Research

I am currently working on four major research projects relating to the water and climate histories of Australia:

A Thirsty Empire: Climate and Water in the British Indian Ocean, 1853-1947

During the long nineteenth century, India, the Cape Colony and the Australian colonies served as important laboratories for environmental ideas and practices that could be transferred across the Indian Ocean. This project will analyse the trajectory of this environmental traffic to reassess the development of colonial understandings of the Australian environment, particularly its climates and waters, and the interventions and aspirations that these understandings produced. Examining colonial Australia in terms of these imperial webs of environmental connections will broaden perspectives on Australian history and illuminate the ways in which the Australian environment continues to bear the legacies of empire. This research is funded by the Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (2016-19), and in 2017, the Carl Friedrich von Siemens Foundation, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, and the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, LMU, Munich, Germany.

Water and the Making of Urban Australia since 1900

With Andrea Gaynor, Lionel Frost, Jenny Gregory, Martin Shanahan and Peter Spearritt, I am working to produce new understandings of both the historical drivers of today’s urban water systems, and how these systems have impacted on human and ecological welfare. This will be achieved through the first integrated and comparative historical study of the provision, use and cultures of water in Australia’s five largest cities from 1900 to the present. Such historical knowledge is critical at a time when the water systems of Australia’s largest cities are under growing pressure from environmental change and population growth. Project findings will inform the development of policies and practices that produce sustainable, equitable urban water systems. This research is funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Project (2018-20).

Looking for the Leeuwin: an environmental history of the Leeuwin Current

At 5,500km, the Leeuwin Current is the longest continuous coastal current in the world. Originating at North West Cape, it flows southwards along the Western Australian coast before curling eastward around Cape Leeuwin and flowing to Tasmania. The Leeuwin Current influences weather patterns over Western Australia and plays a critical role in the breeding cycle of the western rock lobster. ‘Looking for the Leeuwin’ examines the development of scientific interest in the Leeuwin Current from the late nineteenth century, and explores the different forms of expertise that engaged in these studies. In doing so, this project reflects on the intersections of oceanographic, fisheries, and meteorological research in Western Australia during this period, and the ways in which economic and ecological priorities informed this research on the currents of the eastern Indian Ocean. This project draws on the complementary fields of environmental history and the history of science to analyse published scientific papers, archival materials, and oral histories to understand and contextualise scientific research and resource management in the eastern Indian Ocean. This project uncovers the stories of the fishing and scientific communities that were ‘Looking for the Leeuwin’, and brings them together for the first time to reveal the human and natural histories of the Leeuwin Current.

The Anthropocene in the Antipodes

Focusing particularly on Oceania or the Pacific Islands, as well as Australia and New Zealand, this project reviews the concept of the Anthropocene through the environmental histories and histories of science of the Southern Hemisphere. Bringing together the diverse ecological and human histories of this vast region highlights the strikingly different ways that the Global South and Global North have contributed to and experienced planetary change. Until the 1970s, the southern hemisphere remained largely absent from scientific considerations of the planetary impacts of human activity. Although the International Geophysical Year had been a boon for Antarctic exploration, the Pacific and Indian Oceans remained ‘embarrassingly unknown’ south of the equator nearly a decade later. This project has two parts: 1) the study of the processes of imperialism and capitalism in the Indo-Pacific from the eighteenth century; 2) an examination of the the role of Australian climatologists and meteorologists in advancing the state of knowledge about the causes and mechanisms of climatic change and variability in the Southern Hemisphere.