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Marie-Louise McDermott

PhD candidate
Faculty of Education and Arts

A long and winding road

My research journey was triggered in the late-1990s by a set of ‘wet and wild’ public pools, where the surf washes over the pool walls. Once I’d realised both how abundant and significant these pools were on the NSW coast and how rare they were elsewhere in Australia, I wanted to make a documentary showcasing these ocean pools and the people, who developed and sustained them. I started looking for someone, who could tell me about cultural history of the NSW ocean pools, only to find that having located and documented almost a hundred of these pools, I was becoming that person.

After realising that acquiring some historical expertise and creating a website might allow me to do more justice to those pools and their networks, I began an MA in Public History and obtained a heritage grant to develop a website on the NSW ocean baths. Having completed my MA part-time, I launched that website ( in 2006.

Because I’d seen a need for further research on the NSW ocean baths, I also embarked on a PhD. Unfortunately, despite my enthusiasm for the topic and the time and energy I devoted to my research, I found that the more I struggled as a part-time, self-funded student to finalise my PhD thesis, the further away that goal seemed to me. Despite managing to juggle my personal, work and research commitments well enough to keep on ‘making satisfactory progress’, I knew I needed new perspectives and circumstances.

In 2008, I took a leave of absence from my PhD and my husband and I moved from Sydney to Perth. That certainly gave me a new perspective on the NSW coast and my research. Looking beyond my familiar field of public history, I identified a potential supervisor in the discipline of cultural studies at ECU. In 2009, I enrolled as a part-time, self-funded PhD student at ECU, reframed and revitalized my research proposal, had my candidature confirmed and then applied for a scholarship. I’m now a scholarship-funded, full-time PhD student and I hope to have my thesis Wild natures, embodied knowledges and convivial technology: ocean baths on the NSW coast ready to submit in 2011.

My research journey has already taken a far longer, more winding road than I expected or hoped, but changing coasts, cities, universities, disciplines and supervisors does seem to have put my journey back on track. Some day, I may even make that documentary on ocean baths.

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