Those of us lucky enough to be in Newcastle this year had the pleasure of witnessing the Green Stream re-emerge as the Australian and New Zealand Environmental History Network Conference. The Network was in robust health with conference papers from established academics, early career researchers, a significant number of postgraduate students and historians outside the academies. Amongst the sixteen institutions represented – that included Victoria University Wellington and the Workers Education Association – there were twenty-six papers presented among which were eleven from postgraduate students or freshly minted PhD graduates. And these figures do not include the ‘second plenary’ on ‘Re-Entangling Capitalism, Settler Colonialism and the Environment’, which preceded the launch of the Network.
The diversity of papers this year reflects the vitality of current environmental history research in Australia and New Zealand, and the potential for new directions. Speakers traversed Indigenous and colonial landscapes, they encountered flood and fire and they bore witness to the environmental history of migration, agriculture, mining and technology; they considered the environment through fashion and food, through the links with celebrities and environmental politics; they explored the environment as the work place for surveyors, engineers and fishers; and then there were the stories: an urban river’s biography, the resistance to invasive plant species and the work of some less well known Australian nature writers. And finally, a meditation on soviet urban environmental history that no doubt stimulated the interest of some listeners for the further exploration of environmental history in the streets and nature strips of Australian cities and suburbs.
Although this year at Newcastle marked the public launch of the Network, it was also the 36th annual conference for the AHA. Looming on the horizon is the 40th milestone and such events usually prompt some reflection about achievements or the markers of success. For environmental history in Australia at least, the markers of success are evident in the broad cross section of papers presented in Newcastle and the continuing high quality output from the leaders in the discipline as well as the vitality of postgraduate research. An additional strength in the local research activity lies in the absence of parochialism– either between universities or states – and a view that usually includes local perspectives refracted through a prism of international debates. The series of ANU Environmental History PhD workshops run by Tom and Libby have played a key part in nurturing a view of environmental history that is expansive and inclusive, while there have also been the local initiatives occurring at different universities around the country.
This is an exciting time to be involved in environmental history as a reader, a writer or a researcher. Even with the absence of several academics, postgraduates and early career researchers at the European Society for Environmental History conference in Zagreb, the Newcastle conference showcased the health of environmental history in Australia and New Zealand. Although several papers provided insights, highlights and surprising new directions I have not mentioned them as I have attempted, within a limited number of words, to celebrate the combined contributions of all participants. If one definition of a network is a series of connections that creates something that is greater than the sum of its parts, then this conference of the Australian and New Zealand Environmental History Network was a resounding success, with the potential for further growth and innovation in the future.
Image: Interim ANZEHN committee chair Nancy Cushing launching the ANZEHN 2.0 (photo: Julie MacIntyre)