Note: All of the flowers depicted on this page are poisonous. Do not ingest. The Poison’s Information Centre can be contacted at
Khanh Linh (Kaylie) Nguyen
Perpetual Nkatiaa Boadu
Benjamin Van Der Niet
13 11 26
Contents News The Light at the End of the Tunnel Doesn’t Work: Investigating ANU’s Street Lighting Food Co-Op Struggles With Rising Prices and Limited Volunteers Editorial: HECS The Making of the Indebted Woman Personal Environment Ludovicoed Lab Rat A Fall from Grace Rabbit Holes Syrup A Product of My Environment Natural Environment To The Soil We Go Lessons from the Baduy When Nihilism Sets in, the Corporations Win A Love Letter to BlocHaus Into the Drake Passage Mining Our Way to a Greener Future The Problem’s in the Thinking Interview with Bec Colvin The Mulberry Tree Social Environment ANU 1001: How to Have a Conversation with an ANU Student! Reality Tunnels and Empathy Girlboss vs. Tradwife Burn Out Before Entering the IR Classroom, Do Not Forget to Leave Yourself at the Door 5 10 13 16 20 23 25 27 30 32 35 37 40 41 43 45 48 52 54 56 59 61
Art by Jasmin Small
Letter From the Editor
Where are you?
I am writing to you from my bedroom in a res hall apartment, from a global programs exchange briefing I should be following more closely, and from the Woronioffice I have spent an inordinate amount of time in ever since I started university. The semester is wrapping up and the libraries are full. Winter is coming early, as it always does, and every wind chill feels like Canberra settling back into itself. For those of you staying over break, I hope you are ready for the long cold months ahead.
As someone who lives, works, and studies on campus, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the ANU as an environment. I have come to decide that many of its most important features may never make their way to publication in an official history.
In a 2003 discussion paper, providing recommendations on heritage management to the NSW government, Byrne, Brayshaw, & Ireland note that each new generation inherits the symbolic landscape of the generation before them, and then spend a lifetime reworking its meaning by attaching memories, emotions, anecdotes, and constructions to the space. They define the social significance that makes a place worth memorialising or preserving with this landscape. What makes an environment important comes from a place of grassroots value which lingers throughout the distance of time.
The mark generations of students have left on this university is all around you. My personal favourite: walls hang heaving with posters on the walk in and out of Copland courtyard. If you pass by at the right time in the University’s maintenance schedule, you’ll see the layers of paper and wheat paste peeled back to reveal what is underneath. Last year, I noticed an invitation to protest housing unaffordability and unavailability dating from when Paul Keating ran the Budget. Some things about the student experience never seem to change.
This is important to reflect upon as we find histories repeating in some ways, manifesting in rhyme in others. No space is ever neutral or passive; it will interact with you as you interact with it.
Environment plays into every contemporary concern in one way or another, from the obvious – the climate crisis, for example – to the more figurative meanings of the word: the structures that surround us and guide decisions and outcomes in a way so embedded as to be almost invisible. From HECS debt, to family histories, to the shoulders of giants on which academia supposedly stands, you are part of the ecosystem.
It is well worth asking: what have you done to your environment? What has it done to you?
This edition of Woroni features myriad explorations of how the environments we inhabit shape us, and how we shape them. In this magazine, you’ll find the local, the relational, the academic, the spiritual, the scientific – a true examination of every meaning the talented students featured could wring out of the word ‘environment’.
To the editors (especially the hardworking duo of Lizzie Fewster and Jasmin Small), to the incredible Woroni team, and to every contributor who has been a part of this magazine: the environment you have created is one of creative flourishing. One of the things I am proudest of about this organisation is the welcome it shows anyone willing to take part.
Reader, do you see yourself in these pages? Send in an article or artwork, host a radio show, apply for one of our teams. Woroni is a product of its environment. You, the student body, are its environment.
I hope this issue leaves you asking:
Where am I?
Virginia Plas Head of TV
Art by Vera Tan
The Light at the End of the Tunnel Doesn’t Work: Investigating ANU’s Street Lighting Raida
Suitable street lighting is a perennial issue at the ANU. Complaints about broken street lights and inadequate illuminance are not uncommon and this environment has made students, many of whom call the campus their home, feel unsafe and vulnerable.
Streetlighting plays an important role in pedestrian safety and a sense of security. A 2019 study found that areas which had new lights experienced a significantly lower crime rate than areas without new lights because of improved surveillance. Additionally, the study discovered that increased lighting decreases “index crimes”, crimes which include murder, robbery and aggravated assault, by 36%.
In light of such statistics and student concerns, Woroni has investigated the problem, focusing on commonly used streets and the implications of poor lighting on campus.
Eight residential colleges sit along Daley road. The street is around 700 metres long and has approximately 48 functioning street lights before 10pm. After 10pm, around ten LED street lights switch off.
Most street lights are located on footpaths in front of residences, with footpaths on the opposite side of the road often completely unlit.
Yukeembruk Village, being the newest residence, has high streetlight illuminance across Daley road provided by approximately 10 LED street lights. However, there is a stretch of path of approximately five metres, in front of Burgmann College, running across Sullivans creek, which has no streetlights. Yukeembruk residents often take this path and some have expressed safety concerns that objects afar are indistinguishable in the dark.
The postgraduate wing of Burgmann benefits from Yukeembruk’s streetlights, however there is little lighting in front of the College’s reception building, and the undergraduate wing, where most residents live, does not receive this lighting.
Unlike Yukeembruk, street lights in front of John XXIII College and Ursula Hall are sparser, with little illumination. Particularly, the opposite path has no streetlights and is completely overshadowed by a line of trees overlooking Sullivans creek.
Footpaths on Dickson road which lead to the Laurus Wing of Ursula Hall and to Wambrum Hall, have approximately seven LED street lights. However, after 10pm, many of these LED lights turn off. This same situation occurs for the path to Burton and Garran Hall. Whether the extinguished lights are to avoid disturbing residents in those halls is unknown. However, the street lights in Kambri, where Fenner Hall sits, do not turn off.
Extinguishing lights means students returning after 10pm must confront a relatively empty and dark campus. One student who lives on Dickson road explained, “It’s incredibly concerning when I can’t see what’s a metre ahead of me, or behind me.”
Burton and Garran Hall is one of the oldest, and cheapest residences on campus. The Hall houses approximately 515 students, which is higher than most other Halls. In front of Burton and Garran, there are approximately seven streetlights, two of which do not work. The streetlights are of relatively lower quality, providing little illuminance on the footpaths, when compared with the high beam LED lights in front of Yukeembruk, Bruce and Wright Halls. Additionally, a majority of the streetlights within the residence grounds do not work.
A concerning region is the carpark between Burton and Garran, and Wright Hall. With only two sodium vapour street lights on the north end, which provide a small radius of illuminance, the parking lot is incredibly dark.
A pedestrian on the nearest footpaths would not be able to discern the colours nor the content of the registration plate of the cars at night. Woroni can confirm that students have reported several safety incidents in the carpark between this year and 2022.
Bruce and Wright Halls, which are relatively newer and the only halls along Daley road not under the ownership of AMP Capital, have high illuminance, with multiple street lights within the grounds of the residence.
University Avenue, within the ANU, starts from Childers street and continues until Daley road, following a straight path across Kambri, past the Psychology Building and the ANU College of Science. It is the fastest path to Wright and Bruce Halls from the city centre.
Kambri, as the heart of campus and a recent redevelopment, is well lit. It has many external, and commercial events, with Marie Reay hosting conferences and Kambri Cultural Centre often holding private events. There are many LED lights in Kambri, which provides Fenner Hall with a highly illuminated surrounding.
However, past North road, as the street continues from the Ian Ross Building of Engineering, until the ANU Research School of Psychology, the street illumination is poor.
This section of the street contains only lamp posts. Compared to streetlights, lamp posts have a shorter illumination radius. Additionally, the placements of the lamp posts are sparse, creating only spots of light on the pathways.
There is a higher amount of yellow lights, which are likely low frequency sodium lights. It is easier to discern human facial features under LED white lights, than yellow lights. Students have previously raised this concern.
One student who frequently uses University avenue, explains, “I can make out a person’s shape from a distance. But I cannot [distinguish] their features like clothes, face, or even if they are carrying something, until I get close to them.”
The student also revealed that they will change over to the opposite footpath when a person ahead is seen walking towards them. Speaking of the Schools and Colleges along University avenue at night, they expressed, “with both sides of the street being empty, the place becomes incredibly isolated. It can be incredibly frightening, especially when I am walking home after midnight.”
Yellow lights may have been used because they pose less environmental harm, especially to wildlife on trees. However, the path along the north end of Fellows Oval, which is overlooked by trees, has white lights. And LED streetlights which emit a warm white glow, are safer for pedestrians and wildlife.
Sullivans Creek Road
From Kambri, Sullivans Creek road leads to residence halls such as Ursula Hall, Burgmann and John XXIII Colleges and Yukeembruk. The path is approximately 500 metres long, with around 15 streetlights, many of which are street lamps.
Students walking across Canberry Bridge must walk an isolated path along Sullivans Creek road to reach Daley road. The path has five overhead streetlights, three of which are yellow.
Before 10pm, Sullivans Creek road remains well lit. However, after the stadium lights on the four corners of Fellows Oval are turned off, surrounding areas become relatively dark. In particular, the path along the north end of the oval, where only three of the five street lights are operational, have multiple dark spots.
Tina, who has lived on campus for three years, confessed she deliberately avoids this path at night. “It’s a very quiet road,” she says, “and it’s very far from anyone awake at night.”
She elaborates, “It’s incredibly difficult to make out what kind of a person is walking ahead of you, or worse, behind you. They could have a weapon, or a mask, or something [unusual]-and I wouldn’t be able to see until I am a hand [length] away from them.” Because of this, Tina will often take a more lit but longer route to her residence.
Fellows road also has sparse yellow lights, while multiple dark spots along the road further decreases visibility. Although the road has no residences, it leads to University House and Graduate House. Students returning from the Law Library late at night may also confront a poorly lit street to their residence on Daley road, or to Kambri.
Garran Road and Ward Road
Like Fellows road, both Garran and Ward road have limited lighting, however, Ward road benefits from the stadium lights of the South Oval.
The path following the John Curtin Research School of Medicine is well lit, with several overhead LED streetlights. This is perhaps because of the expensive equipment the School holds, or the value of the building to the ANU itself.
However, students have noted that lights along Ward road seem to be motion-sensored. One student mentioned, “I thought the area was completely dark and all the lights (were broken), until I actually walked up towards it and the lights turned on.” The student raised concerns that other students may be misdirected by the extinguished lights and turn back to take a longer route.
Is There Someone Behind Me?
Poor lighting on campus decreases visibility along pathways; as students have pointed out, this fosters an unsafe campus.
Students have spoken about the correlation between poorly lit campus environments with sexual assault and sexual harassment (SASH) and how this creates an atmosphere of fear. One student notes, “With there being a major [SASH] case every year that I have lived on campus, the walks back home from work have made me more and more nervous.”
For other students, the insecurity of walking alone at night has been debilitating. One student confessed, “I don’t go to [Canberra Civic] unless I know I have friends walking back with me, or if a friend is dropping me off. When I [walk] back by myself at night-everytime I wasn’t [checking behind] … felt like someone was creeping up on me. It’s an awful feeling.”
Under its security policy, the ANU “has an obligation to meet personal safety on campus.” In the context of lighting, the ANU says it has met this obligation. An ANU Spokesperson told Woroni that “The ANU campus is also serviced by an extensive network of lights and well-lit walking paths.”
The spokesperson added that “The University has a wide range of measures in place to ensure [the] community’s safety. This includes the UniSafe team that regularly patrols the campus, the ANU OK app and the Virtual Walkhome feature and 24/7 safety escorts.”
However, students have raised concerns that to access the ANU OK app, and to call 24/7 escorts, students must have a phone device, which is charged and has data. One student commented, “If you’ve used your phone all night, which I think is reasonable for twenty year olds, and then [return to] campus with [an uncharged] phone, how would you call ANU Security?” Another student mentioned, “I have never seen ANU security patrol through my normal routes.” The student’s normal route was a commonly-taken street on campus.
With proposals to relocate a majority of residential car parking to Dickson parking lot, students from Burton and Garran, Ursula, Bruce and Wright halls have raised safety concerns. The changes will entail an increased walking time for students who previously parked closer to their residences. However, this assumes the students can secure a parking spot. After 10pm, students would walk an average of 7 minutes from Dickson road to their residence, under multiple extinguished lights.
Can you turn on the lights, ANU?
The University budget includes funds for maintaining lights on campus, and the spokesperson confirmed that there is also a regular schedule for checking lights on campus.
The spokesperson additionally stated, “The University has recently invested significant capital to upgrade paths and associated path lighting around South and Fellows Oval… (and) planning is underway for further lighting upgrades in 2023 and continuing over the next five years.”
