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

Meet Freya Croft

The Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research (AUSCCER) is a teaching and research group focusing on cultural and social aspects of environmental issues. AUSCCER’s expertise and research is wide-ranging. Over the next few months we’ll be introducing some of our academics and PhD candidates to give greater insight into AUSCCER’s work.

Freya is in the first year of her PhD, initially starting her studies in history, but transferred to human geography and AUSCCER at the start of 2017. She is supervised by Associate Professor Michael Adams and Dr Jenny Atchison. In this post Freya answers some questions about her research.

Freya, about to dive the Exmouth Navy Pier at Ningaloo Reef, WA.

 

What is the focus of your research?

Photo by Alex Kydd from Ningaloo Wildlife Encounters. Tiger Shark and snorkelers in the water at Coral Bay, Ningaloo Reef, WA.

Put broadly, the topic of my research is storytelling and ocean conservation.  I’m interested in the ways in which storytelling can act as a catalyst for change and inspire stewardship of the marine environment.

I am really interested in the ways in which emotions shape the encounters humans have in marine environments and how these can be used to encourage people to alter their behaviour to be more conservation minded.  Continue reading

Transformative disaster

Quote

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

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

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’.

Continue reading

On ‘passing through places’, ‘so-far stories’ and movement improvisation

This post was originally posted on the ‘Working the Tweed’ site; a ‘Year of Natural Scotland 2013’ funded collaboration between artists and environmentalists in the Scottish Borders. The post is a conversation between AUSCCER’s Leah Gibbs, and Working the Tweed artists Kate Foster and Claire Pençak.

Introduction
In the project Working the Tweed, we set out to work with different kinds of specialist knowledge. This yields various ways to think about the Tweed Catchment, and make different artistic connections and new kinds of maps. We are thinking through what we, as artists, might offer in engaging with projects that deal with sustainable land-use and the realities of environmental change. We are delighted to be able to converse with Leah Gibbs, a human geographer at the University of Wollongong, whose work concerns the cultures and politics of water. Leah has considerable experience of multi-disciplinary work focusing on land management. She explains her concept of ‘passing-through places’. This overlaps with Kate Foster’s ideas of documenting ‘so-far stories’, and Claire Pençak’s thinking on improvisation as a way to investigate relationship to place through movement.

Conversation
KF: Leah, you have written about ‘passing-through places’, which is an intriguing idea and keeps coming to mind as we plan the Working the Tweed project. Can you explain why you find the concept of ‘passing through’ helpful, and how you came to adopt the term?  Continue reading

Landscapes of Uncertainty in California

Post by Christine Eriksen and Michael Adams

Three weeks into our California fieldwork, the United States Senate failed to reform the country’s gun laws (270 Americans are shot every day) and two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon, tragically killing three people and injuring many others. For many people in the USA, uncertainty is part of the daily social fabric.

Camouflaged lizard, Joshua Tree NP (photo: C Eriksen)

We were in the USA with several aims: to negotiate new international student exchanges as part of a UOW International Links Grant co-funded by the Faculty of Science; to participate with a group of AUSCCER researchers at the Association of American Geographers conference; to explore contemporary conservation initiatives and challenges, including Indigenous involvement and NGO conservation initiatives; and to continue research on wildfire and hunting.

While pursuing all these interests, we were repeatedly struck by dimensions of uncertainty in American life, some of which might be particularly acute in California. Continue reading

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

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’.

Continue reading