between the community and the government we accept. (One of his specific recommendations was for local government to be recognised in the Constitution, given the burden it will bear in adapting to climate change.) Jon’s intervention was refreshing for me because it lifted the conversation above what he called ‘fiddling with the technicalities of adaptation’. At times during the conference the assumed instrumental pathway from scientific knowledge to adaptive practice too smoothly ignored several decades of social and cultural research. And people were surprised when the path was rougher than expected! As Jon also argued, the path is inherently messy, rough and long.


Perhaps surprisingly, the least examined concept in the conference was adaptation itself. I didn’t hear one person engage with it. Now that’s fine, if what you mean is intentional change and flexibility in the face of a warmer, drier and less predictable future. (Or as someone in the closing plenary said, ‘adaptation = dealing with change’.) We can all relate to that, and the community can imagine the relevance of that.

Things get a bit more slippery however when constant repetition of the term, in a discussion where everyone is hammering the importance of science, confers an association with an evolutionary understanding of adaptation. (I have written on this theme elsewhere.) I was surprised how often I heard a speaker argue that, for example, installing an airconditioner to combat projected increases in heat stress, is a maladaptive decision. It might be a bad decision for us as a community to encourage, because it will only make things worse, but, in enhancing the chance of that person’s reproductive success, it is potentially highly adaptive.

Further, for scholars who are trying to encourage the community to prepare for increases in surprise and nonlinear change, some seemed unduly sure about exactly which decisions will be right in the long run. Evolution doesn’t have foresight, it works incrementally through many generations, and we cannot know in advance which of our choices will be adaptive in this sense. Diversity, flexibility and making mistakes need to be part of the package.

Dilemmas of conference sustainability

Finally, a few thoughts on the fraught question of conference sustainability. Having organised the Institute of Australian Geographers conference at Wollongong in 2011, we in AUSCCER know how hard it is to do things more sustainably while being hospitable and generous. By and large, the organisers of this conference did a great job on this (and they had three times as many people as us). The conference dinner, however, probably met our protein requirements for a week! I’ll leave the final word on this to my new twitter friend @philipwallis, who shared this challenging blog on academic mobility.

This was my first experience of tweeting at a conference, using the instructed hashtag #adapt2012. I found it great fun, and a good way to have parallel conversations within a big group of people with limited discussion time. Unfortunately I didn’t find them all in person, but maybe next time.

Lesley Head is a geographer and Director of AUSCCER.She can be followed on twitter @ProfLesleyHead

Networking at conferences – breaking the ice, without being a sleazebag?

Last week we posted on tips and tricks for presenting your work at conferences – especially for postgraduates and early-career researchers.

Another benefit of conferences is networking.

With conference season upon us, in AUSCCER discussion has turned to how to network at conferences – especially for postgraduate students and early-career researchers.

We absorbed some terrific advice from the geography postgrads at Manchester University: I recommend reading their comprehensive list of suggestions.

Another key dilemma we discussed is: how to make the most of networking at a conference, without coming across as an opportunistic sleazebag?

Dinner and cocktails, IAG conference 2011, UOW

Attend pre-conference workshops wherever possible

You’ll meet a smaller group of people with similar interests to yours. Much easier to break the ice when there’s a common interest. And, you will be able to reconnect with these same people over morning tea when the ‘big’ conference begins.

IAG 2011: Subterranean geographies field trip

Ditto official field trips. Who knows who you’ll sit next to on the bus. It’s how I met Gerard Toal and Anna Secor– at a political geography conference field trip in the West Bank in 1998, when I was a bumbling postgraduate (I’m still bumbling, but now thankfully with tenure…). We ended up backpacking for a while together after that trip. Although I rarely see them, living here in Sydney a rather long way from Washington DC or Lexington, I’ve valued their advice and views ever since.

Wallflowers anonymous

I know this is easier said than done, but if you feel isolated and alone try to overcome this as soon as possible on the first day. There’s only so many times you can check facebook on your phone. I recall attending conferences as a PhD student and not talking to anyone until the second day. Eventually striking up a conversation, I wished I had grown a spine earlier. Once you’ve had a pleasant chat with at least one person then the whole event seems friendlier and more open.