These prospective changes may improve security around campus, especially surrounding South and Fellows Oval pathways, which students commonly use, but which are relatively dark after 10pm.
Despite these promises, some students remain pessimistic. “The University rarely funds our safety. We have to compromise so much until they finally do”, says Tina, whose three years on campus residences has made her despondent, but she is willing to accept any positive change from the University before she graduates later this year.
Students who have encountered a broken streetlight can direct their complaint to the ANU OK app, specifically the Fix my Campus feature. If students feel unsafe during their night walks, they may use the Walkhome feature on the app, or can call ANU security at 02 6125 2249.
Editor’s Note: This article focuses on the lighting on-campus, and on the paths that students are most likely to walk. It doesn’t address lighting issues around the UniLodge complex, partly because some of that area is not ANU-owned and due to resourcing limits.
Art by Max MacFarlane
Art by Cynthia Weng
Art by Jasmin Small
Food Co-Op Struggles with Rising Prices and Limited Volunteers
Canberra’s Food Co-op says a combination of economic factors, and limited community involvement, may mean it will have to close before the end of the year.
Canberra’s Food Co-op is a community-run organisation that “provides food for people, not for profit”. The Food Co-op has been operating since 1976 and remains one of ANU’s premier sources of affordable food with lunches for under $10. Located below Lena Karmel Lodge, the Co-op offers support for students in a number of ways, through cheaper meals, a pay it forward system, and ANUSA free meal vouchers. But with the rising costs of living and increasing inflation, financial pressure has resulted in an uncertain future for the Coop.
Despite the ANU not charging rent, increasing food prices and outgoing expenses are impacting the operations of the Co-op. On top of this, the Co-op is struggling to find enough volunteers and is still recovering from the prolonged effects of the COVID-19 lockdowns. With volunteers having to work more themselves as prices rise, the Coop is stuck in a feedback loop. However, the Co-op did see an uptick in finances in March and received help from a crowdfunder.
The ongoing challenges affecting the sustainability of the Co-op mean that discussions surrounding the possible closure by the end of 2023 are ongoing. Yani x told Woroni that a number of cooperatives across Australia and New Zealand have faced similar struggles, and all New Zealand food co-ops have closed in recent years.
For the ANU, the closure of the Food Co-op would eliminate one of the most affordable lunch spots on campus. It would also affect the ability to buy affordable bulk products and remove a major community hub. Yani argues that “The Campus increasingly seems to be geared towards professionals rather than students…” and that the Food Co-op provides an antidote to this. The changing face of campus is perhaps best exemplified by the opening of Symposium, an expensive wine and grazing bar.
For any students hoping to help the Co-op, there are several activities that can support them, including; buying lunch or coffee, purchasing products, volunteering, or attending events at the Co-op.
Editorial: HECS The Making of the Indebted Woman
Zelda Smith and Alexander Lane
“Debt creation, that is, the creation and development of the power relation between creditors and debtors, has been conceived and programmed as the strategic heart of neoliberal politics.” - Maurizio
Debt has always been one of capitalism’s key contradictions. Supposedly giving the individual greater freedom to consume, and oiling the wheels of globalisation, while tying us to future work and bringing about life-destroying instability.
That all students must eventually pay off substantial debts for their tertiary education is already a travesty. Education should be free for everyone. The current HECS-HELP system incentivises universities to exploit students, while insisting that education is a means to employment and not a fundamental means to improve the individual and society.
However, debt is not impartially omnipotent, but rather perpetuates the economic oppression of minorities, in this case women. Debt is a commitment to future work and when that future work is systemically undervalued by a patriarchal society, women end up further in debt than their male counterparts.
One in four men will finish university with a HECS debt between $20,000 - $50,000. However, one in three women will graduate with the same debt. And when a woman seeks to pay her debt off, she is less likely to earn the same as a man, either in her field or across society. 57% of men with a Bachelor’s degree will earn over $70,000, while only 42% of women will earn the same amount.
Research shows that a tradesperson without a Bachelor’s degree will earn more than child carers, nurses and teachers - all women-dominated fields that require tertiary qualifications.
This problem only promises to increase in the future. A large number of women-dominated industries tend to earn between $30,000 and $70,000. With current inflation, women cannot pay down their HECS debts on such salaries. As women get lumped with most of society’s unpaid work, child-raising and house-chores, their ability to pay off their debt decreases.
Women aged 55-64 make up the largest cohort on unemployment payments and the government itself admits this is the most financially vulnerable cohort.
The end result is a society in which we acknowledge structural forces that hold women back from birth, and yet we continue to put more barriers in front of women. Debt that cannot be expected to be paid back is slavery and entrapment, it fosters dependence on male “breadwinners” and reasserts the primacy of the nuclear family.
Right as we rethink the tertiary sector, including its financial model, we need to rethink the structural inequalities built into it. Any form of debt-funding for education will always oppress the already-oppressed who, statistically, are likely to make less money after graduation.
Art by Jasmin Small
In response to the status quo, and the Jobs Ready Graduate fee hikes, we propose that the quest for “job readiness” and key skills may more effectively be addressed by systematic cultural and societal change than crudely increased debt.
As we undermine the role of arts and humanities in our society, we look to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as key skills for the future. Despite this, STEM fields have the highest gender employment gap in the country, and eighty percent of women studying STEM do not continue into STEM-based careers due to discrimination, inflexibility, a lack of female role models and a male-dominated culture. One may argue that an improvement in the culture of STEM may do more to address employment demand than changing HECS-HELP contributions ever could.
The fact remains that linking tuition fees to ideas of employability has been proven a flawed means to address structural unemployment. STEM graduates make for some of the most unemployed in the country.
The Jobs Ready Graduate package also perpetuated the impoverishment of women. For example, psychology is a female dominated science, which many universities class within their schools of Health and Medicine, and is regarded as an allied health career, but is charged equally as a humanities degree. Even in a skills shortage and a youth mental health crisis, the need for psychology based careers has not subsided like other STEM courses. It raises the question of why some skill shortages are prioritised over others, and further reduces the ability for women, even those studying science, to benefit from HECS changes.
For the ANU, prestigious and popular humanities degrees including PPE, international relations, and politics face declining participation due to increases in HECS-HELP contribution. These degrees also face a loss of funding which has arguably lowered teaching quality and resources. However, our University sends a clear message about the kind of skills it values when it doesn’t teach nursing or teaching. It is always the disciplines that men dominate which are prestigious and worthy of a national institution, never the women dominated ones.
Debt is the modern means to bind the worker to capitalism, to ensure that even if they are conscious of their exploitation, the threat of physical dispossession still looms large. When we speak of our HECS-HELP debts, we often speak in terms of a fair price for university, as if students should pay in the first place. We must understand as well the gendered oppression that student debt enables, we are witnesses to how the modern economy continues to hold women back.
Art by Vera Tan
by Cynthia Weng
To The Soil We Go
I want to see a tree.
They say that trees used to grow everywhere, and they would sprout from the ground with green leaves and they would die each year and come back to life and they would crack and worm their way through concrete. That trees owned the land where cities now stand and where skyscrapers and malls now stretch endlessly. I do not believe them.
But, all the same, I want to see a tree.
There was a woman once. Someone important to me, but I do not know who. When I was young, the sky seemed far away and the lights did not hurt my eyes. She would talk about trees. Always in the plural, but they grew one at a time, I’m told. With her hungry face and soft eyes, she would tell me about their hard skin, wrinkled and cracked but whole, and I would ask if they looked like her wrinkles which had dust in them, and she answered yes. Because all living things are connected and trees are old and although she was not old, she was near the end and her body knew it. I did not believe her then and I don’t now. The wolf does not resemble the sheep, after all. I cannot remember who she was.
Stepping into an oily puddle that splashes and stains my sodden pants, I think about this idea of connection. I do not really believe in it, because the chains between things are made and built, forged by humans, and I do not understand this idea of a tree that grows without a fight. The concrete underfoot only grows if us humans make it. The sickly-sweet smell of petrol and smoke comes from the cars we build. The building that looms over me does not look like me — although maybe we are both grey, with scars and holes — but it too only grows when a hand works it. And for us to grow, it is always a fight, a struggle; I cannot believe this tree rises up without pulling something else down. I do not think about this for long. I am tired and hungry and tired again. So very tired.
This morning, the water of the shower dribbled over my face and although I stood there and could feel my heartbeat through my ribcage, which rattled like train tracks, I could not open my eyes again and I could not tell up from down. Stumbling back, my mind was alert and thinking, but my body simply could not. In the end, I had to turn the water to an icy cold and pull my eyelids up. It might have been yesterday.
However, I cannot be tired now because I walk the street and neon lights shine down on me and even when I blink the world is still bright. I can tell that my body is failing – I am wrinkled and grey like the woman and the skin of trees, and I am young too. My body’s usual smell of dust has been replaced with the odour of rotting fruit, my armpits are sickly sweet, and I fear that I attract flies. I need food. That is something I can understand; it is a simple thought of input and output. Maybe it is chartable. Maybe if I were smarter, I could think of a formula to describe it.
I have tucked a lump of knobbly bread under my coat, and it is raining. The bread I stole at work. It is half-eaten because whoever works in the booth next to me did not think I would hear them nibbling at it like a mouse. It has sat on the only table in my apartment and I have whittled away at it each day. Its brown crust nearly shone in the dull, greyed plastic of my apartment and under the single overhead light I have quietly scraped off any mould that grew. Today, I am too hungry and I have caved, I cannot make it through the day without something.
Trees ate rain from the ground like dogs eat trash, but they sucked it up like a straw. Looking at the puddles of water on the pavement, with their rainbow sheens and rippling imitations of the buildings above and my face, small in the corner, I cannot imagine drinking that.
As I descend into the subway and feel its stale breath wash over me, I wonder how much a tree now costs. Everything can be bought, and everything is sold somewhere, so a market for trees must exist. Whatever it costs, I know I could not afford it. I know I should be working hard, but I am tired now on the train to work and I will be tired at work and exhausted on the train home from work. My desire to see a tree is not my desire to purchase one, it is something more. I do not know what.
Load-shedding means the train starts in darkness. We bump and jostle as we file on and I guard my bread jealously. Its crust is hard and stale and my shirt thin, so I feel it grate against my skin as I am pushed and squeezed and shoved and at one point pulled, until I end up pressed against the window. The wheels scream and wail and I think maybe the train will not start, but it does, and we slide forward.
The darkness and warmth are comforting; maybe this is how a seed felt in the soil. If that woman was right, maybe it would have been like this, acutely aware of other things around it, but yet unseeing. I am not unseeing though, because in the darkness cigarettes glow faintly here and there, flickering an orange light onto the stubbled and dirty chins of their owners. Their dry smoke washes over me, and I inhale them. Maybe there is a cigarette forgotten in my pocket. I do not know, and I cannot check because I am clutching my bread without trying to look like I am, and if I move my hands, my bread will fall, and everyone will know, and I already cannot move, let alone fight for my bread. Instead, I lean forward and breathe deeply whenever the nearest smoker exhales. Too many of us do this, and so no one gets any and we just bump heads.
I am not sure why I want to see a tree. I like the idea of roots in the ground, drinking water and pushing forth. I wonder if trees ever fought each other, if their roots ever brushed up against each other and if, like dogs, did they bite and tear at each other? They say trees are harmonious creatures, peaceful beings, but I do not know about that. Everything struggles to survive, so everything must fight to survive.
When our train launches out of the tunnel, I am blinded by the sunlight. It is bright and orange and its rays are perfectly parallel, and for a moment I panic, not sure if it is morning or afternoon. It blazes like fire, wobbling in the smog, but its heat cannot pierce the clouds and the glass and so it is just a cleansing light, with no warmth. I stare forward because just as soon as we are out in the day we are back in the safety of the tunnel, hurtling along in darkness.
The station is a forest of people, and I am struck by how alike they all are this morning. With skin and ashy hair and mute clothes. And that same stench of rats and mould in the corners of our clothes. Everyone here lives in a similar-sized apartment, and I wonder what actual difference there is in the work we do.
Someone pushes me and I trip forward. My shoes are wet and slick with oil and my face stings when it smashes rudely into the concrete. But I do not care because the concrete is cold and almost soft compared to my bone, and I am watching the bread roll along, curving across the perfectly flat ground.
I reach out for it and someone steps onto my hand, cracking it but not breaking it. Soon, I can feel several bodies on top of me, pushing me further and further into the ground. I am cocooned and warm beneath my colleagues but each of my bones is being crushed. The bread is brown and the world is grey but we can all spot food from a mile away.
Everyone scrambles now and the platform shakes, from the ruckus or a train I do not know. I try to explain to people that it is my bread, that I brought it this morning because I am so tired and I must eat, but they cannot hear me. They shove and jostle and swear and tear at each other and the concrete is so cold and smooth. The weight above me lifts off and then I am one of the many, in the fray, shoving and jostling and swearing and tearing just like everyone else. I forget that it is my bread, because it is bread and that is what matters.
