This text originally appeared in UOW’s Research & Innovation newsletter.
As Australia’s coastal population rises with the tide, PhD candidate Charles Gillon turns his human geography lens to the master-planned estates that dot our coastline.
What are you studying?
I am a PhD Candidate at the Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research (AUSCCER), in the Department of Geography and Sustainable Communities, Faculty of Social Sciences.
What does your research focus on?
My research is concerned with exploring everyday human-environment relations in coastal master-planned estates. Masterplanned estates are broadly what you would recognise in suburbia as ‘housing estates’; clusters of homes built within the fabric of existing suburbs. They have distinct boundaries, and are regulated with an overriding vision for how residents should live there. These estates are also emerging in ‘greenfield’ locations on the fringe of suburbia – in rural areas, and also on the coast. People move to these coastal locations for an improved quality of life, and an increased connection to nature; to escape the dilemmas of modern suburbia. This ‘seachange’ is usually done with good intentions towards the environment; but once residents arrive, they inevitably alter the natural landscape that they were attracted to in the first place.
In Australia, coastal environments are major sites for residential settlement: over two-thirds of the population live within 50kilometres of the coastline. As researchers, we must explore questions of how humans can live better with the coastal environment. This is important because populations are continuing to grow on Australia’s coastline; combined with the implications of current and predicted climate change impacts (notably sea level rise, extreme storms and coastal retreat). In Australia, it seems impossible to consider populations relocating from the coast. The question becomes less about trying to dissuade people from living there, and more one of interrogating how they live there: towards changing habits, challenging ingrained values and attitudes, and broadening how we understand coastal environments. While better management of coastal environments is essential, a focus on habitual, everyday practices of coastal residents, and understandings of the coast, is equally important – for together, these humans and households aggregate to vast effects.
My research involves immersive, finegrained research in coastal estates, interviewing residents, and observing everyday life in the environment. This also involves accounting for the myriad, active roles of the coastal environment in the everyday. Plants, animals, soil and sand, salt-spray and waves, for example, all have a say in both persuading and dissuading the decision-making and attitudes of residents. A focus on the everyday accounts of residents also allows the opportunity to explore their experiences of coastal change, and their perceptions of uncertain coastal futures.
Why did you come to UOW?
AUSCCER is a vibrant and enthusiastic research community, asking essential questions of how humans live with their environments. The working environment is also excellent for postgrads; all of the teaching staff and researchers are incredibly supportive. I also chose UOW to have the opportunity to learn from my two brilliant supervisors, Leah Gibbs and Chris Gibson. I have been a student at the University of Wollongong since 2009, completing a Bachelor of Science majoring in Human Geography and Physical Geography in 2011, and an Honours thesis in Human Geography in 2012. When the opportunity came along to do my PhD, I was always going to choose UOW!
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Attending the Institute of Australian Geographers (IAG) Conference in July 2013 at the University of Western Australia was an exciting experience where I got to present some of my Honours findings to the wider Australian geography community. This presentation was well received and acknowledged with a Postgraduate Presentation Award – which was a huge encouragement! It was also great to be a part of the conference scene – meeting interesting researchers, and seeing inspiring presentations.
Charles Gillon is on Twitter @cgillonuow. Previous blog posts by Charles include As the smoke clears: Port Kembla’s stack and the place of industrial heritage and Digging up the agency of soil.