Interpreting Regional Landscape Change: A Case Study of the Ovens, Victoria, Australia

Andrea Rawluk

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Rural landscapes in advanced economies worldwide are transitioning
away from productivist land use. While some research has theorised and
characterised landscape transition, there are distinct literature gaps in how to
identify transition generally, and how to observe and navigate competing local
interpretations of landscape change. These gaps are addressed with the case
study of the Ovens catchment in Victoria, Australia.

Local organisations and stakeholders in the Ovens were attempting to
navigate uncertainty from the recent tobacco industry closure. An aim had
been to transform the region into a highly irrigated food bowl in accordance
with a dominant landscape narrative, but without success. A bricolage research
approach was used to deconstruct the dominant landscape narrative and
analyse the contemporary landscape by integrating four data analysis layers:
interviews; census data; other secondary data; and local documents. Interviews
revealed contradictory narratives of the past and present landscape that
organised into three stakeholder groups: farmers and lifelong residents;
employees of government and local organisations and new residents;
politicians. Analysis of all layers suggested that the Ovens had been
transitioning from a productivist landscape in the mid-1990s to mid-2000s,
before stabilizing between 2006 and 2011 to a multifunctional landscape.

Contemporary resilience thinking scholarship argues for
constructionism, but has lacked tools for observing and organizing multiple
constructions of reality. The adaptive cycle heuristic was modified into a
comparative tool for organizing multiple stakeholder narratives of change and
identifying the current phase of the Ovens. The current phase was different for
each group: approaching collapse phase (farmers); in the back loop (employees
of government and local organisations); exploitation phase (politicians).
Analysis found the contemporary Ovens landscape in the exploitation phase.

Critical analysis of the narratives enabled the observation of discursive
power through the analysis of informants’ interpretations of past, present, and
future landscapes. Discourse and social memory were examined as
interconnected vehicles for exercising relationships of power in a changing
rural landscape, wherein employees of government and local organisations had
little social memory of the region, but their decision-making was supporting
the farmers’ narrative of how the region had been and should be. The political
direction of transitioning the Ovens to a highly irrigated foodbowl was
inappropriate to a multifunctional landscape and followed the dominant
narrative that the Ovens should be an intensive agricultural landscape.

Six main conclusions have arisen from the research. Deconstructing
dominant narratives in a transitioning landscape and analysing the
contemporary landscape is critical to informed local decision-making. A
medium-term timeframe was instrumental in analysing landscape change.
Modifying the adaptive cycle into a comparative heuristic allowed subtle
discourses to be observable and comparable. Current phase labeling in the
adaptive cycle was insufficient to reflect multiple possible landscape
trajectories. Incorporating bricolage with resilience thinking and
multifunctional rural transition was key to analysing the contemporary
landscape and could provide a new direction of adaptive and critical landscape
change research. Identifying tensions between the past, present, and future
landscape narratives of stakeholders, comparisons with decision-making, and
observing social memory dynamics could provide invaluable detail for
understanding local power relationships in rural landscape transition.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Curtis, Allan, Co-Supervisor
  • Mazur, Nicki, Co-Supervisor
  • Mendham, Emily, Co-Supervisor
Award date16 Nov 2015
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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