A hand grabs my collar and pulls me back. Maybe they did not mean it, but I am so light and slippery that I slide backwards, backwards onto the tracks which are only a foot beneath the platform. Backwards onto the gravel. Backwards with my hands empty, my skull hits the rusted metal railing that does not ding, but thuds gently and then becomes quite wet. It is warm and reminds me of the shower. I can smell the wet metal and not even my hunger keeps me awake now.
I will never see a tree, and I am too tired to dream of one now. More than tired, simply fading away, crumb by crumb, like dirt on skin, washed away and purified into nothing. But I still do not understand why the rain would fall onto the trees, I do not understand why it would give like that. It does not matter; the trains scream for me, and I am falling asleep.
Lessons from the Baduy
In an evolving world that has forgotten the wisdoms of the past to move forward, the Baduy have much to teach us.
Deep within the lush rainforests of West Java reside the Baduy people, an Indigenous Sundanese ethnic group, sometimes colloquially referred to by foreigners as “the Amish of Indonesia”. Early this year, I had the tremendous opportunity to visit the Baduy, an experience equally eye-opening and worrying.
After a six-hour drive from Jakarta, past Mount Krakatoa and into deep, rural Indonesia, where the only settlements were palm oil plantations, I arrived at my destination - a small town that was the gateway to the vast Baduy area beyond. These dozens of villages are roughly divided into two groups: the outer Baduy, who interact more with the outside world, and the isolated inner Baduy, who retain their traditional way of life.
From the stone-paved streets of outer Baduy, I could only get glimpses of life in the inner villages. It took a gruelling four-hour hike through rainforests and mountains to reach inner Baduy. Mind you; this was the hardest hike of my life. Sweat, pain, the fear of slipping, falling and breaking a bone without any phone signal to call for help were just some obstacles. But perhaps the biggest obstacle was the hit to my ego every time someone would saunter past effortlessly, barefoot and carrying my body weight’s worth of goods to trade with other villages.
The inner Baduy people do not use electronic devices, shoes, toothbrushes, soap, vehicles or modern sewage systems. In the rare instances that foreigners are allowed into inner Baduy villages, they must abide by these local customs. I was lucky enough to be with a tour guide who not only spoke the local dialect but was also acquaintances with people from inner Baduy which allowed us to access parts I would not have been able to otherwise. This meant that we were able to communicate with those living in inner Baduy and ensure that we knew when it was appropriate to take pictures. All photographs in this article were either taken in outer Baduy or in areas surrounding inner Baduy with permission from the local elders.
Weaving through the narrow streets, I got to talk (through a translator of course) to some of the inner Baduy. They welcomed us to their homes with open arms, but not open doors, because there were no doors. The drastic shift in lifestyle extended beyond the mere absence of modern devices and objects. Many concepts familiar to our culture do not exist in inner Baduy to this day. There is no strict private property, nor a fear of crime. The sense of deep-rooted materialistic desire, the ideology of constantly seeking ‘more’ than those around us, is absent here. These are tight-knit communities built on mutual cooperation — crime is rare and punished by banishment.
Their houses are made entirely of bamboo and palm thatching and devoid of furniture. There is no desire to gain or differentiate materialistically — there is no concept of money. Nor is there food wastage — the Baduy diet mostly consists of rice grown from surrounding fields, along with nuts, vegetables and poultry from farm animals. Their piping system is wholly made of carved bamboo, intricately using the hilly terrain in place of any industrial irrigation or piping system.
Art by Max McFarlane
The Baduy have mostly been able to maintain their way of life and pass on their environmental ethics to the next generation. While they have no formal schooling, a key aspect of children’s socialisation is their environmental education which enables them to form a deep-rooted connection with ecological preservation.
Biocentrism is the view that humans and their environment are interdependent, assigning value to all living things. The Baduy have put this philosophy into practice with their long-standing insistence on leaving their environment untouched. In every conversation I had, there was always a consideration of the environment. It ceased to be an afterthought; it was, rather, at the centre of every thought.
The Baduy have many lessons that can inform our lives. They know we are not the masters of the environment but only guests in a world that was here billions of years before us and will persist billions of years after us. We should be aware of our dependence on it and therefore, more considerate of it.
Contemporary Western capitalism has fostered a deep tendency to prioritise human interests over any other considerations by framing our existence and interests as superseding that of the environment around us. The Baduy have managed to stave off this ideology. Yet even deep within these villages, the tendrils of industrialisation and materialism reach in. Even here, where you cannot call an ambulance nor access a toilet seat, piles of rubbish have found their way. The waste-free, sustainable lifestyle is slowly being contaminated by the towns and cities of surrounding Java.
There are lessons to be learnt from the Baduy. The most salient lesson is their mindset. We have exploited our environment to the point of crisis, stripping our oceans bare and creating the existential threat that is global warming. Fundamental to tackling these issues is a shift in our perspective and adopting a biocentric view of the world.
We should be conscious of our impact on the environment when making any policy decisions, no matter how big or small. Rather than neglecting our world and then trying to make up for our negligence, we should adopt a proactive view in ensuring that the environment is a primary consideration when deciding anything. The environment is of paramount importance in the daily lives of Baduy individuals as well as the community as a whole. It is about time we start making it ours.
Art by Jasmin Small
When Nihilism Sets in, the Corporations Win Anonymous
I sat outside the School of Art Library a few weeks ago chatting with two friends. Somehow, as is commonplace in most of our conversations, we got onto the topic of that pesky existential friend of ours, climate change.
After a brief discussion, I made the offhand remark, “Oh well, we’re all fucked anyway.” Usually, we reach this conclusion unanimously, then move on. But this time, my friend stopped me. “No, you can’t think that,” they said. “Climate nihilism is how they win.”
This got me thinking. On the one hand, who would blame us as young people for thinking everything is doomed and there’s no point anymore? The evidence of the climate crisis and its rapidly intensifying damage to humankind, especially the world’s most vulnerable, is staggering to behold. It can all feel like too much to bear when we think about it for too long. Embracing some form of nihilism becomes a coping mechanism. Accepting that everything is fucked and that anything we can do is inconsequential anyway is how many of us seem to get by each day.
But on the other hand, perhaps the way many of us have begun to think and speak about the climate crisis is actually just enabling an even greater victory for billionaires and fossil fuel corporations and the corrupt governments (like our own) that are in their pockets. This has led me to think there is a balance that we all must find, which couples our acknowledgement of the serious challenges we face with a belief in the ultimate goodness of humanity. We actually do need some form of hope, and we need to believe that people power means something. Hope is what keeps us going.
We need to believe in a future and each other. Nihilism might be a form of self-preservation but hope is too. Even if the struggle we face seems insurmountable – and with good reason – the best chance we have is to keep believing in the goodness and power of our movement when we all come together.
We can take inspiration from grassroots communities and the wins we continue to achieve. The Stop Adani movement crushed mine development plans, reducing the scale from 11 coal mines to one. Communities in the Northern Territory stopped Origin from fracking on sacred land. The Torres Strait 8 recently won a landmark case where the United Nations found Australia’s climate inaction is in violation of the human rights of Torres Strait Islanders.
These wins are not enough. It takes years of work and hundreds, if not thousands, of people to stop just one fossil fuel project in this country. New proposals and new companies looking to take the reins pop up in their place. It is important that we maintain a strong sense of reality and recognise that we cannot trust politicians, that corporations are indeed evil and that incremental change will not solve this crisis.
Art by Angel Du
Art by Angel Du
But these wins are also not inconsequential. They are a reminder that people really are powerful. Corporations want us to lose hope and accept defeat, to surrender to them. But there is a strength we have in each other and knowing that there are people out there who do care. Picturing our world without a climate and environmental movement is a terrifying prospect; we would all be living under the shadow of smoke stacks as far as the eye could see. If we are nihilists, corporations will continue to plunder and exploit our beautiful planet even more, without resistance. The fact is that if we gave up, it would all be worse than we could ever imagine.
Climate nihilism won’t help us, but we must not confuse optimism with blind faith in policymakers. Placing all hope and trust in our new government is a dangerous route many are taking. I am fearful of our movement giving up as a result of climate nihilism, but I must admit, I am equally fearful of our movement giving up by thinking a lot of the work is done. I am frequently shocked to hear wellmeaning, progressive people praising our new government and their climate policies.
The Albanese government is willingly and knowingly worsening the climate crisis, allowing the development of new fossil fuel projects. It is attempting to deceive us into thinking everything is fine now that we have a legislated emissions reduction target, reached with an outrageously weak “safeguard mechanism”. Merely electing a government that is “at least better than the last one” is not the solution to all our problems. Complacency is a dangerous force. We must confront the realities of the world we live in, we must not be blasé about the impacts the climate crisis has already begun to have, and we must criticise our government and call on them to do so much better.
But hope in humanity is not the same as blind trust in government. Trusting our government to fix all of our problems is the easy route. It is hard to maintain hope. Many would say it takes either naivety or, worse, stupidity, but I think it takes strength. And we need it.
Accepting that there’s nothing we can do and the fight is lost means that we’ve given in to the evil, greedy forces of corporations seeking profit at the expense of our people and planet. We are tired, we are angry and we might feel like there’s no point anymore. But I am desperately trying to say no to climate nihilism and yes to believing that there is still hope. We can be simultaneously realistic, critical, cynical, furious and hopeful. We owe this to ourselves and all that we hold dear that we do not give up hope and in doing so, let them win.
Love Letter to BlocHaus Will Salkeld
There are few feelings quite as good as climbing a tree as a kid. Laughing at gravity, reaching your way above worldly concerns, and staying up there until dad yells at you to get down. It’s no wonder it seems like everyone at ANU is getting into bouldering. On a Friday night, BlocHaus (Canberra’s main bouldering gym) has the hustle and bustle of Badger on a Thursday afternoon. Lately, I’ve been the one swapping pints for chalk, reflecting on why it is that so many people our age get hooked on bouldering.
The idea of bouldering is simple, for those who don’t know it. It’s like rock climbing with no harnesses on low walls with fun coloured blocks. You squeeze your feet into pointy shoes you swear will cut off circulation to your toes, add too much chalk to your hands that you have to rub it in both sides, and contort your way up the wall from which you may often fall.
Yet the first step is stepping into BlocHaus. Indie RnB blasts pleasantly through the warehouse speakers. An array of happy looking people cheer on and coach their fellow climbers from the soft white mats below the walls. Immediately, there is something completely welcoming about these people. In an age of LuLuLemon and tank tops, BlocHaus’ style is refreshingly casual. Like the unsuspecting 6-pack of Ned Flanders, you will see veteran climbers in jeans and a t- shirt hanging upside down from a hold. The best climber I know there must be close to triple my age and kind of looks like Carl Barron.
After my first session on the wall, I fell in love. I was back every morning for two weeks, having a go at absolutely every climb I could. My friends would ask about it and I would report back to them like a coach. Yep, I’m working on that climb - I’ll definitely get it next time. Soon, I realised they didn’t care. Unlike the cricket and AFL I dedicated every free afternoon in high school to, no one else had a stake in how ‘high-level’ I was performing at bouldering. The only benefactor of my climbing was myself.
For many of us, high school sports could never be a place of complete relaxation. If you were average at sports, you had to make the choice to either work hard and compete with the athletes, or join the theatre sports team. If you were great at sports, you were impulsively compelled to train and pursue some higher level of that sport – like the elusive regionals of Glee.
If you were bad at sports, well… I bet you learned how to tell a really funny story.
Then this strange thing happens when you get to university. Besides the assortment of characters across the ten halls who treat ISO like the Olympics, no one cares how good you are at sport anymore. You begin to do things for the sake of doing them. For some, the lack of athletic validation can be jarring. For most, it is a relief.
by George Hogg
by George Hogg
Here enters bouldering. Unless you went to some boutique climbing high school, bouldering is an activity where practically everyone begins on the same foot. In contrast to the competitiveness of high school sport, the bouldering gym contains the perfect environment for self-acceptance and the room for growth. No one is shunning you for spending your session getting familiar with the Blues. If you’re stoked you got a Purple, I’m stoked too! To those unfamiliar with what grade of difficulty these colours correspond to, I’ve left that unclear on purpose. Because when you enter the gym, no one cares.
To dabble in a cliché, climbing is like meditation. There have been several times I’ve entered the gym in a huff because of some relationship worry or Week 12- induced stress. Recently, my friend Jack and I have taken turns lying on the mats, ranting about our personal lives as the other listens from the wall. No matter what head-noise is rattling in my noggin before a climb, there is a primal concentration that comes with preventing myself from falling that brings my head back to the present. As my arms twist in ways I thought only possible forby Mrs Incredible, my body enjoys the full embodying benefits of yoga (minus the embarrassment of not being able to do downward dog).
Bouldering might not be for everyone. But I think it is. Perhaps it was the prohibition of me climbing trees as a kid which has fuelled my bouldering obsession. Or maybe the fuel is the feeling of being a happy-go-lucky monkey when I swing from hold to hold. Likely, the free beer my mate from Capital Brewery pours me post-climb has something to do with it. Whatever it is, if you want to forget the needless pressures of sport and do something for the sake of doing it, bouldering is not a bad start.
