By Christian Kull
The team of our current ARC-funded project on local knowledge and uses of environmental weeds recently assembled in Kununurra, far northwest Australia. The project will compare local people’s views of “weeds” across four case studies in four countries around the Indian Ocean – India, South Africa, Madagascar, and Australia. My Monash colleague Priya Rangan and I are collaborating with Charlie Shackleton (Rhodes University, South Africa) and Ramesh Kannan (ATREE, India), supported by Tom Bach (doctoral student on our previous ARC grant) and Pat Lowe (Kimberley-based author and environmentalist).
We were greeted by daily temperatures of 40 degrees C under blue skies in this small town built as a service centre for the Ord River irrigation project. The vast savanna landscapes around the town, with red ochre outcrops, lush billabong oases, and bulging boab (baobab) trees make the place increasingly a tourist destination as well.
Tom introduced us to the challenges and logistics of fieldwork in the region, building on his ten months of work with Aboriginal rangers. Pat Lowe of Broome, co-author of a masterful monograph on baobabs worldwide, brought us her wisdom as well. Through Tom, Pat, and Priya’s connections, and with the facilitation of the Mirriwong Language Centre, we spoke with Aboriginal elders about the project and sought their advice on how best to conduct it. We drove together into the bush to look at some sites of significance, both with and without weeds.
We planned project details, in particular the protocol for our approaches to the case studies, and parted ways with great enthusiasm to get the fieldwork underway – I’ll be headed to Madagascar next year. Thanks to all our hosts who made this field trip so enjoyable.