University of Cambridge > > Department of Geography - Seminars in Cultural and Historical Geography > The invention of wetlands: histories of conservation and contestation from Australia

The invention of wetlands: histories of conservation and contestation from Australia

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In this talk I will firstly give a brief overview of my new project on the environmental history of wetlands in the Murray-Darling Basin. In this project I’m interested in examining what has counted as a wetlands for whom and with what consequences? From the mid twentieth century, but particularly from the 1970s, international conservation efforts and wetlands ecology have been central in regulatory definitions of what a wetland is, significantly influencing their management in many places around the world. ‘Wetlands management’ has become contentious in some cases, especially where it has been linked to the exclusion of particular people, animals, and plants from protected areas. While the scale and terminology of these international efforts were in many ways new, they also brought together a range of existing local activities and concerns, (and ignored others) and these often had much longer histories. The main focus of the paper is on one of these earlier efforts, in a region that has become an iconic wetland in Australia: The Coorong lagoon in South Australia. This history concentrates on the mass killing of young pelicans on islands in the lagoon in 1911, and the subsequent leasing of the islands by a group of ornithologists who sought to protect the pelicans and other birds that nested there. This event reveals a longer history of contention over these places; in this case, competing views over killing, protection and private property, by fishermen, ornithologists and local Aboriginal people. It also illuminates how places, and their human and nonhuman inhabitants, have shaped and been shaped by laws and regulatory structures.

This talk is part of the Department of Geography - Seminars in Cultural and Historical Geography series.

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