Into the Drake Passage
The ocean was an untamable beast. The waves swelled up and up, climbing higher and higher, like mountain peaks. The foamy cerulean water lashed against the side of the boat, spraying cold water onto the deck. I gritted my teeth and clutched desperately at the helm. As I attempted to steer the boat on course, my knuckles shone white.
The boat sliced through the incoming waves, rocking violently to the side. I fell to the ground, sliding across the deck and thunking my head on a wooden beam. As I hurried to my feet, I slipped on the pools of water collected on the deck. I stumbled back to the helm, where I hesitantly felt the back of my head. Warm, sticky blood coated my fingers. I shuddered. It’s ok, I told myself. This is the last time.
Finally, the ocean settled, allowing me to leave the helm. The tracking device that I had been using to follow Victory showed me that the whales were swimming further and further away towards their summer feeding grounds. I had left the coast of South America just after Victory’s pod, but my rented one-person boat was no match for the whales’ prowess in the ocean.
That’s strange , I thought, as I scrutinised the device. I was closer to the pod than anticipated, and they seemed to be moving slower than yesterday. I glanced up and caught sight of snowy mountain peaks in the distance, black rock shining like obsidian. The Antarctic Peninsula was close, and if the tracker was any sign, so was the end of my last expedition.
As the boat traversed the ocean, I thought of Tilly. That last day in the hospital, when she looked unrecognisable. Her soft blonde curls were gone, while tubes fed into her arms like weeds infesting a garden.
“I want to see Victory,” she murmured.
“You will, honey,” I promised, my eyes welling with tears as I clutched her tiny hand.
Suddenly, the tracking device beeped furiously. I grabbed my binoculars. My eyes skimmed over the water, searching for the pod. But I couldn’t see it. Instead, there was only a singular blue whale. It was half submerged in water, but as it came up for air, I caught sight of its fluke; a v-shaped tail, dark blue, with mottled smatterings of black and white. It was her; it was Victory. But why had she been separated from her pod? And then I saw it. Her body was entangled in a trawling net; the water around her was stained with red.
Panic coursed through me. Victory, who I read about in books as a child. Victory, who had been the constant throughout my career. Victory, who I introduced to Tilly on her very first trip with me. Victory, who Tilly wanted to see one last time.
by Jasmin Small
“Shit, shit, shit!” I said as I hurried below deck. I pulled my burgundy gloves from my hands in a frantic and desperate frenzy. Then, I stripped off my jacket and my clothes and unwrapped my scarf from around my neck. The cold air felt like daggers against my bare skin, but my hands were slippery with sweat as I pulled on my diving suit. The neoprene fabric, elastic and stretchy, slid quickly onto my skin. Clawing my way back onto the deck, I fitted the snorkel on the left side of my head and pulled the flippers onto my feet.
I leapt into the ocean. The water was ice against my face, but I ignored the sensation. A hundred metres separated Victory from the boat, the closest I could get to her without risking injuring her further. The distance was meagre, and within a few strokes, I was close enough to be at the marge of the blood spillage. My heart was racing, and my head was pounding as I anticipated the inevitable.
When I reached Victory, she emitted a sorrowful whine which reverberated through the ocean. I shuddered, the noise reminding me of Tilly’s pained moans and my gulping sobs during the apex of her treatment. I swam below the water. For a moment, I floated in the water, my arms and legs outstretched, watching mesmerised as colourful fish swam past me. Then, the blood clouded my vision and panic enveloped me once more.
The net was wrapped tightly around Victory’s lower torso, restricting her movement and cutting into her flesh. Her dorsal fin was sticking out of the crisscrossed black material at a peculiar angle. My heart sank. I felt tears pricking my eyes, but I had to do something. I grabbed the knife strapped to my leg. Unsheathing it, I began cutting through the net carefully. The knife nearly slipped and cut her skin as she began writhing underneath the net. Please, I implored silently, please do not move.
After a few moments, I had cut away most of the net. Now, the only section that was left was her tail. It thrashed violently as I touched her lightly. Red water droplets sprayed over me. I patted her with one hand, soothing her, until, finally, she had calmed down and I could cut away the last of the netting.
She was free.
Apprehensively, I assessed Victory’s injuries. The lacerations were deep, too deep. Jagged cuts peppered her smooth skin. The hand which I had used to grasp the net as I cut through it, had faint white bumps in a braided pattern. Blood gushed violently from the wounds spreading through the water.
I have to get out of here, I thought suddenly. The blood would attract sea creatures. I was all alone, hundreds of kilometres from the nearest coast. What could I do?
30. Art by
I rushed back to the boat, the wretched net grasped in one hand. Flinging myself back onto the deck, I retreated to the cabin, where I cried for the first time since Tilly died. I stared at the wooden floorboards and counted as the waves pushed against the boat, rocking it. The familiarity of the water’s repetitive movements was comforting and soothed my tears. One, two , I counted. One, two, one, two…
I was on a boat like this one, but much larger. We were near the Gulf of Mexico, observing the North Atlantic blue whales. Tilly was on the phone, my mother listening to my every word over her shoulder. Tilly asked me how much longer I would be gone. “Not long,” I lied, walking towards the navigation room and the research team who knew me better than my daughter. Suddenly, Tilly appeared before me. Blood streamed down her nose, her face flushed, her eyes hateful and angry.
“You left me!” she screamed.
I jerk up with a start. The ocean had lulled me to sleep. My body was sweating profusely. I lay on the bunk panting for a few minutes. Silent tears streamed down my face. The two greatest loves of my life were whales and Tilly. I knew that. But now, I feared that I loved one too much and the other, not enough. Tilly was always waiting for me to come home from my expeditions. And, when she became sick she could finally stop waiting. My poor baby , I thought, I’m sorry.
Once I calmed down, I returned to the top deck and stared over the railing out at the ocean. The boat glided across the tranquil water. It was closer now to Victory so I could see her clearly. Her movements were still graceful as she sank into the ocean and rose back up for air. But she swam slowly, and I noticed she came up for air less and less frequently.
Hours passed. Victory and I were alone with the ocean. And Tilly, Tilly was always with me. The sky erupted into red and orange. The sea mirrored the blinding light exuded from the setting sun. I glanced at my watch, nervous about the time since Victory last surfaced. I feared she was gone, but then, she somersaulted into the air. The movement was slow, and my boat had nearly outraced her. I knew it was for the last time. I stared at Victory, and she stared back.
“Victory,” I whispered. My cheeks were wet. I wiped my hands against them as Victory sank into the ocean, slowly descending to the sea’s bed.
I retrieved the urn from the black duffel bag that had followed me from Auckland to Ushuaia and across the Drake passage. As I cradled it in my arms, tears streamed down my cheeks. The evening air brushed against my face. The sky morphed into hues of purple and pink and I could see the sliver of the silver moon in the distance. My hand trembled as I unscrewed the lid. Steadying my ragged breathing, I tipped the urn over the railing. I watched the ashes float like fairy dust dancing across the aqua sea. The water glittered, and I smiled.
by Jasmin Small
by Amanda Lim
Mining Our Way to a Greener Future Ram Parthiban
In the transition to a “greener future”, the demand for raw materials required to make essential appliances and technologies which decrease greenhouse gas emissions will skyrocket. Solar panels, electric vehicle batteries, wind turbines and so on, are all composed of a wide range of critical metals like lithium, cobalt, nickel, and rare earth elements. While these elements are found in very small quantities throughout the earth’s crust, economic concentrations are very limited and are often hard to extract. Therefore, to progress to a greener future, a dependable supply of critical metals must be achieved through recycling and developing environmentally safe extraction techniques.
Now, one might wonder how we can make the extraction of critical metals more environmentally friendly to reduce the detrimental impact of the mining industry. In order to achieve this, a substantial amount of research has been done to produce novel extraction methods. Some of the new, environmentally safe extraction techniques include:
1. Bioleaching – The use of microorganisms to extract critical metals by eating away unwanted waste material, thereby leaving only the metal of interest. This can be used to extract copper, gold, silver, lead and zinc, to name just a few.
2. Phytomining – An extraction technique that involves growing plants on an ore body so that they preferentially absorb the metal particles. They are then harvested and processed to produce a purified metal, like lithium.
3. Solvent and Supercritical Fluid Extraction – This method involves using non-toxic and nonflammable solvents and supercritical fluids (e.g., CO 2) to extract metals from their ores. Metals that can be extracted using these methods include platinum group elements, rare earth elements, and nickel.
4. Electrolysis – A method that involves passing an electric current through a molten ore that is usually mixed with a flux (a chemical compound used to remove impurities) to produce positive metal cations: for example, aluminium.
5. Modern Pyrometallurgy – An updated pyrometallurgical technique using electric arc furnaces or microwave-based furnaces to produce high temperatures to melt an ore rather than the conventional fossil-fuel based furnaces. This is then combined with oxygen-enriched air to reduce the use of carbon. Examples include iron and tin.
6. Ion Exchange and Solid Phase Extraction – Selective exchange and extraction of metal ions or waste material from an ore solution (thereby purifying it) using solid compounds and mixtures composed of various salts and fluxes, for example, cadmium, chromium, arsenic, and antimony.
Much of the current research focuses on implementing a combination of all these processes to improve existing extraction methods. For example, one common problem is how to extract vanadium, useful for producing superconducting magnets and medicines treating high cholesterol and heart disease, from bauxite, the primary ore for aluminium. Traditional methods of vanadium extraction use highly corrosive acids, which are unsafe and environmentally damaging.
Instead, the bauxite can first be treated with sodium hydroxide (NaOH) at 170-180°C to form sodium aluminate (Na[Al(OH)4]). To increase the vanadium concentration, aluminium oxide (Al 2O3) is removed and sent off to undergo electrolysis, producing aluminium metal. The remaining solution is crystallised, producing sodium vanadate (NaVO 3). This is finally reduced through a reaction with a supercritical gas mixture of carbon monoxide (CO) and carbon dioxide (CO 2) to produce vanadium. The best bit of this process is that the carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide are produced as byproducts of the aluminium electrolysis, generating a much more efficient, safe and environmentally friendly process.
While these processes work in some areas, widespread adoption is not feasible yet. Despite their promise, these processes need to be optimised to obtain consistent results and metal yields throughout the entire process. In theory, they work, but when we try to implement them on a larger scale, a lot can go wrong. For example, we still don’t know how each microorganism works, making bioleaching optimisation difficult, and there may be better, safer chemical mixtures that we can use for solid-phase extraction just waiting to be found. Another drawback is the cost of implementation for some of these techniques. On average it takes about $30 to $50 million USD to build an electric arc furnace while microwave-assisted heating furnaces can cost much more. The faster these processes are implemented, the sooner our “‘greener future’” arrives, thus making additional research and commercial optimisation imperative. Without these critical minerals, the technology we’re relying upon to save us will be unable to function. So while these techniques may not be perfect yet, they are most certainly a significant and exciting step in the right direction.
by Jasmin Small
The Problem’s in the Thinking Elizabeth Fewster
This article will use the acronym of ILM for simplicity’s sake, despite the generalisation and homogenisation that the term represents.
A solution often posed to the challenges of climate change, environmental damage, and habitat loss unleashed by colonialism, is to find ways to integrate Indigenous land management (ILM) into the Western ecological management systems currently used in Australia. In support of this promising solution, ten years ago the Australian Landcare Council commissioned a review of the extent, scope and diversity of ILM practices across Australia, seeking to assess success factors and barriers to its use.
Although this review represented a positive step toward changing how we care for land in Australia, very little has changed on the ground. Australia’s natural landscape continues to suffer from extractive and damaging practices. The review identified that one barrier to integrating ILM into current practices was that “power imbalances lead to western systems playing the dominant role in education and land management practices” and suggests this represents a threat to traditional knowledge and languages and ILM.
While the identification of this barrier gets close to the issue, the reasons Australia’s attempts at ILM integration continually fail are more complex. The underlying barrier is the uneven dynamic of power between Western and Indigenous epistemology and ontology. Epistemology and ontology sound like scary words, but epistemology is really just theories of knowledge, and ontology is the philosophical study of existence, being, and reality. By thinking about ILM and western environmental management through the lenses of epistemology and ontology, we can begin to see where tensions emerge in integration.
Academics have argued natural resource management in Australia relies on ‘whitefella’ separation of cultural, ecological, and social knowledge. Specifically, Western ecological knowledge treats elements of the environment separately, and compartmentalises their management, focusing on quantitative measures, like equilibrium, and notions of ‘maximum sustainable yield’. Moreover, the environment is treated as a commodified resource that must be managed, not a living entity in relationship with people.
We can trace the epistemological foundations of western resource management back to the Age of Enlightenment during the 17th and 18th centuries, and the replacement of religion with science as the primary source of knowledge and normative judgement. From this shift, a tendency emerged in Western philosophy towards positivism. Positivism is a philosophical system that focuses on what can be scientifically verified, or logically proven, and rejects metaphysics and theism.
