Kalgoorlie Superpit - Image by Edward Burtnysky
Dr Rod Giblett
Director, CREATEC (Centre for Research in Entertainment, Arts, Technology Education & Communications)
Faculty of Education & Arts
Finding inspiration for research in nature
I graduated from Murdoch University with a PhD in 1988. Once I had my drivers licence as a researcher, I started wondering what I would research next. It didnt take me long to find a topic. In 1984, I moved from Fremantle to Forrestdale to build a house and live by Forrestdale Lake, a wetland west of Armadale. The water in the lake is home to nuisance, non-biting midges. The males swarm in large numbers and made a barbecue impossible in summer. It is the god-given right of every Australian to be able to have a barbecue, but the midges and the lake were denying residents the exercise of that right. Local meetings were held to call for action, such as spraying, to kill the midges. Some residents wanted to fill in and make football fields out of the lake. One guy threatened to dump a 44-gallon drum of dieseline into it. I wondered why some people hated swamps and other wetlands. This was a question that I researched and answered in 1996 with my book, Postmodern Wetlands: Culture History.
While I was researching and writing this book, I became aware of other wetlands in Western Australia that were regarded in a similar way to Forrestdale Lake. I wanted to present wetlands in a positive light. At the time, I was working at Murdoch University and shared an office with Hugh Webb who taught Aboriginal literature. We discussed wetlands and compared how they are regarded across cultures. We decided to research and write about Western Australian wetlands. Funding from Indian Ocean Centre for Peach Studies, Murdoch, and Curtin University enabled us to travel to all the Ramsar Convention wetlands of international importance in WA. We had sufficient funding for a photographer to travel with us and document these wetlands. We later applied for funding from the Lotteries Commission and ALCOA and published the book, Western Australian Wetlands: The Kimberley and South-west (1996). Currently, it is the only book on the subject.
Part of my research journey has been to develop a strong nexus between research and teaching. I have done this by teaching my research and researching my teaching. This produces a mutually beneficial relationship between them. I use my books about my research in my classroom teachings. In other instances, such as my book Sublime Communication Technologies (2008), I researched my teaching. As a result of researching and writing two books about wetlands, I began exploring more generally landscapes, landscape aesthetics, national parks, the bush, wilderness and Aboriginal country. This work resulted in the book, Living with the Earth: Mastery to Mutuality (2004). Having lived in Forrestdale for 20 years and been involved in local conservation issues and projects, I also got involved in a local oral and natural history project to record and conserve the memories of past and present long-time residents. This work led to another book, Forrestdale: People and Place (2006).
My research has also seeped into other areas of my personal life. I have practiced the ancient Chinese art of health, Tai Chi, since 1982. Wanting to document the health benefits that some people gain from doing Tai Chi, I travelled to Canada to interview practitioners of Taoist Tai Chi. This trip led to my publishing the book, Health Recovery: The Taoist Tai Chi Way (2008). Additionally, my practice of Tai Chi sparked a more general interest in the human body, leading to my recent book The Body of Nature and Culture (2008).
Teaching environmental humanities for over a decade sparked my interest in other related topics such as American and Australian landscape photography and the landscapes of world warfare and led to my publishing Landscapes of Culture and Nature (forthcoming 2009). Currently, I am developing material from a nature journal I kept for several years of my observations and impressions of Forrestdale Lake. I hope to publish this material in a book called Black Swan Lake. Finally, I am currently researching Canadian wetlands as I would like to apply for study leave for 2011 to return to Canada to undertake fieldwork and archival research for a book on the topic. This will be my tenth book in an exciting and rewarding research journey. Nature never fails to inspire me, my teaching, and my research.