Walking notes : memoir with landscape
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Walking Notes: Memoir with Landscape is a nonfiction meditation on landscape, memory, ecology and memoir. It combines personal narrative with enquiry into environmental and cultural histories of the central Australian desert. It seeks to enhance our understanding of placemaking in the instance where the geographies we inhabit are underpinned by a history of dispossession and loss. Visiting sites under discussion was central to my research and writing process. I use personal narrative to form a travelogue, to reflect on landscapes and their histories, and to hold diverse materials together. In the desert, my own past vividly returned to me. I was unprepared for the clarity and force with which it did. I was turned back to people and places I know intimately. When I least expected, I was also compelled to write a eulogy for my father. This thesis is thus a commingled effort to think about personal history along with broader historical concerns, and to respond to the challenge of discovering what webs them together. The thesis asks the following questions: What relationships can I draw between personal and family history, on the one hand, and an appropriate means of developing an intimate and immersed understanding of the desert, on the other hand? Further, what happens to our sense of belonging in a landscape that once belonged to other people? Resting beneath these two areas of exploration, lies the additional query: what are some of the differences between Indigenous and non- Indigenous understandings of the desert landscape? In addressing these questions, one of my central aims is to consider nature and culture as ‘entangled’ rather than as separate and discrete fields. Theorist Felix Guattari speaks of the notion of ‘three ecologies’, or three ecological registers including ‘the environment, social relations and human subjectivity’. In his view all three registers require equal consideration. Encouraged by this idea, my chapters include: a narrative account of bushwalking in central Australia; reflections on my father’s childhood experiences in colonial Indonesia, internment in Japanese prison camps during WWII, and ousting from Indonesia during its struggle for independence; a history of the spread of an exotic grass species, buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) in central Australia; developments in arid zone science and ecology; accounts of cross-cultural contact in the region; and a chapter on the interdisciplinary efforts of anthropologist and biologist Donald Thomson. Through visiting the desert and writing not only about it but from what it prompted in me, Walking Notes enhances our knowledge about placemaking, memory, ecology, and their interrelationships.
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