The dominant scientific paradigm of today finds its roots in this tradition. In this world view, the binaries between mind and body, nature and culture are reified, and many aspects of human life are reduced to biological imperatives. Western philosophy, with its emphasis on reason and science, rejects the metaphysical, and instead seeks to understand reality in ‘objective’ terms. This ‘enlightened’ preference for secular thinking has led to a treatment of any ‘non-objective’ religious or spiritual traditions as beyond the realm of the objective sciences.
In this system, knowledge exists separately from and outside social and historical definitions and processes, and moreover, this separation is the basis for its authority. Western philosophy, in its quest for ‘objective’ knowledge, has sought to exclude any cultural, ontological, or epistemological elements, essentially erasing any link between culture and place, which is the foundation of Indigenous knowledge.
Indigenous knowledge processes are deeply bound to local place, as knowledge is formed through the unique characteristics of ecologies, in which “country tells you what is going on, it calls for action and invites engagement”1. In this model, the health of the land is linked to the health of the people. Relationships to land form the basis for all interactions, and a symbiotic relationship exists in which the knowledge that sustains ecological practices, the social roles between people and the living environment, and the environment itself, all produce each other. This system of knowledge stands in stark contrast to the Western tradition, in which culture and nature, human and nonhuman are distinctly separate categories.
Due to the philosophical origin of Western ecological theory, a tendency has emerged to understand and use Indigenous knowledge in a very specific way. Specifically, it is generally only engaged with or sought out or regarding knowledge that is already considered to be relevant to Western notions of environment, and already within the purview of ‘science’ and ‘reason’. An example of this is the seeking out of Indigenous knowledge around back burning for fire control, in order to improve the current practices and systems. Another tendency that emerges is to view ILM as a timeless, static repository of knowledge to be mined. This perspective emerged during the environmental movements of the 1960s, in which indigenous people began to be understood and portrayed ‘noble environmentalists’ living in harmony with the land.
The consequence of these tensions is that the process of integrating ILM becomes a process in which Indigenous knowledge is seen as ‘content’ to be extracted and used for management purposes, rather than a process itself, a set of practices and symbiotic interaction and relationships between people, other living beings and things. Western ecological management often seeks to extract ILM from its local context which produces it, taking only what is perceived to be of value - that with demonstrable tangible outcomes. This extraction of ILM is completely contradictory to Indigenous culture, in which knowledge is produced in relationship to local places, and through the relationships between the people living on the land.
This tendency for ‘cherry picking’ has been widely discussed in environmental theory as a major obstacle in integrating these systems of knowledge. However, it is not enough to simply recognize that ILM is not static but adaptive, constantly being renewed in local engagement with people and country, and not able to be extracted as a tool for ecological management.
Instead, we must also recognize the epistemic incompatibility between the two systems of thought, because the underlying objectivity of the Western system is derived from its separation between science and culture, people and things, from its rejection of the spiritual and metaphysical.
Indeed, it seems an unlikely possibility that the dominant Western system would be able to understand and view indigenous knowledge as valid for what it is; a place based, ethic of living, that incorporates non-human living things. To recognize this and to recognize the value ILM has, would be to undermine Western philosophy’s authority as ‘objective’.
Art by Jasmin Small
Frameworks for integration have suggested a re-conceptualisation of the relationship between these two systems. Suggestions include holding meetings about environmental care on country, set through Indigenous frameworks of negotiation, based on Indigenous customs. Other suggestions include the pedagogical tool ‘perspective taking’, where participants are required to engage in the identity and narratives of others, and situate them according to themselves, and examine any connectedness between the two has been posed2. These solutions, however, unfortunately, fall short of a suitable framework for integration, as they fail to account for the uneven dynamics of power between the Western and Indigenous systems of knowledge. They reflect a superficial engagement with the ontological divide, and suggest an even playing field in which each perspective is given the same epistemic authority.
Other solutions posed, emphasise that engagement with indigenous knowledge must be ‘equitable’, and incorporate “genuine exchange”, “two-way learning” and “moral reciprocity”’3. However, moral reciprocity is an intersubjective exchange, in which each party recognizes the worth of the other. For that reason, I am hesitant to accept that a framework of integration between these two systems of knowledge could involve moral reciprocity, when the epistemic authority of one system relies on the abject rejection of fundamental elements of another.
Indigenous scholars4 have echoed similar concerns, arguing that when Indigenous knowledge becomes a commodity, it can be appropriated and used by the dominant structures of power to support the existing status quo, and can be appropriated, marginalized, and even used against Indigenous communities.
In this way, we can see we should be sceptical of any attempts to integrate ILM into Western ecological management systems, as it could be seen as is akin to neo-colonial assimilation, in which the context and true meaning of the knowledge is erased, thus perpetuating the constant, gradual dispossession of Indigenous dispossession on country.
The articles referenced in this article via the superscript numbers can be found by scanning this QR code.
Interview with Bec Colvin Olivia Chollet
Rebecca Colvin is a senior lecturer in the Resources, Environment and Development department of the Crawford School of Public Policy.
As a social scientist, she teaches postgraduate students how to communicate better around environmental and climate policies. Amidst her busy schedule, she agreed to answer a few questions about the various types of environments she encounters in her research and in her life.
To start with the trickiest question… what’s your definition of ‘environment’?
Yes, definitely a tricky question! Two parts of my mind wish to respond to this question in different ways. My analytical mind defines the environment as the physical world around us: the ‘natural’ spaces and the ‘modified’ spaces and the full spectrum in between. I recognise that human influence has touched just about every biophysical system, and that the duality between the human world and the natural world is false. But the other part of my mind, the intuitive part, wants to give the Environment a capital-E and declare it a special space where I am connected to the non-human world, somewhere I am going to, not somewhere I spend time regularly. It has to be unfamiliar, somewhere I have entered after leaving my normal human habitat. I think this reveals that buried under my carefully crafted academic and analytical conceptualisation of the environment, I hold a particular view on the environment as a place away from humanity, romantically holding onto the idea of a sanctuary untouched by the modern world.
A lot of your research focuses on how our social environment affects our relation to/ interaction with the natural environment. Could you give us a few examples or a key takeaway from your research? Why does understanding this matter in improving environmental and climate change policy?
Many of our environmental challenges relate not to how we deal with the environment itself, but how we negotiate between different identity groups, interests, and values to find a pathway forward. In many cases, these challenges become conflicts and not only cause stagnation in resolving the core environmental issue, but also come at a substantial social cost too. Conflicts are just about always underwritten by issues of power (for instance, asymmetries in power over decision-making, reinforcing particular views of the purpose of the environment, and controlling the use of land e.g., through land ownership), but the dynamics through which the conflicts play out will be shaped by the nature of relationships between groups – fostering an ‘us’ and ‘them’ dynamic that can act as a blockage for finding collaborative solutions and renegotiating power relations. For many pervasive and long-term environmental conflicts, a considered examination of the social dynamics which shape how the conflict plays out is essential to charting a way forward.
Art by Angel Du
Art by Angel Du
You also study (and teach!) communication for environmental and climate policy. What’s your take on the relationship between academics and the media environment in your field of research?
Too often education is viewed as a ‘thing we do’ inside a classroom. In the modern university, teaching is also subordinated to research. In my ideal world, teaching and research are deeply intertwined. Research should inform teaching in a way that sees teachers and students cooperatively exploring complex issues at the cutting edge of knowledge: questioning ourselves, each other, and the world around us. And conversely, the pedagogy of opening minds and critical thinking should be reflected in research practice (especially socially-engaged research), as well as in how academics engage with broader publics via the media or direct channels like digital networking platforms. But, we academics must recognise that every time we make a contribution to public debate, we are not simply observing or reporting on happenings in the world. We are becoming part of the story, and in that way are actively participating in the events we are reflecting on. This is both a great privilege, and (I know this is a cliché, but it’s true!) a great responsibility for academics. And in my view, the same pedagogy that can guide us in the classroom – to act with respect and openness, and to foster critical thinking – can help us to make responsible and constructive contributions to public debate. The people who fund public universities – everyday people – have put great trust in us academics to help advance the project that is humanity, and we ought to take this seriously. In my opinion, this means doing our best within the walls of the university, and at every opportunity we have to do so stepping outside of the university equipped with our pedagogy.
Do you have any advice for students interested in pursuing a career in an academic environment (e.g. research, PhD…)?
Make the most of your time here at the ANU. As a student it can sometimes feel like you are just a number – I know I felt that way often during my studies. But that’s not the case! We, your lecturers who care about you and gain so much from the time we get to spend with you, see those of you who are really engaging with the content and doing your best. Stick around after class and have a chat. Ask about opportunities to get involved in research projects, as you never know what might be around that really just needs an extra set of hands. Take on opportunities to enrol in courses that enable you to do independent research projects, and pick a topic that you’re passionate about. We see you !
The Mulberry Tree
Rowey Worner Butcher
Nothing ever quite signalled home as much as its smell did. Big, viscous inhale in the backyard, taking in that thick fermentation of soil and rot, with its layers of time and memory. So much depth and flavour in those tangent wafts coalescing around her, so much so that she could envision plunging down, forcing her hands into the soft dirt below and feeling the life move within. Tiny mites and insects crawling, digging, unearthing. No room for minimalism here when every movement was a desperate act for another moment of life. Everywhere, everyone was falling on top of one another, bodies on bodies and moisture and fluids and mucus combining and sticking so that she could feel it against her skin and tongue. She’d almost call it sweet, but really it’s just childhood creeping up again as it always does.
But there was a man with her today. Golden man, she thought as she watched him wash his hands under the hose hung to the fence. How to try and explain to him that the backyard in front of them, the old chicken coop and the sagging scribbly bark in the corner, was so dense with life? Layers on layers of life. Under the hose there, a hand’s width from where he stood, there once was a rabbit hutch. The rabbit inside it had low ears and brown fur that got mangy as he got older.
She wanted to tell the man about the rabbit. Not even for the rabbit’s sake. (Was it for hers?) To make him understand that there used to be more here.
Her Dad had taken him into the shed earlier. She’d told her Dad the man did engineering at uni; that’s how they met. Dad had nodded with that look of his. It wasn’t hard to know what that meant, even if the meaning was just ambiguous. He might have been impressed or dismissive; she still didn’t know.
He didn’t tell her anything Dad had said to him in the shed, though she wanted to know. Wouldn’t put it beyond Dad to give a “talk”, though likely they’d just tooled around. Dad might have shown him his drawings to add a toilet and shower out the back of the house.
How to tell him that Dad never used to be like that, or at least that’s not the man she grew up knowing? He was the one holding the hose at the top of the slip-and-slide. He was the one who got down on his knees with a broom to scare out the snake from under the chicken coop. He’d never been serious or considerate in that way, at least.
“There used to be a mulberry tree on the neighbour’s side of the fence there,” she said to the man. Sunlight caught in his hair, and it reminded her of hay. He finished hooking the hose back onto the fence and looked up even though there was nothing there. “That was when there weren’t any apartments on the other side of the road, either.”
“Where’d it go?” He asked.
“I think it got some kind of rot,” she said. “People always used to complain because when it fully fruited, all the berries would stain the path and turn into this weird slushy mix with the leaves. I think someone slipped off their bike there because of it.”
“Did you ever use the berries?”
“We tried to make a tart out of them once, but neither Mum nor Dad are bakers, really. Mum made a jam out of them one year, I think. But usually, we just used to collect a few when we’d get the eggs and eat them on the way back up to the house.”
Art by Cynthia Weng
Art by Cynthia Weng
“That sounds nice,” he said.
“At the farmers market in the park one time a farmer gave me a bag of oranges because I knew what a mulberry was. I don’t think it was even a competition or anything.”
But she had to say it to the farmer then before he could even speak more about the free samples of his produce. Because just from the rich black colour of it, the size of it in his thick, leathery hands, she’d known exactly what it was. It had tasted the same as always. The seeds had gotten stuck in her teeth, as always.
“Hm.” Golden man said, looking back up to the house, to the scribbly gum.
She didn’t know why there was so much more to tell him. Why she had remembered it all now. Standing barefoot in the shade, everything was as it always was, and here he was, something new.
Here was where she had grown. Here was where she had learnt what it was to be alive. What it was to grieve, to rage. There, she’d pretended not to listen to her Mum’s conversations on the phone as they’d hung out the washing. There, the neighbour’s brother had taught her how to know when corn was just ready to come off from how rigid the husk was. Peeling back those fibres, peeling back leaves of the banana plants at the back of the house, and there was the clutch of eggs laid by the rogue chicken which had rotted months ago. The stink had been unbearable when she and her cousins had thrown them at the back fence just to see what would happen.
