Monash University
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Tatungalung Country: An Environmental History of the Gippsland Lakes

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posted on 2019-07-01, 02:33 authored by Coral Dow
This thesis explores the major themes of environmental history: the agency of the human and the non-human world; and the relationship of humans to their environment, in this case one dominated by water. This is a history of the Gippsland Lakes in Victoria, a system of navigable lakes that were once predominantly fresh water. The geographic boundaries of the Gippsland Lakes are roughly equivalent to those of the Tatungalung people within the larger Kumai country of Gippsland. It is therefore also a history of those Indigenous and European people who have occupied, settled and travelled the Lakes, their relationships with each other and with the country.
Using a multi-disciplinary approach to examine the complex attitudes and connections to a watered landscape, this study ranges in time from the ancestral transformations of the landscape to the algal bloom of 1987. It explores the various culturally defined ways of seeing and understanding the landscape, how the Lakes provoked contrasting responses and how environmental sensibilities developed. Local residents, hunters, fishers, settlers, tourists, scientists, Aborigines and conservationists tell the environmental history of this country. Their voices are sometimes in conflict and express tensions of varying intensity but they also speak of their connections to particular places on the Lakes and the fish, birds, plants and water at those sites.
This thesis also considers the role of nature as an active historical agent. It explores how the Lakes responded to changes such as the opening of a permanent entrance to the sea, invasions of salt water, marine animals, nutrients and European carp. It seeks evidence of nature's past and presents examples of local understandings of that past. It shows that people living on the shores and travelling the waters have formed connections to the Lakes, are developing a collective memory and are acknowledging the past.
Tatungalung country has undergone, and continues to experience, extensive environmental change. In the discussion of hunting and species decline, this study shows that historical and ethnographic evidence can contribute to understanding change even when scientific data is limited. However this study is written in the human-centred discipline of history and change forms the backdrop, not the focus, of the study. The historical narrative centres instead on human and natural responses to change and the interaction between nature and culture.


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Department of Humanities and Social Sciences

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Faculty of Arts

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