Transformative disaster

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Winter in Wollongong is usually a fairly benign affair. Cool dry air, blue skies. But this past week we’ve had an east coast low that has brought severe weather warnings, heavy rain and localised flooding.

On Tuesday I was teaching our big first year human geography class. Five hundred students spread across five campuses – Wollongong, Shoalhaven, Southern Highlands, Batemans Bay and Bega. The theme of the lecture was ‘natural disasters’, and we were considering how they’re not quite as ‘natural’ as they might seem. Continue reading

On One Breath

Flying in to the Big Island of Hawai’i, the two largest volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, are capped with snow and surrounded by an aureola of clouds. Driving east to west across the island between the volcanoes, I pass through several climatic zones and multiple ecosystems. The journey takes me from the wet, windward eastern side to the much drier lee coast on the west.

It’s my second time on a tropical archipelago in a few months. In February I accompanied ten UOW undergraduates to India’s Andaman Islands for our pilot iteration of GEOG334 ‘Geographies of Change: International Fieldwork’. A great trip with a fantastic group of students – fun, resilient and very hard-working. Relevant to this research blog because each student completed their first ever independent research project while there, ranging from studying the territorial behaviour of damsel fish, to a detailed supply chain analysis of everything we ate. Great work.

apneista

The Apneista team, Indonesia (http://apneista.com/)

But I’m in Hawai’i to continue research on freediving, which I started last year in Indonesia. Freediving, or breath-hold diving, is at once a commonplace and unique form of engagement between humans and oceans. Continue reading

Oceanic matters: Call for papers, AAG 2015

Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, Chicago, 21-25 April 2015

Session organisers: Catherine Phillips (University of Queensland) c.phillips2@uq.edu.au; Leah Gibbs (University of Wollongong) leah@uow.edu.au

This session aims to advance oceanic geographies that push in directions less ‘landlocked’ (Steinberg 2001; Anderson and Peters 2014) and more lively (Lambert et al. 2006) to examine the materiality and politics of oceans. Despite the flourishing in recent years of ‘more-than-human’ and material approaches, oceans and associated creatures have only recently come to the fore in a selection of analyses (see Bear and Eden 2008; Probyn 2011). Likewise, ocean geographies have largely neglected the materiality of the sea. This inattention to human-ocean relations and ocean materiality is puzzling given that oceans are central to so many pressing debates, including biodiversity protection, food security, climate change, water pollution and scarcity, and invasive species control. Such ocean crises highlight questions about cultures of living with/in marine environs, and processes of governance. Continue reading

Shark cull begins

Post written by AUSCCER’s Leah Gibbs and Andrew Warren (University of New England)

Australia Day began badly for sharks. The day before, Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett rolled out the lines of large baited hooks along parts of the WA coast that he’s been promising as part of the state’s Shark Mitigation Strategy. Within 24 hours the first shark was caught and killed. A 3m long tiger shark. The lines of hooks – known as baited drumlines – are anchored 1km off the shore. Their purpose is to kill sharks deemed to pose a threat to people. Continue reading

Let the sea reclaim the pools?

I’ve just returned from the beach. Made my usual, favourite stop at the ocean pool. One of Wollongong’s series of bathing pools cut into the rock platform in the mid- to late-19th Century. Today saw a mix of people there: a bearded guy doing laps; the elderly woman with bright swimming cap I see regularly (I’m sure she swims every day); and a bunch of early 20-somethings looking happy and relaxed.

Climbing the stairs back up to the path, I spotted the flyer – neatly attached with cable-ties to the metal railing – that motivated this post. A newspaper clipping and hand-printed note announcing ‘Save Our Rock Pool’. You see, Wollongong City Council is proposing that it cease to maintain and/or demolish two or three of the city’s ocean pools as a cost-saving measure.

Community action to ‘Save Our Rock Pool’.

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Ocean-users and sharks in Western Australia

Do you use the ocean in Western Australia?

If so, we would really appreciate your help with our research. Please click here to fill out our survey. It should take about 15 minutes to complete.

Source: theconversation.edu.au

Over the past couple of years encounters between people and sharks have received a huge amount of public attention. This is particularly true in Western Australia, where five reported fatal encounters tragically took place in a 10 month period during 2011 and 2012. In response to the fatalities, the Government of Western Australia has introduced new measures in shark management, including enabling Department of Fisheries to ‘track, catch and, if necessary, destroy sharks identified in close proximity to beachgoers’ (Gov. of WA, 27 September 2012).

We are two researchers working at the University of Wollongong (Leah Gibbs) and University of New England (Andrew Warren) interested in learning more about the views of ocean-users on this topic. We want to better understand the WA government response to recent events, and the implications of the new approach. We’re particularly interested in hearing from you – as an ocean-user – about your ocean-based activities, your sightings or encounters with sharks (if you’ve had any), and your attitudes towards sharks and shark management.