Art by Vera Tan
by Amanda Lim
Ludovicoed Lab Rat Marcus Roberts
Throughout time and space, we wander, And the universe we ponder From Greek philosophy to the invention of the alphabet, And religion that evokes false meaning and regret Many nights I lie awake, As symptoms of existential dread seal our fate, Living is merely a curse, As our souls are trapped in this infinite cycle of rebirth
Like animals born into captivity, So many are unaware what is outside this realm presented as reality, I was lost but now I see, My body still but my mind travels endlessly, The more I see the less I realise I know, Cold sweated panic storms over and won’t go Secrets of the universe are unravelled The Great Creator of Being grants inter-dimensional travel This once gut feeling is proven no longer a hunch I am exposed to everything and everywhere all at once, As these doors of perception are cleansed, Like disappearing pixels, my ego shatters and descends
Now in this white room I see, Televisions and feel a sense of familiarity, This husky baritoned boom beckons from above
“You have once again reached the end. Barriers of greed, ignorance and aversion have not been made amend. So, I send you back again for another full cycle, in hopes you can reach nirvana”.
I awake as an ape, sidetracked in the quest to forage for food, I awake in Jerusalem with some frankincense in my pocket, I awake as a hippie at Woodstock in a tent looking up at concerned faces, I awake as a present-day starving artist surrounded by posters, paraphernalia and people too poor to know any better.
A Fall From Grace Will McManus
I never discovered religion; it was never something to discover. It was a reliable friend from the start, my Lebanese Catholic family made sure of it. Often it was simply something I was made to partake in, but other times it was more a comfortable blanket of reassurance. Admittedly, my childhood avoided a lot of the emotional and financial distress many experience. I have been very lucky. However, the friend I called religion helped even more so. Something didn’t go my way? God’s plan. I’m worrying about my relationships or an exam? I’ll pray on it.
Jesus was great, too. His all-loving aura was alluring and inspiring. All the edges and cracks life presented were smoothed over by the all-fixing putty that is faith in a higher power. Sometimes it was challenged, but I was arrogant about it. Atheists just couldn’t understand, I would think. I would often engage in articulating my beliefs, but, when I couldn’t explain everything, I resigned to the blindness of faith. This may have even been the most enchanting aspect. I didn’t need to prove anything. I could just exist in bliss.
Art by Jasmin Small
Too good to be true? I think you already know the answer. The religious phase of my life remained proud and true until 2019. In that year I suffered a near-death experience resulting in a broken and infected femur, taking countless surgeries and over a year to heal from. For some, a high degree of suffering would reinforce belief – God gives his hardest missions to his strongest soldiers! You now feel empowered and motivated to embrace your suffering and tackle life’s hurdles.
For others, a traumatic experience would lead them to doubt their faith. They would question: why have you done this, God? If you loved us, how could you allow such pain? Initially I took the former position, and the comfort it brought was persistent and powerful. Loved ones told me how they hadn’t stopped praying for me. I was told how I was living God’s plan and that He wanted me to live. The feeling of reassurance this brought was a defining factor in maintaining my resolve throughout the recovery.
As my body began to heal, my mind too experienced a form of transformation in the process. As I began to experience life beyond the confines of school as a graduated 18-year-old, I felt compelled to refine some of my systems of belief. Religion was a good starting point given how formative it had been. And so, I started to question myself. Do I reckon Jesus was God’s son on Earth and died on the cross for our sins then resurrected three days later? What about heaven and hell? These dogmas of faith which underpin Christianity became less of a given and more of a point of contention. But religion had been such a beautiful and guiding force throughout my life. It was an aid in hardship and provided unfaltering reassurance throughout times of distress. When I began to consider whether I really believed in God, in Jesus’ death and resurrection for humanity’s sins, and everything else I had assumed to be true all my life, I realised I didn’t. And when this wave of clarity swept over me and I considered how much religion provides solace to those who are suffering, I thought, “maybe that’s all it was for me.” Without the affirmation that the basis of Christianity was true, everything else that came with it became a whole lot less credible for me. I started seeing prayer and faith in ‘God’s plan’ as practices that only function to relieve suffering.
On top of all the beautiful and joyous things that justify life, our world is rife with anguish and despair. There is constant uncertainty, pangs of anxiety and depression people must travail through. Not to mention economic hardship that weighs down most of this world. But with belief in the holy metaphysical and the unfaltering support of God on your shoulder, all this anguish becomes a little less harsh. This was the reality for me and those with faith around me, especially after the largest point of suffering I’ve experienced. While it seems easier to be religious, it is not something to be forced upon oneself. It must be genuine. An absence of faith in the metaphysical meant all the reassurance it previously provided eventually dissipated. I am thankful for my stint with God, though. While I can’t force belief, the virtues of compassion and selflessness instilled by my family and my Catholic high school are timeless.
What is God now then? We need meaning, do we not? It can’t be that all the devout have an unfair advantage in coping with pain. I was left with a vacuum of purpose after the departure of my faith. I’m not certain there’s no higher power, I’m just not entirely convinced it’s the Christian God. In this uncertainty, my answer to myself is simple. Life, in all its beauty, justifies itself. Aside from the pain religion has caused by those who misuse it out of hatred, it is a special tool in the arsenal of humanity. Those lucky enough to have a healthy relationship with it can use it to their advantage. Those who are unconvinced must find alternatives.
Rabbit Holes Atputha Rahavan
It seems that every once in a while, I still look for rabbit holes to fall into. As I walked to the library today, I saw a white rabbit disappear into a thick bush of Lilly Pilly. A small part of me wished to follow him through those hedges, to fall and enter someplace else. But I didn’t follow, I just kept on walking – that’s the important thing you see, and I’ll tell you why.
First, let me explain why I look for them, the rabbit holes. I have been doing it for a while now since I was very young. But it wasn’t always that way. In the beginning, I was only my mother’s dark hair and my father’s brown skin (it was never just brown though, it changed all the time. With the weather and the wind. With the turn of tides and bright summer skies). You see, I was born in a land far far away, a land my parents loved. The loved-land was a place where they meant something and where everyone had dark lovely hair and never-just-brown skin. In the loved-land, I never looked for rabbit holes. There was no use for them there.
But one day, someone somewhere decided to cut the loved land in two because now, it was not enough that everyone had the same dark lovely hair and never-just-brown skin. It did not mean that everyone was the same. So, my parents left the loved-land and whisked us all away to someplace new. I don’t really remember the journey. As I said, I was very little. But I remember small, cramped boats and anxious hugs and rough, roaring seas. The journey ended, as all journeys do. Some made it all the way through, some did not (I never thought about them then, those who did not make it. I think about them now, sometimes). But you see, the new-land where the journey led was very, very different. Not everyone had dark lovely hair and never-just-brown skin here. Some new-land people had questions for those who washed up unannounced on their shore. Some said it was not right and that we should be sent back to where we came from. I wished they knew that we would never have left if we didn’t need to. We came from the loved-land after all and it was loved for a reason. But staying in a burning country will only burn you. It will tear you limb from limb as it tore some mothers from fathers and brothers from sisters. Leaving will save your life and only tear your heart apart. A heart can be repaired (or so I’m told) but a life cannot.
The people with questions put us in a box for a while. They thought we were looking to harm, but how can hurt people seek to harm? My parents struggled in the box. I think they felt that they didn’t mean anything anymore. I am glad I was little then; I think I would have struggled a lot more if I had fully understood all they went through.
Art by George Hogg
Art by George Hogg
Now, back to the rabbit holes, finally. You see, it was in the box that I first started looking for rabbit holes. When you are little and trapped in a box with a sad-eyed mother and a still-sitting father, you must make do on your own for entertainment. There were only so many times one could do laps around a box; there were only so many edges and corners to explore. So, knowing no better, I decided to seek entertainment in between the pages of books I found. I fell into them and I fell quite deep. I found worlds within words, and I lived in those worlds for a long time. A little too long, I’d say. Once you find solace in words, the outside world does little to compare.
We left the box some time ago. It was hard, but my parents worked harder. We made a home in the new-land and now, the new-land is my brother’s and I’s loved-land. But I know that it will never be my parents’ loved-land; part of their heart will always belong someplace else. Now my mother’s lovely dark hair hides small slivers of silver (never say this to my mother, she will deny it, and you will receive a hard look if you are lucky and a hard smack if you are not), and my father’s neverjust-brown skin carries creases it never did before. Though we left the box, I stayed in my rabbit holes a little longer. When I wished I could replace my never-just-brown skin with something paler and my lovely dark hair with something lighter, my rabbit holes gave me consolation. But I grew up as you do and learnt to love what I previously wished away about myself.
I am 19 now and haven’t dwelled in rabbit holes for a while. Sometimes though, on certain days, like today, when the sky gets awfully cloudy, and life feels dreadfully bleak, I seek them out again. You see, a rabbit hole is something that one escapes into to hide from the harshness of reality. Rabbit holes can be anything really. For me, it was books at first and then it became my own head. For you, a rabbit hole might mean something else entirely, and that’s fine too. But I have learnt that it isn’t good to spend too much time in them, you can get lost quite quickly. Don’t retreat into yourself; know that there will always be people around who will worry and want for you. Clouds will always disappear, and life never stays bleak for too long. I say so because my family is a testament to those words.
So, when I saw that white rabbit today, I was tempted to follow, I’ll admit, but figured that for now, I was happy enough above ground and kept on walking. I’ll conclude by saying this; I hope, dear reader, that whatever might plague you, you decide to keep on walking too.
Syrup Annie Little
It is slow, the creep. An intentional admission of infection, Snuck in through cancerous carbs. Maltose, dextrose, glucose; Not fructose or starch; A spread of maltodextrin. These treasonous vital venoms Fester in fat deposits
Twisting my cells till they’re Filled with the illness Caused by my indulgence. I know I won’t live long Even without my Willful immolation.
My body has a Predisposition To self-destruction. So why not enjoy My simple addiction While I’m here Letting sweet, Saccharine syrup Poison me from within
Art by Jasmin Small
Art by Jasmin Small
Art by Jasmin Small
Art by Jasmin Small
A Product of My Environment
Content Warning: recreational drug use and death
A record player scratches. I imagine that’s what it sounded like when God created the heavens and the Earth. Something of that magnitude had to make noise, right? The sound seemed fitting, given the circumstances I was in. Stars wheeled above my eyes, and if I squinted, I could see what Van Gogh was going on about when he painted Starry Night. I couldn’t help but keep looking up. Behind me, the lights of our porch seeped into the yard where I lay, the music from a shitty speaker and the record player battling with it. The battle was stacking up and the king of the hill was turning out to witness Torren and Bee’s latest argument.
Everyone else had left the party ages ago, and I was only sticking around to help Torren pack things up. I know it doesn’t look that way given my current activity, but I’d be up as soon as they were done. They’d been at it since Pattie had left, and I could have sworn the stars made a digital clock as the argument ticked on.
“Why the fuck are they even still together?” I muttered to myself as I took another puff of my joint. As I breathed out, the smoke was snatched up by a nebula and spat back out further into the winding galaxy.
The grass beneath me had stopped itching long ago, and I heard the blades grunting with the effort of holding me up off the dirt. A rogue breeze blew a dandelion towards me, and it kissed my cheek as it continued its fateful trip. In its wake, a trail of red grazed my forearm, resting over my chest, dancing like cave paintings.
Torren tended to look that way, I thought to myself. Light and gentle; the kind of guy to leave a subtle impression. No lofty imaginations, or head in the clouds. He moved like an athlete, like at any moment he’d break into a sprint and leave us all behind. You could read that ambition in his nose, the way it was so long and straight, like the road ahead. If you knew his parents, you’d understand the pressure he was under and also where he got his nose. They were pushing him fast towards a medical career, probably in paediatrics. A strong, clear goal worth being dedicated to. I don’t think Bee would fit in the car travelling that road.
She was the total opposite of Torren. A cloud of vape perpetually followed her, smelling of cinnamon ice. If I had ever met a magical being, Bee was it. Never depressed, constantly kind, gentle yet chaotic, she flitted about like a butterfly, from boy to girl to boy, hobby to job to hustle, family to family, house to house. Maybe she just had ADHD, or maybe she was just a product of her ever-changing environment, and the only thing she wouldn’t change was that lifestyle. Yeah, Torren’s straight and narrow road wouldn’t suffice for a creature like Bee.
The stars had started a second spin around, another 360o. Red stars had joined the fray now, shimmering so prettily. They stood still and marked the circular journey of their companions. Chill jazz music filled my ears, so much so that I could nearly feel it in my throat. King of the Hill. The grass kept groaning, but the wind had stopped. I trailed my hand through the grass, caressing each deserving blade. I closed my eyes and felt the ground spin beneath me delightfully.
How did I move through the world, I wondered? Not like Bee or Torren, that’s for sure. Right now, I felt like a forest fire. My mum would say that I managed to bring everything into me and ruin it in an instant, with no warning. That seemed to hold up. My friends all left after I burned them. Frankly, I was pain waiting to happen, nerves psyching themselves up, the thing that activated your fight or flight that waits at the foot of your bed. Not that I was violent, not by any means. My dedication to the bit, the plot, whatever you call it, often made me act like a bit of a dick. I think my dad forced me to read too many books as a kid, and I got into Game of Thrones way too early, so I’ve been living in my fantasy-centric imagination ever since. Maybe I took the badass heroine traits too far and just became a mean and callous person —a product of my imaginary environment.
