Hanuman’s Ocean: Land and water at Rama’s Bridge

On the poet John Keats’ grave in Rome are the words ‘here lies one whose name was writ in water.’ First reading Keats in my late teens, I have always held a mental picture of those words as his name traced on the surface of the sea. It is a wonderful image, the letters written in water, the dark mobile surface swirling and closing over each momentary mark.

Rama’s Bridge, NASA image

My second Asialink Arts writing project with EarthCoLab takes as its focus Rama’s Bridge, a shifting line of sandbanks, reefs and islands traced across thirty kilometres of ocean between India and Sri Lanka, connecting Dhanushkodi to Talaimannar. Continue reading

The Sacred Conch: multi-species explorations in Palk Strait

‘For them the Ceylon diver held his breath,

And went all naked to the hungry shark;

For them his ears gush’d blood.’

(John Keats, Isabella. 1818)

 

At the beginning of the Bhagavad Gita, seven war conches are named as their owners sound them at the start of the climactic Kurukshetra battle, including warrior Arjuna’s Devadatta, and his charioteer Krishna’s Panchajanya. War conches are shankha, the same sacred or divine conch that is used in Hindu and Buddhist ritual, Ayurvedic medicine, Indian marriage ceremonies and numerous other occasions.

The conch seems an unlikely candidate to reach the level of reverence it does in India, and in fact in numerous other cultures. It is a large marine gastropod, a big sea snail. The specific animal revered as shankha is Turbinella pyrum, and is common on the southern coasts of India and Sri Lanka. In its living form it is not obviously attractive, the shell being covered by a dark brown mantle of soft tissue. Once processed, it is a shining white symbol of the divine. Continue reading

Reflections on Flight Ways and Bird Cultures

I finish Flight Ways. Life and Loss at the Edge of Extinction in a house surrounded by birds. With windows at every turn, it sometimes feels like being in a very cosy bird hide. As I reflect on Thom Van Dooren’s haunting book, my companions are wrens hopping around nooks and crannies in their constant search for insects. A winter flock of Satin Bowerbirds lands on the lawn, eats and leaves. High above, a pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles circles. Kookaburras and magpies greet the clear cold air of dawn.Flightways

Inside the house, feathers from who knows what far away bird fly as I shake out the old doona for visiting friends. A wooden duck welcomes them at the front door. There is chicken for dinner. Graham Pizzey and Neville Cayley help us name birds according to particular taxonomies and traditions, and learn more of their habits. Continue reading

Caught in the net of life and time: hunting

Last week Meanjin published an essay of mine. The tagline they used was ‘Michael Adams reflects on the relationships between hunters and their prey’. The Guardian has just reprinted it in their Comment section. The essay explores modern hunting, with some of it focusing on my own hunting. My thinking continues to evolve on these issues, and recent media indicates they continue to be important and controversial. Continue reading

Plunging into the Anthropocene

For geographers, discussion around the Anthropocene provides an interesting recent take on long standing disciplinary debates over issues such as ‘Man’s Role in Changing the Face of the Earth‘, human impacts and human relations to nature. Last year I was struck by the parallels between how people are conceptualising and talking about the Anthropocene, and how the Neolithic or agricultural revolution has been discussed in archaeology over the last few decades.

I am not talking  about the debate over whether the Anthropocene started 8000 or so years ago as a result of methane emissions from rice agriculture, as argued by William Ruddiman, although that is a fascinating and important discussion. Rather it is about how phases or periods of history can become reified in public and scholarly consciousness, to the detriment of considering their spatial and temporal nuances. If we’re not careful we can end up with deterministic and teleological rather than contingent understandings of historical change. Continue reading

Digging up the agency of soil

Post written by Charles Gillon

Approaching the world from a relational ontology creates the impetus to explore complex entanglements between human and nonhuman, and challenge pre-given conceptions of how we live. To this end, I ask here whether a patchy lawnscape can work towards unveiling the agency of soil.