AUSCCER's Natascha Klocker and Kate Roggeveen at IAG 2011

Lining up for registration on the first morning is a good opportunity: talk to whoever is next in line… don’t try to make a deep academic insight, just normal small talk! And when you’ve got your name tag and calico bag, if the conversation has lulled, simply say “see you around” and find a nice nook in which to study the program.

Networking at conferences is not like picking up at a bar. There are no perfect ‘pick up lines’ and better to say hello and chat about the weather than try make a clever or witty comment. BUT just like picking up at a bar, if you do try to strike up a conversation and all you get in return is negative body language, then back out… quickly!

Quality over quantity

My PhD supervisor always advised to network and collaborate academically with people you like – your friends. Simple. No point in trying to establish a collaboration with a nasty or unfriendly person, no matter how close their research area is to yours, or how eminent they are in your field. Academic life will prove far more rewarding if you build a network of connections on the premise of friendship and respect rather than opportunism.

Shadow your supervisor for a little while, if need be. They should introduce you to their friends. You can quickly gain connections with like-minded folk by going for a coffee, lunch or beer with your supervisor and their existing “inner sanctum” of colleagues.

Business cards?

I’d be interested in hearing others’ views on this. I always take a bunch of business cards to conferences, but rarely hand them out – and often only when reciprocating after someone else has given me theirs. Are social media such as facebook, twitter and LinkedIn replacing the need for business cards? It could be a function of generational difference. I sit on the fence. Take some cards along, but don’t expect to hand out loads of them.

Tweet your thesis topic – short and sweet

Can you capture the essence of your thesis topic in 140 characters or less? Try it. I still find it difficult to talk about my research succinctly. Try telling someone about your thesis verbally, maximum two sentences.

When you strike up conversations at a conference, invariably you’ll be asked about your research. Make your reply short, but engaging – as with tweets. If there’s a genuine point of connection, you’ll end up talking for longer. If not, that’s ok – and you won’t have bored or annoyed someone with long or convoluted explanations.

Don’t expect instant fame

The Mancunian geographers emphasised this point too: if you come home from the conference having only met a few people, it’s OK. It takes time and many repeat visits to the same annual conference to build a friendly academic network. Better to form a few promising connections rather than try and make everyone know your presence at your very first conference.

If there are key people whose work you’ve already read and admired, watch their presentation and ask a succinct, friendly but engaging question. You might preempt a possible question before the conference, based on recent work of theirs that you have read. Invariably that person will come and have a chat after their paper, if you hang around a little while afterwards.

Do you have comments or suggestions? Do you take business cards to conferences? How do you break the ice?


Conference presentations – some tips and tricks

It’s conference season!

With both the Institute of Australian Geographers and IBG-RGS conferences looming, in AUSCCER we’ve been talking about making the most of conferences – especially for postgraduates and early-career researchers.

Much underestimated, but critical, are a few close details about presenting yourself and your work, when it’s your turn to talk.

Here’s a few tips and tricks.

Time it to perfection

  • Practice your presentation and time it. If it’s too long, even by a minute, cut it back further. If you’ve been given 15 minutes to present, do not settle for 16 minutes as ‘close enough’.
  • Before your session starts, for instance when you’re uploading your PowerPoint file, let the session chair know that you’ve practiced and timed your presentation and that it is exactly the correct time (or less). Your session chair will appreciate it. It makes their job of managing speakers, timing and questions easier. And often, the session chair is the most likely person to remember you from the conference – the most immediate person to make a good impression upon.

Dr. Leah Gibbs, presenting the 2011 Fay Gale Memorial Lecture, IAG conference, UOW

First impressions
  • Think VERY carefully about your opening sentence. Resist the temptation to waste precious seconds saying “Hi, my name is ….” or “I’m a PhD student from the university of ….” Instead, try to write a punchy, engaging first sentence that gets right to the heart of the wider issue/problem/debate in your paper or research field. When in doubt, write a short sentence in the form: “This paper confronts the question of ….”.
  • If you’re worried that this tactic will somehow seem unfriendly – don’t. The audience want you to get on with it ASAP.
  • Maybe use a dramatic example, an anecdote or an attention-grabbing ‘event’ to capture the audience from the very first paragraph. Ben Gallan from AUSCCER has a great example: a dramatic YouTube clip of urban street violence that immediately starts his presentation. The audience is gripped from the first second.

