Every time I look out of the window from my desk here at AUSCCER I can’t quite believe that I am finally here in Australia. The light is different, the weather is different, and the trees are very different. I have been looking forward to this visit to AUSCCER for nearly 3 years. Yes, it has taken me that long to make it down here!
I first read about AUSCCER from author addresses on journal articles. The place kept cropping up. I thought – there is some fascinating work happening here on the environment but also households and home. Two of my interests. I was in touch with a few of the team and before I knew it I was following them on Twitter,Facebook and finally managed to secure some funding to visit them.
I am in Australia for six weeks as part of my ESRC Future Research Leader award as I investigate enthusiasm for trees and the possibility/actuality of citizens as early-warning systems for tree health pests and diseases. This is part of a reconnaissance mission in the hope of inspiring a longer-term collaboration and more sustained trip in 2015.
I arrived in Wollongong in the sunshine. My hotel room has a view of the sea. I got the hassle-free shuttle bus to the University of Wollongong from the town. I arrived on campus and bumped into Chris Gibson within about 2 mins. He walked me over to AUSCCER. It was as friendly as I imagined and within the first couple of hours I’ve discussed my common interests with some really switched-on PhD students. The sort of environment that academic dreams are made of!
My first week in Australia I spent in Sydney – flying the flag for my enthusiasm research at the University of Western Sydney – a department seminar offered the perfect opportunity to test out some of my ideas on an Australian audience. I was struck by the response to my rather European construction of nature, landscape, place attachment … in response I’m reading The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes to get me started. This research challenge prompted me to visit the University of Wollongong book shop after my lunch with Lesley Head. I couldn’t find too many texts of interest – although I did spot the copies of ‘Sacred Ecology’ by Fikret Berkes which “examines bodies of knowledge held by indigenous and other rural peoples around the world, and asks how we can learn from this knowledge and ways of knowing” (from the publisher’s website). Although this seems to me to maintain the binary of ‘other’ and ‘we’ that I imagine my audience earlier in the week were trying to shake me out of. I think this might be worth a look in combination with Tim Ingold’s work though.
I asked the bookshop staff about any books they have on Australian history – interestingly I was taken in the direction of primary school education texts to get me started. Whilst, this didn’t offer too much in the way of critical commentary, I was interested in the range of books written for school children on life in 1790s Australia, for example ‘My Australian Story: Surviving Sydney Cove’ – the life of a young girl convicted of stealing and transported to Australia on the First Fleet.
Around the corner I found a stack of books for trainee teachers developing school-level courses and resources on indigenous Australia. There was a text book ‘Teaching Aboriginal Studies’ – the importance of which according to reviews cannot be overestimated, and a second book ‘My People’s Dreaming: An Aboriginal Elder speaks on life, land, spirit and forgiveness’ by Max Dulumunmun Harrison and Peter McConchie. The photographs persuaded me to buy the latter. Yes, I know, I am travelling around for 6 weeks – like I need another book! But – this one has already got me thinking… “We look to trees to tell us how the world is coping. … All trees live in tribes, just like people. When a tree is born and then it’s moved to another area for whatever reason, that’s like taking a person out of their country and putting them in a different country” (Max Dulumunmum Harrison, 2013). More thoughts on this to follow. Remember, it’s only my first day@AUSCCER.
Would you like to write a guest blog post for AUSCCER? Emailkmayhew@uow.edu.au.