The very Australian camel

Just in time for Australia Day, AUSCCER’s Leah Gibbs talks with award-winning radio producer Michael Schubert of Soundminds Radio on the subject of the very Australian camel.

Their conversation challenges the ideas of ‘feral’ and ‘invasive’ species, and questions what it means to belong in Australia.

Tune in to the Community Radio Network at 10:45am EST on Thursday 26 January, or listen here.   Continue reading

‘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.  Continue reading

Entangled invasive lives. Indigenous invasive plant management in northern Australia

In this video Jennifer Atchison (and Lesley Head) discuss their research on Indigenous invasive plant management in northern Australia. This presentation was delivered at the World Parks Congress held in Sydney on 17th November 2014 in a special themed session on Indigenous people and invasive species organised by Judy Fischer, Emilie Ens and Oliver Costello.

Discrepancies between the purist, warlike policy discourse of invasive plant management and the messy realities of on-ground practice are being noted in an increasing number of studies. Nowhere is this clearer than in the extensive indigenous lands of Australia’s tropical north, where communities have increasing responsibility for invasive plant management among other pressing land management tasks, as part of what Richie Howitt and others call ‘New Geographies of Coexistence’. Drawing on our own ethnographic research and an analysis of the grey literature, we describe an emerging assemblage we call Indigenous Invasive Plant Management (IIPM).

Illuminating wildfire vulnerability through environmental history

The following is a discussion of how environmental history recently has broadened my understanding of wildfire vulnerability. It is based on my reflections from the American Society for Environmental History (ASEH) conference in San Francisco, which together with the Association of American Geographers (AAG) conference in Tampa bracketed my recent trip to USA. The purpose of attending both conferences was to share key lessons on gendered dimensions of wildfire vulnerability and resilience as presented in my new book. Yet, the format of my input to each conference was distinctively different. Continue reading

Words and weeds in Sweden

Late summer landscape at Vrångö, in Göteborg’s southern archipelago.

I am back in Göteborg (Gothenburg) as Visiting Professor in the Unit for Human and Economic Geography at the University of Gothenburg. Each time I visit Sweden for a prolonged period, I try to do something systematic to improve, or at least regain, my limited Swedish. On this visit I opted for an intensive course. It was hard work; I haven’t thought about subordinate clauses for more than forty years, and learning vocab is much harder for me than it was then. Many people express surprise at this use of my time, since English is the second language of operation of Swedish academic life. All my colleagues here have to publish in English in order to establish an international reputation, and they speak and write English to a very high level. I don’t anticipate that I will ever be able to have an academic conversation in Swedish.

So why would I bother? Continue reading

Expectations and openings in Mimosa Country

Fieldwork is never what you might expect or plan for. On my first day with Lesley Head in Daly River Northern Territory to discuss management of Mimosa pigra as part of our research project on ‘The Social Life of Invasive Plants’ our main informant became seriously ill. In north Australian Aboriginal communities death comes often and in small and remote communities its effects are far reaching. 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

Catching up with Rubber Vine

We finally catch up with rubber vine just west of Mt Surprise where the vast Gulf country intersects the westward march of the development road. With an odd sense of excitement Stephanie Toole and I pull over and carefully thread our way amongst the neck high grader grass and slip in between the barbed wire fence to get a better look. 12 months ago Lesley Head and I saw the remnants of one dead plant in the Kimberley eradication zone. It is a bit strange having read and heard so much about this particular plant for so long without having seen it in the flesh.

I stand somewhat mesmerized by the thick arching whip stems reaching out for something to hold onto, climbing as all vines do, to reach the light. Spotted purple stems anchor deeply into the cracking grey dirt; hummocky shapes sitting quietly, patiently in the paddock waiting for rain. You can’t help but have some respect for this plant’s ability to carve out a space for itself and make its presence felt.


As we head west toward Georgetown and the Einsleigh and Gilbert rivers, the extent of rubber vine’s reach becomes clear. Over the coming four days we spend time with pastoral station managers and their families, weed officers and helicopter pilots, listening to their experiences. We have wide ranging discussions about what it means to make a living in this country, what is happening to the other nonhumans in this story and what the future might hold. There are difficult decisions ahead for people here and multiple lives and livelihoods at stake.

We get our own hands dirty too, taking part in a demonstration day – a treatment technique to burn the rubber vine from fuel-laden canisters. We manage our ethnography from the helicopter, taking deep breaths behind our camera lenses as our skilled guide pilots us along the creek line, barrelling in for a closer look at the towering, smothering and then smoking mass of vines. In Charters Towers at the Tropical Weeds Research Centre, we talk to ecologists who have tested a range of management techniques over the last decade or so. We learn that, unlike other weed species, there are effective options available. 

In remote places like the Gulf, it is a simple matter for unfolding ecological dramas to play out unnoticed in our mostly urbanised lives, something Val Plumwood drew attention to in her work on Shadow Places. And even here amongst the rubber vine, there are clear material connections to the global economy; to meat and livestock as well as crop production. Plumwood argued that as consumers, the ethical responsibilities to such places should not elude us.

It becomes clear to me in this very short space of time that doing nothing is not an option for the people who live with this plant. What is not quite so clear is how this will play out; having an effective ‘treatment’ is one thing, effectively putting it into action is quite another matter. Rubber vine has a large head start, it has readily made itself at home. It will take a lot of time and effort to catch up. Exactly what should be done, how much it will cost and who is going to fund it are just some of the difficult problems we must all begin to own.