Last impressions

  • Also spend time carefully crafting your final sentence. Make it a definitive conclusion and deliver it in a manner that makes it obvious it’s your final sentence. Try deliberately slowing down for this sentence, and inserting a pause just before you launch into it. Don’t end a presentation by way of asking the audience if there are any questions: that’s the job of the session chair AFTER you’ve been applauded. Instead, just deliver your ‘punchy last line’ with style. When in doubt, return back to the theme of your attention-grabbing first line. If that first line was presented as a question, come back to answer it, or if a ponderance on a big picture problem, return to it in your presentation’s final line.

The art of the second paragraph

  • If you need to provide some background on you, or some context for your paper (e.g. that it comes from your PhD, or is a tentative ‘first stab’ at something), try placing this as the second paragraph in your spoken presentation – after your dramatic ‘opener’.
  • Also use this second paragraph to quickly position the paper in a field or literature. Or use this second paragraph to quickly explain what this paper is not about, or to ‘spot-check’ literatures that you’re aware of, but won’t discuss today. This is about preempting questions from the floor about some tangential literatures or debates that you won’t have time to discuss in any great detail.

AUSCCERites at the 2011 IAG conference, UOW

Theory vs case study?

Try to strike a balance between enough background/theoretical framing, and substantive case study material. I recall witnessing a disaster of a paper once, when a speaker spent his full 20 minutes (including allocated question time) boring the audience with the intricacies of his theoretical ‘model’, then got angry with the session chair when they stopped him before he’d said a word about the case study. Most audience members won’t be disappointed if you provide ‘just enough’ conceptual framing, in order to let the ‘story’ breathe. Also, resist the temptation to show how your case study has relevance to all manner of debates and disciplinary sub-fields. You can expand on or diversify your story at next year’s conference. For now, drill down to a single message, the single core story you want to tell on this occasion.

Finer points

Details of your PowerPoint presentation matter:

  • When in doubt, use plain background colours.
  • PowerPoint design experts reckon that san serif fonts like Arial or Calibri are best, and that there should be no more than three dot points per slide, max 6 words per dot point.
  • I like using a sequence of photos without any text at all. The pictures vividly portray things without words in dot points cluttering up my spoken story.
  • Don’t waste space putting in a slide outlining your presentation’s structure (especially if you’re sticking to a conventional structure anyway). Ditto a slide at the end with “Thank you – any questions?” written on it. There’s no need.

To read or not to read?

In light of the above, when in doubt use a fully-written script for your presentation and read it out on the day. Practice it beforehand to identify any phrases that are awkward to read out. Deliberately shorten all your sentences, and use a shorter word in the place of a longer one where appropriate. This doesn’t mean dumbing things down. It means being comprehendible and making your job of reading out a paper smoother and more enjoyable.

Why not just chat, off-the-cuff, to the audience?

  • Having a written script means you can practice and time your presentation precisely.
  • It means being in control of every word, rather than allowing splutters, ‘you know’, ‘like’ and other verbal ticks into your presentation.
  • Nuanced ideas are better usually better communicated on paper than off-the-cuff. The very best academics might be able to talk theory as if having a casual chat, but most of us mere mortals need a bit of help getting the key theoretical phrases ‘right’.
  • Having a written script disciplines yourself: you can pace yourself with confidence, and more reliably stick to your pre-determined ‘killer open sentence’, and ‘punchy last line’.
  • You’ll sleep better the night before.

Do you have other ideas or tips on conference presentations? Perhaps there are different ways to approach presenting your work? We’d love your comments or suggestions.

Next: conferences are a great place to build your academic networks – but is it possible to network effectively without coming across as a sleazebag? Click here to read more.

In the meantime, check out this series of posts by the geography postgrads at Manchester University for terrific advice on making the most from conferences.