My Honours thesis, conducted last year, focussed on exploring a series of everyday human/nonhuman interactions in a rural residential estate (RRE). The RRE is an emerging form of master-planned estate (MPE) within Sydney’s greater metropolitan region, comprised of sizeable private lots interspersed with rural amenities; community facilities, remnant bushland, and productive land uses. The aim of this study was to see whether living in an RRE – where there is a more obvious presence of nonhumans than in suburban counterparts – was conducive to a more convivial relationship with the living environment and its myriad of nonhuman residents.

Continue reading

‘Redneck, barbaric, cashed-up bogan? I don’t think so’: Hunting and Nature in Australia.

But please hunters, don’t try to wrap your pathetic, arcane blood lust in a pretty light by saying you’re protecting the environment or whatever.

Everyone who eats meat has blood on their hands. Everyone who lives, works, shops or drives in a deforested area has blood on their hands. Get over it. No one is innocent and the only difference is a Hunter is able to see where their food comes from.

The responses from redneck and cashed up bogans come as no surprise. To equate intelligence with nothing more than the possession of facts and academic achievements is indicative of the superficial mindset of said bogans. They have offered no new insights or valid justifications for their desire to hunt. Some even see themselves as conservationists. Hunting takes no skill other than stalk and shoot – as long as the target is hit, it doesn’t seem to matter if the animal is maimed or dead. They lack empathy and show no sophisticated social maturity. Ultimately the sign of a civilised society is how it treats its most disadvantaged members and species. Please go to America where rabid republican hillbillies will gladly welcome you back to the family. You’ve got nothing this country wants or needs.

Redneck, barbaric, cashed up bogan, I don’t think so. No I think just down to earth who enjoys living the outdoor life now and to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday living.

These comments illustrate some of the polarised positions around hunting in Australia, where somewhere between 300,000 to one million people hunt. I am working with people who hunt, where lives are sustained through the ending of the lives of others. Hunting is constantly controversial, with arguments ranging from ‘the first hunters were the first humans’ to ‘meat is murder’. But there are distinct cultural variations: there is a general acceptance of traditional Indigenous peoples’ hunting, while in middle-class Australia often an assumption that ‘shooting’ is a redneck activity. Across the world, there is a wide range of social attitudes and beliefs around modern hunting. Anthropologist Tim Ingold argues that in relationships between hunters and animals, there is ‘a working basis for mutuality and coexistence’. I have a paper just published in Environmental Humanities (their 3rd most downloaded paper in May) that explores some of these networks of relationship and respect.

CZ455 Lux – my small game rifle

 

Continue reading

Living with, living without weeds: bridging theory and practice

Last week, AUSCCER hosted a workshop for academics and practitioners on this theme at the Novotel Wollongong. We assembled about thirty people connected with our own (Lesley Head, Jenny Atchison and Nick Gill) projects, and with projects where we knew there were partnerships between social scientists and invasive plant managers. The group encompassed a variety of disciplinary traditions (ecology, geography, history, anthropology) and working contexts (State and Local government, NGOs, Aboriginal Land Councils, Universities). They came from all over Australia.

We asked, in an age of social and ecological change, how do we live with weeds? What does this entail ecologically and socially? What are the everyday experiences of managing weeds? How might we reconcile management practice and our lived experience with an ecological vision and policy framework that some places be free from weeds? Continue reading

Invasive species and invading discourses

I took the comfortable three and a bit hour train trip to Stockholm for a couple of days this week to attend the Controlling aliens? Invasion biologies and theorising the native workshop, hosted by Libby Robin and Sverker Sörlin at the Environmental Humanities Laboratory, Royal Institute of Technology (KTH). Libby and her co-workers have had several collaborative seminars with AUSCCER researchers on invasive species, so it was great to continue the connection on the other side of the world. It is no accident that the discipline of invasion ecology grew out of the colonial experience; it is strongest in former colonies such as Australia, USA, South Africa. The humanities/social science research dimensions are also strong in these areas, providing a critical take on questions of ferals, aliens, natives and invasives. 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.

Continue reading