Professor Fiona Probyn-Rapsey, School of Humanities and Social Inquiry

Study about cultural impacts of introduced animals wins humanities grant

Study about cultural impacts of introduced animals wins humanities grant

Case studies will focus on issues around brumbies, feral cats and cattle grazing in northern Australia

A project led by University of Wollongong (UOW) researcher Professor Fiona Probyn-Rapsey to investigate the cultural impacts of introduced animals in Australia has won a $230,000 Australian Research Council Special Research Initiative for Australian Society, History and Culture grant. 

Minister for Education the Honorable Dan Tehan announced the funding outcomes today (Wednesday 14 October 2020).

The new Special Research Initiative supports research that looks at how Australians live today and how the past has contributed to our society, including how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture is understood and has impacted modern Australia.

“These research projects will help enhance our understanding of Australia’s past, present and future,” Mr Tehan said.

The project is a collaboration with Professor Lynette Russell, Director of Indigenous Studies at Monash University and Deputy Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, headquartered at UOW. 

The presence of pastoral and feral animal populations has brought into sharp relief the divergent views of settler and Indigenous Australians about the status of animals and their management.

In response to recent calls for greater recognition of Indigenous ecological knowledge, the project aims to generate new knowledge about the cultural impacts of conflict over introduced animals.

The project will focus on three case studies: the dispute over the presence of feral or wild horses in Kosciuszko National Park; plans to remove feral cats from Australia; and issues around pastoral grazing of cattle in Northern Australia.

The three case studies will investigate how Indigenous and settler Australian thinking about animals emerged in the colonial period and continues to shape modern Australia.

The researchers aim to work directly with Indigenous communities in the first two case studies, while analysing how Indigenous knowledges are framed is also a vital part of the method and approach of the project.

Professor Probyn-Rapsey, from UOW’s School of Humanities and Social Inquiry, said that deepening our understanding of the cultural impacts of ecological harms – addressing conflicts as well as successful collaborations – would deliver significant benefits.

“Australia’s ecological future is dependent upon better cultural understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous ways of living with Country and the animals in it,” Professor Probyn-Rapsey said.

“Disputes over animals and land use have characterised Australian society since colonisation, especially with the introduction of cattle, sheep, dogs, cats, foxes, camels and other animals.

“This project will identify how conflicts over animals have arisen in the past and how these are related to contemporary disputes. We will show how Indigenous and non-Indigenous thinking about animals continues to shape modern Australian culture.

“A research project like this also signals the benefits that humanities research brings to examining and helping resolve cultural conflicts. 

“Humanities research highlights the important role that culture plays in all our lives including issues that might be situated as largely scientific. Scratch the surface of any ‘ecological problem’ and there you’ll find people, power and worldviews.”