A thud and drag sounded next to me on the grass. Lazily, I opened my eyes and reached over without looking to pet my new companion. I found long hair, soft skin, honey-sticky fingertips and the soft curve of a woman’s hips. I passed over the joint and it was snatched up by the cold night air. I blinked slowly, and the red stars went out of focus. I blinked again, and they disappeared —such a shame.
“Who do you blame for the way you are? You believe in the power of the cosmos, so was it your mum for giving birth at the time she did, or was it God for putting the stars there for you to be born under?”
Another thud sounded to my other side, and I looked over to find Torren breathing heavily, staring up at the stars just like me.
“I’d blame my mum. She always said she wanted a Pisces baby and she’s never forgiven me for being a Leo. Actually, I don’t think she’s forgiven me for anything.”
Art by Jasmin Small
“One day, I’ll be the daughter she wishes she had. She never wanted one, and before long she won’t have one. Then I’ll be all the way up there, with God’s mighty record player, jazzing out as one of these stars. And then, someone on some website will buy me and name me after a dead friend. I think that would be nice.”
Silence. It must have been a bad fight.
Finally, “I don’t think I’ll make it to med school,” Torren mumbled tearfully. We lay there in silence all night. I sobered up and fell asleep right there, and that’s how we got here.
“I asked if you saw anything last night, when your friend died?” the Constable queried. The End. If you or anyone you know is affected by the content of this piece, please contact one of the support services below:
Family Drug Support 1300 368 186 24/7 – Information and referral 52. Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636 24/7 – Depression, anxiety and suicide
Art by Vera Tan
ANU 1001: How to Have a Conversation With an ANU Student! Holly
Do you struggle to understand or fit in with the conversations of your fellow ANU students? Have you ever felt a sense of déjà vu having a conversation with someone in a tute? Do you feel like your fellow students judge your responses to their questions? Well, this is the article for you! It’s a handy guide on how to join in on the limited linguistic landscape of ANU students. You’ll be just another member of the herd in no time!
This article will follow the typical conversational pattern of first-week tutes so you have a guide for what to answer (don’t worry if it isn’t the truth — just lie!).
(1) The first question you may encounter: “What degree are you studying?” Getting the answer to this question right is crucial if you want the rest of the conversation to continue normally. To stay in the safe lane, opt for*:
• Arts (only some majors though — see: inappropriate answers)
*NOTE: bonus points for a double degree involving two of these options.
If you want to test the boundaries of the conversation a little, choose a common, but slightly more niche answer which is still similar in some way to the above answers, for example:
• Security studies (close enough to IR)
• Commerce (PPE, I guess)
• Economics (just one-third of a PPE degree)
• Engineering (not that similar to any above but employable so we’ll let it slide)
Art by Max McFarlane
• Most STEM degrees (an Arts students may be jealous of all the funding your courses get)
• Arts, majoring in:
Ȉ International Relations (just do an IR degree?)
Ȉ Mathematics (how can you be both an Arts student AND a STEM student? Pick a side.)
Ȉ Philosophy (just cop it and do PPE)
Ȉ Gender, sexuality and culture (do you want to be employed one day?)
(2) Another common question you may encounter early in the conversation is, “Where are you from?” While the answer to this question may seem straightforward (Sydney), take care to avoid common pitfalls students may run into with this response.
Common pitfalls and simple fixes:
• Saying somewhere in Sydney that isn’t the North Shore/Northern Beaches (I still don’t know what the difference is)
Ȉ Stick to “Sydney” as the general response and provide an evasive “you probably don’t know it” if pressed for further information on suburb/area
• Naming any suburb in a capital city that isn’t Sydney (who’s gonna know where this is?)
Ȉ Stick to just the name of the city
• Adelaide (is anyone from Adelaide?)
• Being a townie
Ȉ Say that you can’t wait to escape Canberra after graduation and you’re only here because it’s the best uni for IR/Law/PPE
(3) The next question you may be asked (if you’ve successfully answered the first two) is the deceptively simple, “Do you live on campus?” You may think this is an easy yes/ no answer. Wrong! There is one key factor you need to consider in response to this question: what year of your degree are you in?
• If in first or second year:
Ȉ Yes! Loving life at [insert Burg, Johns, BnG, Wright or Bruce].
• If in third or fourth year:
Ȉ I was on campus for my first two years but am now living in a sharehouse with my friends in [insert inner north suburb].
• If later in degree:
Ȉ Say that you extended your degree a little by deferring for a semester to travel to [insert area of Europe].
Ȉ Say that you’re doing a double degree with law as one of the degrees
(4) A final question which may come up in your conversation is the universally dreaded, “What do you want to do once you graduate?” A suitable answer to this question follows a clear pattern:
• Step 1: state with a laugh that you have “no idea what you want to do” (even if you know exactly what you want to do)
• Step 2: “I’ll probably just apply for the APS grad programs”
• Step 3: specify which grad programs interest you most
Ȉ If aiming for a competitive program (Defence, DFAT, PMC), you must specify that you are not expecting to get it and that you have a backup department
Of course, this guide is based purely on my own observations, and I welcome you to throw off the weight of ANU expectations and #liveyourtruth. Maybe one day, if enough of us fight the system, it will be the Johns Law/PPE student from Sydney’s North Shore who will be pressured into lying in a tute conversation.
Art by Jasmin Small
Reality Tunnels and Empathy
Sometimes different schools within the ANU feel like they inhabit different realities. There was an article last edition, Burn the CBE Down, which talked about the zombielike economic model of the world which makes up the neoliberal consensus. One where the different outcomes between countries— as varied as they are in history, culture and geography — can simply be chalked up to the presence or absence of an abstract Capital.
Perhaps this model is true, how would I know? After all, I’m not an economist; maybe all those PhDs know something I don’t. Or maybe the heterodox economists can see beyond the confines of their institution and its culture.
I’d like to think that I’m open-minded, that I’m willing to change in the face of challenges to my worldview. Nonetheless, the information and ideas I’m exposed to, my own lived experience, is the only basis I have to develop my understanding of a vast and complex world. Even a computer, built from the ground up on Boolean logic, provides no better answers than the information it’s given. Garbage in, garbage out.
This isn’t a new problem. Charles Babbage, one of the fathers of Computer Science, expressed dismay at being asked, “if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?” as far back as 1864.
We all have our own models of the world, the parts we’ve been to and the parts we’ve never seen. Sometimes we aren’t even aware of our whole model of the world; it can come so naturally to us that it feels like an objective reality. Our models extend beyond beliefs about the wider world to even our simplest expectations about other people: what they like and don’t like, what they think is wrong and right and how they’ll feel in any situation.
Controversial author and self-described mystic Robert Anton Wilson defines a Reality Tunnel as the set of subconscious beliefs that filter how we interpret our experience of the world. I’m going to broaden this into my own definition. After all, the author is dead, so to speak. Why shouldn’t I take it?
I understand Reality Tunnels as closer to a series of visible and invisible feedback loops which help build who we are and our mental models of the world. These feedback loops cover parts of our lives which can feel like our own choices but are, in so many ways, the product of factors beyond our control. The choices we make thanks to our background, going to ANU, feeling like we’re welcome to join clubs and societies. Contributing to Woroni.
Beyond this, many of the biases and inequalities we learn about when we study intersectionality can be viewed as forms of feedback loops. People make differing assumptions about you based on your race, gender, how you look, how you dress, where you grew up et cetera. Whether or not you like it, these differences in treatment greatly affect who you become, which again affects how you respond to others and the places you feel welcome —what you feel safe to express and to whom.
It can be confronting to think about how much of what we believe about the people and places we think we know can be directly or indirectly a product of our Reality Tunnel. Would they have felt safe making that joke with me if I wasn’t a man? Do people make assumptions about me I’m not even aware of? Is there a whole side to the places I know that I’ve never seen?
All these factors have built up so much of how I think about the broader world. Is this just how I experience the world, my perception projected onto a greater scale?
Maybe I’m just like one of Babbage’s machines. Garbage in, garbage out.
Aside from the epistemic implications of this thinking, I want to focus on a more mundane but in some ways, more important question than how we determine truth. In a world where everyone walks through their own Reality Tunnel, its boundaries often invisible to its inhabitant and to outsiders, how can we be empathetic and compassionate toward each other even as we inhabit what are nearly disjoint realities?
In primary school, a teacher once told me empathy means to put yourself in the place of others. To empathise by walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. But I wonder if this model of empathy misses so many of the psychological and social realities that form our Reality Tunnels.
I am who I am because of the Reality Tunnel I’m stuck in. I really have no way to know if the way I behave would work for someone else. How can I walk a mile in their shoes when I don’t know their size?
Even when I think I know what someone could do, what I think I’d do in their shoes, our mental worlds are nearly as far outside of our control as our circumstances. I don’t know what others don’t know. I don’t know what others know that I don’t.
If everything someone experiences leads them to believe something, even if I’m certain it’s not true, how can I expect them to believe otherwise?
I’m hopeful that we can overcome these limitations. Much of the recent discourse around neurodivergence has left me hopeful that we can learn to empathise not just across differing circumstances and worldviews but across the often-invisible barriers of cognitive differences.
To really empathise means to understand someone else’s experience, not just their circumstances.
I hope we can build a culture where people feel comfortable sharing their truth, irrespective of its objectivity. If we can avoid prescribing experiences to others and instead become comfortable describing our lived experiences, then we can begin to escape our Reality Tunnels. We can start to share our reality, one that is free, equitable and open to everyone.
Art by Jasmin Small
Photography by Jasmin Small
Art by Jasmin Small
Girlboss vs. Tradwife There are no winners under capitalism.
Not too long ago, my Tiktok feed was flooded with a certain subgenre of self-help content. Women everywhere were assuring me that I had a well of untapped potential, some kind of superpower that would make me desirable and charismatic and able to attract all the good things I deserved. It was called “divine feminine energy,” and they were going to teach me how to cultivate it.
None of these women could tell me exactly what it was, but after extensive research (watching lots of Tik Toks), I’ve managed to piece together a definition. Divine feminine energy seems to be a spiritual energy that all women possess, a source of strength and power fed by certain behaviours and depleted by others.
Great, I thought. I’m a woman, and I want to be hot and successful. Where do I start?
At first, most of the advice I found was generic self-help stuff: heal your inner child, dance in the rain, go outside and connect with Mother Nature. But the longer I spent looking at this content, the more extreme my algorithm diet became. Women started teaching me makeup looks that would attract “high value men,” and recommended that I stop trying to prove my point in arguments. Eventually, they began to espouse the benefits of embracing a woman’s traditional role in the kitchen. This was tagged ‘tradwife’ (portmanteau of traditional wife), and led me to a whole community of conservative women who preach that a woman’s only jobs should be wife and mother. This is the current running under most ‘divine feminine’ content. If you spend enough time scrolling, you eventually end up here.
This makes sense. The entire premise of divine feminine energy depends upon the idea that this energy is an inherent part of womanhood, a biologically-determined magic just waiting for us to step into it. It’s gender-essentialism: the belief that gender and its associated traits are determined by biology, inborn and unchangeable. This is a cornerstone of conservative thinking and repressive gender roles, so it will come as no surprise that there are no trans women taking part in this trend, or any trans people in the videos at all. Despite some ‘woke’ creators’ assurances that ‘divine feminine’ doesn’t mean you actually have to be feminine, they’re the minority, and even they stay in the safer waters of traditional expressions of femininity. Some only wear minimal makeup, or even a T-shirt, but you get the feeling this is as butch as they can go before their divine femininity is in peril.
And it is in peril. A lot of these women centre their content around healing their divine feminine energy, mending some deep spiritual wound that they and their followers all seem to be bleeding from. This pain is why I think divine feminine content is worth examining. Judging by the massive amount of engagement these videos garner, hundreds of thousands of women are in a kind of spiritual pain, and are finding comfort in a reactionary, anti-feminist pipeline whose only solutions are “go for a walk” and “regress into a 50s housewife.” These Tik Toks make the latter look very appealing. Slideshows of women in flowing white dresses promise days filled with picnics and baking and strong, masculine husbands doing all the hard work.
‘No work’ is an essential part of the fantasy. One woman expresses how exhausting she finds it living in ‘a very masculine world that values power, success, money’. Another says she has stopped making decisions based on money altogether. Yet another describes supporting herself on her own income as ‘survival mode’.
But success and money aren’t the features of a masculine world - they’re the obsessions of a capitalist one, and working under capitalism sucks.