If you have any questions about the survey, please contact Leah Gibbs (leah@uow.edu.au).

Thanks in advance for your help with our research.

Leah Gibbs & Andrew Warren

 

Water and the politics of environmental knowledge

This is the sixth post in our series on drought, flood and water. In this series we are making connections between AUSCCER researchers working on watery themes, and showcasing our research. This week, Leah Gibbs writes on the matter of water and the politics of environmental knowledge.

Early explorers of the Australian inland were so confident of finding fresh water that many carried boats with them on their expeditions. Finding the ‘inland sea’ – or a major inland river or lake upon which they could base a settlement – became a significant motivation for exploration. Expeditions were driven by social expectations of what the landscapes of this vast new continent should provide for the emerging nation.

But expectations were based on European environmental knowledge, imported from the British Isles through colonisation, and plonked onto Australian nature. A pattern of expectation and interaction set in train early in the colonial period continues to shape settler relations with water, and the politics of environmental knowledge. Continue reading

What does ‘flood country’ mean?

This post is the fifth in our new series on drought, flood and water. The series makes connections between AUSCCER researchers working on watery themes, and showcases our new books and articles. This week, Emily O’Gorman reflects on floods, as discussed in Flood Country: An Environmental History of the Murray-Darling Basin.

Cover image: W.C. Piguenit, ‘The flood in the Darling, 1890’.

Three weeks ago I wrote about some of the ways that flood histories have shaped contemporary approaches to and politicisations of rivers, floods, and floodplains in the Murray-Darling Basin. This week I will write about the term ‘flood country’, which I came to use as the title of my book.

Some of the complex cultural meanings that have been given to floods are evident in the phrase ‘flood country’ as well as ‘flooded country’. These terms were first used by European colonists in the 1850s, and can be found quite frequently in documents relating to rivers in the Murray and Darling systems from that time onwards. Initially a simple description of flooded land, these evocative words came to describe the way the nature of the landscape had been shaped because it had been flooded. The words have especially (but not exclusively) been used by graziers as well as early colonial surveyors, and have endured in some grazing regions. In an essay about the changing flows of the Darling River from pumping water for irrigation, historian Heather Goodall has described how pastoralists still talk about the blacksoil floodplains of the  river in these terms: ‘Graziers consistently refer to the blacksoil areas of their land as ‘the flooded country’, not ‘flood-prone’ but ‘flooded’. The floodwaters are always present in the imagination of the observers, even when there has been no flow for years beyond the banks’.* Even in the harshest of droughts, the words conjured up the image of the imagined water covering the land.

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Drought and climate change: more of the same or a new normal?

This post is the fourth in our series on drought, flood and water. In this series we are making connections between AUSCCER researchers working on watery themes, and showcasing our research. This week, Lesley Head writes on drought and climate change.

In our book Ingrained. A Human Bio-geography of Wheat, Jenny Atchison, Alison Gates and I discussed wheat farmers’ experience and understanding of drought. Whatever their views on anthropogenic climate change, coping with climatic variability goes with the territory of being a farmer. ‘That’s our job description’, said one, reflecting widespread pride in the capacities of wheat farmers to cope with drought. It’s a job description that comes with a certain amount of pain, as attested by stories of stressed families and sleepless nights over unpaid bills. If living with drought is normal, how different will climate change be? In this post I consider four angles on that question. Continue reading

The matter of water

This post is the third in our series on drought, flood and water. In this series we are making connections between AUSCCER researchers working on watery themes, and showcasing our research. This week, Leah Gibbs writes on the materiality of water, as discussed in her forthcoming paper in Environment and Planning A, Bottles, bores and boats: agency of water assemblages in post/colonial inland Australia.

The politics of water in Australia is marked by an idea that water is separate, discrete matter. ‘Stuff’ that can be moved, used, manipulated as and when we humans choose. We drill bores, build dams, dig irrigation channels, desalinate the sea, to extract, contain, direct and now make fresh water. This idea of water as separate extends to how we think about water and how we govern it. We separate water physically, conceptually and bureaucratically. And unfortunately, the idea of separate water contributes to a good deal of misinformation and conflict.

But we don’t have to look far to see that water isn’t separate. And perhaps we can create ways of overturning the notion. In my watery research, I have found myself wondering how we might rethink water to provide a constructive alternative to the outmoded concept of separate water. In particular, I’ve been wondering what would happen if we took seriously the materiality of water. I’m in good company here: my musings are part of a body of work by geographers and friends in related fields interested in ‘taking materiality seriously’.

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