To carry fire: A creative critique of European and colonial anthropogenic fire Regimes on Gunnai land

Louisa Waters

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis explores the transformation of Gunnai land (Gippsland) since colonisation through narratives of fire and a critique of European and colonial anthropogenic fire regimes. It consists of two components: a creative body of original artworks and an accompanying exegesis.

This research asks: How might dialogues with, and teachings from, the land’s Custodians foster critical reflection on my own people, and foster new ways of understanding and thinking about the land I have lived on for most of my life? Moreover, how might they foster a reflexive critique of European and colonial anthropogenic fire regimes? And how might that new understanding be augmented further by collapsing the traditional disciplinary boundaries (sciences and humanities) of Western discourse? With these cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary methodologies, could a creative practice approach working from within narratives of fire and its own aesthetic tradition and cultural paradigms destabilise or re-vision traditional notions of landscape, history and ruin? How might listening, a practice unfamiliar to my own cultural paradigms and creative practice, provide new understandings and ways of being-in-the-world? How might a creative practice approach, both visual and written, enhance new ways of thinking about the cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural problems of anthropogenic fire regimes, unique to the topographies and ecologies of Gunnai land?

As a white colonising subject who has lived on this land for most of her life, a fragment of which her family ‘owns’, I have been accustomed to the ways in which dominant narratives of fire are framed within popular discourse. This research engages creative practice methods and written work to critique fire stories through four frameworks: landscape, history, ruins and listening. Landscape, history and ruins are three sites which are codified within Western epistemologies and aesthetic traditions. They are thus familiar to my own cultural paradigms and artistic practice. Less familiar is listening. Listening to the land’s custodians and listening to the land itself in this research has proffered new insights and destabilised some of the grand narratives which have been used to construct and distort the land since colonisation. Moreover, this listening has enabled a critique of the anthropocentric story which has travelled with the coloniser from antiquity and has been led by a frontier of fire.

My creative practice includes drawing, photography, film, sound, installation, printmaking and storying. While my written text is cross-disciplinary, drawing on both sciences and humanities, it includes but is not limited to, art history, cultural and social history, philosophy, archaeology, geology and environmental biology. While broad in scope, this diverse study is held together through narratives of fire.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Munday, Jennifer, Principal Supervisor
  • Woodward, Margaret, Co-Supervisor
  • Overton, Neill, Co-Supervisor
Award date25 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 13 May 2022


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