People are working longer hours for less pay, in capitalist economies where the rental crisis keeps home ownership out of reach. Indeed/YouGov’s 2022 Workplace Happiness Study found that 72% of Australians have felt unhappy at work in the past year, citing demanding workloads and long hours as the leading causes for this unhappiness. A quarter of them are so unhappy they’re looking for a new job. This isn’t an Australian phenomenon. In the United Kingdom, a study conducted in 2018 found that 47% of workers were searching for a new job, for reasons including not enjoying their work and, interestingly, not feeling as if their work made a difference.
This last reason is especially damaging. In his essay “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs”, anthropologist David Graeber points out that although we now have the technology that could automate a lot of our work, we aren’t actually working any less. Instead, pointless jobs have been created to keep us grinding punishing hours. Worse, the people doing these jobs know their work is pointless. They cycle from refreshing their inbox, to waiting by the phone, to organising files, to redirecting customers in the endless maze of their call centre, and all the while it eats away at their soul. Graeber describes this as a ‘moral and spiritual damage’, like the spiritual wound divine feminine energy is meant to heal.
Women might feel Graeber’s spiritual damage more keenly when they enter the workplace because they have been taught to expect so much more. We’ve seen the girlbosses of the 2000s and 2010s - pantsuited feminist heroes who smash glass ceilings with the sharp point of their stiletto heels and claim a six figure bonus for their trouble. When this is the image of empowering feminist success, imagine the disappointment of women who go into the workplace and find that their work is less liberation and more meaningless grind. The girlboss is dead and zombified, refreshing her inbox with an atrophied index finger and dreaming a 50s daydream of baking bread in a pin-up dress. Women’s mass discontent suggests that capitalism has failed, and the effort of pretending otherwise - turning hours of bullshit work into a performance review, forwarding emails to higher-ups, making Tik Toks to sell your girlboss lifestyle - is bleeding people dry.
Yet none of these women become anti-capitalist. They don’t join unions or agitate for better pay, less hours, or anything that would make their work less painful. Often, they can’t even name these problems. Their vague discontent is instead turned inwards, and they suffer alone.
It’s similar to the mental health crisis Mark Fisher describes in Capitalist Realism. Capitalism has privatised the symptoms of mental health. The biomedical model, which suggests that mental illnesses are literal diseases of the brain, has become more and more popular. Research is focused on finding biological explanations for mental health conditions - genetic predisposition, family history, chemical imbalances - despite the lack of conclusive results. Even Thomas Insel (former director of the US National Institute of Mental Health), a supporter of the biomedical model, has admitted that only a few of these biological causes have been replicable across different studies, and none are conclusive enough to be clinically actionable. But this biological fixation persists, conveniently minimising or eliminating any question of systemic or societal causation, even though the mental health epidemic proves that capitalism is failing to meet our mental health needs.
Art by Jasmin Small
Just as today’s modern mental health narrative pushes people to look inside themselves rather than at the world around them, the gender essentialism of divine feminine content drives women towards their own biological fixation. It acknowledges their disillusionment, and provides them with an atomised, individual solution. The problem, it insists, is inside you. There’s no need for social, political and economic reform, only personal growth. The content explains away women’s spiritual injury. It reinforces what Fisher calls ‘capitalist realism’: “the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.” How can we fight for reform if we can’t even imagine what that reform would look like? Is this the best we can hope for?
Divine feminine and tradwife content is seductive because it avoids these tough questions. It’s far easier to focus on spiritual healing and to go back to the kitchen than it is to work for, or even imagine, an alternative to capitalism. Never mind that spiritual healing is useless if the environmental conditions that cause the spiritual damage persist, or that housewives were so miserable they resorted to amphetamines to keep that pearly-white smile. This content presents an ideal that’s comfortably couched in tradition and sepia-toned nostalgia. And when the capitalist world is grinding them to exhaustion, who can blame women for buying into an easier solution?
But this gender-essentialist solution is a lie. If you want proof that the problem is not unbalanced feminine energy, look no further than divine feminine creators’ Tik Tok bios. Every one of them is selling something. Podcasts, one-on-one coaching sessions (for $700!!!), sponsored brand partnerships. Despite preaching about letting go of ambition, ignoring monetary incentives and leaving the masculine, power-hungry world behind, they still desperately need capital. They work to survive, and although they’ve escaped the traditional 9-to-5, I doubt their careers as grifters are any more fulfilling.
Ultimately these creators don’t care about housewives or spirituality. They don’t acknowledge the practices - Buddhism, tai chi, yoga - that they steal their divine feminine healing methods from. They don’t recognise the difficult, important domestic labour that housewives do, or even teach their followers how to make good bread. They are convincing women that it’s their fault they’re unhappy and then selling them a reactionary fantasy to fix it. But this fantasy won’t save you. It hasn’t even saved them.
Capitalism doesn’t only affect women. Everybody is working and everybody hates it. Divine feminine content and the atomised individualism of today’s mental health narrative insist that these issues are wholly our own, but hasn’t the popularity of this content proved that we’re not alone in feeling this way?
I can’t give you a step-by-step guide to socialism (for that, talk to your coworkers, join a union, agitate for tenants’ rights) because I’m nineteen and don’t really know anything. But I do know there’s nothing wrong with your energy, at least nothing that a ‘feminine energy level-up course’ will fix.
Maybe there’s some cold comfort in knowing that the problem isn’t inside you; it’s all around you.
We’ve all heard the phrase “burn(t) out” to describe feeling exhausted and depleted following a series of demanding events, usually associated with work or study. What if the term burnout was literal? What if, when you started to get stressed, your skin started to boil and steam came out of your ears? What if lava poured from your eyes when you stress-cried, or your hair caught aflame?
This is the premise for this screenplay excerpt, aptly called Burn Out. A group of office workers have been experiencing severe burnout in their workplace, and have begun to spontaneously combust when their stress levels are too high. In this excerpt, our main character Jane and her friend and colleague Sarah are confronting their supervisor Liz about her inaction on their burnout.
This is unacceptable Liz. A beat.
What do you want me to do about it?
JANE and SARAH launch into a rapid fire stream of dialogue, overlapping each other.
Literally anything! You’re our boss! You’re supposed to look out for us -
- and you knew this whole time we’ve been on fire -
- Cathy’s been on fire three times over two days! -
- how could you let this happen Liz, after everything I’ve done for you -
- HR told me to get a fire blanket! A fucking blanket! -
- you can’t let this continue, you have to speak to Fran -
- Linda’s skin’s about to melt off her face -
- and if you don’t go to Fran then I’m going to the media!
The two keep overlapping each other talking about how LIZ has failed them and something has to be done. They’re wildly waving the footage around and pointing to the photos, detailing the pain in their colleagues.
Art by Jasmin Small
LIZ’s face reddens the more the women talk, and smoke starts to erupt from her head. Her tummy starts to grumble and skin bubbles, ash crumbling from her eyes, before she finally combusts on her own.
Her eruption is volcanic. Lava leaks from every crevice and drapes her skin, her hair molten and eyes blazing red.
YOU DON’T THINK I’VE TRIED?! I SPOKE TO HR THE SECOND IT STARTED IN SYDNEY. I TRIED AGAIN WHEN IT GOT TO MELBOURNE, KNOWING IT WAS ONLY A MATTER OF TIME!
The lava pours quicker.
YOU THINK I DON’T KNOW?! I WAS THE FIRST! TERRIFIED AND ALONE, AND NO ONE BELIEVED ME! THEN JODIE STARTED, THEN YOU STARTED *jabs a finger at SARAH* THEN DAVE, THEN EVERYONE!
LIZ starts sobbing, the lava gradually turning to water as the eruption starts to slow. As she sobs, she picks up a bucket of water next to her desk and pours it over herself, weeping.
JANE and SARAH exchanged horrified glances, but have a sudden wave of sympathy for LIZ.
They are silent for several moments, until SARAH
Before Entering the IR Classroom, Do Not Forget to Leave Yourself at the Door
Content Warning: discussions of racism
I have been thinking a lot about the spaces I find myself in recently. Who I am when I enter from the outside, who I become once I step within — and how strange both versions seem to me.
I have observed a sort of ritual that happens before every university tutorial. To secure the 10% participation mark, I leave myself at the door. Stepping into the classroom, I swallow my emotions and hide behind the cloak of academic rationality. I am opinionless, a blank slate student of International Relations (‘IR’), ready to receive and regurgitate what I need to know. I adopt the language of cost-benefit analysis, expected utility and measures of hard power. I make sure I am armed with the knowledge of this week’s readings so that I can draw on concepts and theories and gently push back in the right way when I am expected to.
At times, I find myself proffering “culture” or “constructivism” to the class — never as a statement, but always as a question, a gentle testing of the waters. But I am reminded again and again that culture is a mere glitch in the discussion, an inherently flawed approach to International Relations that is best left by the wayside. Although I notice a funny coincidence that these cultural approaches have mainly been formulated and “debunked” by white men, I can only return to silence and let the class resume its discussion about economic statecraft.
The objective pupil of International Relations does not see anything wrong with having to pretend she is a Japanese war criminal, advocating for the decision to bomb Pearl Harbor. It is, of course, the only way to understand how policymakers really think when faced with complex decisions. The rational third-year scholar is not personally affected when someone all but says outright that Chinese-Australians are agents of the authoritarian state. Foreign interference is, of course, an important national security issue. The raceless, genderless student does not utter a word when she overhears a classmate joke about all the “Oriental women” he cannot wait to pursue in Southeast Asia. He will, of course, be there on a government-funded scholarship.
I try my best to convince myself that culture, race and emotions have no place in International Relations — that they’re indulgences best pursued in my spare time. But there are moments when I slip. When we are given a reading about the history of Australian military culture which attributes “the conformity of Anglo-Celtic ethnic background” as the reason behind Australia’s “strong cultural values”, grounded on the “pillar [of] imperial benevolence”, I can’t help but to bring up the mere possibility of racism to the class. The expected happens — everyone goes silent, the tutor clumsily steers the conversation to the topic of mateship and I die a little inside as I watch my classmates invent clever euphemisms such as “cultural cornerstone” to skirt around the term “structural racism”.
Two years later, I find myself defending the imperial Japanese Navy’s war crimes as a rational part of their ‘national interest’ in a compulsory IR class. After, I can’t help but to ask the lecturer if there is any better way to learn about foreign policy decision-making — an essay, perhaps. I nod as he explains the importance of “putting yourself in the bad guy’s shoes”, once again choosing to ignore the collective trauma of millions in privileging his intellectual exercise.
In these moments, I am paralysed with a nauseating anxiety. I have learned to sit with it, to distract myself from it, to swallow it while accepting presentation feedback about the tone of my voice.
Art by Bob Fang
I hate that the logical thing to do is to change majors, to leave. Maybe I should’ve joined the mass exodus out of IR in first and second year. In a way, I did — I dropped out of a straight IR degree into one that is more flexible, one that allows me to pursue selfdriven research alongside my IR major.
It is through here that I channel my frustrations. I see the branding of Chinese-Australians as a security threat to be a consequence of historical animosity and a representation deficit, so I research the structural discrimination which deters us from entering federal politics. Reflecting on the constant hypersexualisation of East and Southeast Asian women and non-binary people leads me to interview a Chinese-Malaysian artist whose work is about reclaiming sexuality and desire to talk about these concerns.
I consider myself lucky that I can process my pain under the guise of “contributing to the academic field”. I am also glad that I have the space to learn my history and language at university, filling in the gaps that 17 years of internalised racism have left behind.
But I have recently found myself noticing that when I do learn my history, it is mostly from white men. I have also started feeling not less but more vulnerable, as I can no longer leave my culture, emotions, and self at the door. I learned that I have been prescribed a new role. I can and am expected to speak of my experiences and family histories to willing ears, but in doing so I become an object of sociological interest. My research receives an HD; a white man validates my un-belonging and labels it “brave” — our pain props up entire academic fields.
Is this what I must settle for?
I don’t have the capacity to think about this anyway. I write this in snatches of time between four assessments — on the bus, walking down the street, in between class and work. In an hour, I will pretend to be an officer of the Imperial Japanese Navy in my foreign policy tutorial. Afterwards, I will have to formulate an academic thesis out of my trauma and structure it into an introduction, three body paragraphs and a conclusion.
At times like this, I wish that I was the rational, emotionless student in the IR classroom — and that I did not have to confront the reality of myself waiting at the door.
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We would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which operates, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. Their land was forcibly stolen, and sovereignty was never ceded.
This issue invites readers on a tour of a myriad of environments, ranging from the economic and ecological, to the psychological and fictional. Our environments, physical and otherwise, are shaped by our society and our place in it. Indigenous Australians have been forcibly dispossessed from their physical environment, and excluded from white Australia’s social environment. As we engage with representations of our environment, we should remember those who are deprived of their ancestral environments.
The name Woroni, which means “mouthpiece”, was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission. Consultation with First Nations people suggested that Woroni continue to use the word, provided we acknowledge the theft, and continue to strive for better reconciliation in future. Woroni aims to provide a platform for First Nations students to hold the University, its community, and ourselves accountable.
This land always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.