All places are poetic; that is, their manifestation is deeply entwined with narratives – the stories we tell about ourselves, and others, both human and non-human. Contemporary place-making in the west privileges particular narratives and sublimates others, and this tussle for poetic claim is an ongoing focus of my research which spans a focus on both urban places and regional contexts.
One of my current projects (with Brigid Magner, RMIT University) concerns the Mallee region of Victoria – a post-industrial agricultural region shaped by what Tony Hughes D’aeth terms ‘the ideology of wheat’ (2017, p.22) and still narrated through stories that selectively give an account of the human and environmental history of this place: stories of agricultural endeavor, human adversity and triumph, and colonial settlement. These stories belie the reality of an historically environmentally exploited and vulnerable region and a community under stress: the Mallee is a shadow place produced by Australia’s entry into global modernity. The focus of this project is literary history, and how the dominant literary history of this region rehearses these exclusive place stories. Through participatory methodologies that invite local communities to co-produce literary knowledge of the Mallee, an alternative literary history is emerging, which in turn offers different and more diverse stories that have always belonged to this place.
I read Plumwood’s work as a call to arms. She is explicitly political and critical of capital in a way that we don’t often find in polished or euphemistic scholarly prose. She calls out the devastations and our complicities and demands that we respond. I found myself inspired by the relational thinking that informs Plumwood’s writing. Shadow places are partly produced by the fantasy of isolation and disconnection in the ideal of so much contemporary consumption (the idea that the way we live and consume has no long term, cumulative impact), but the idea of shadow places refutes this powerfully. They intimately connect to other places and lives elsewhere. Shadow places foreground the inextricable relations of contemporary economies and ecologies. This is not to collapse difference, but to refuse disconnection and what Deborah Rose refers to as ‘immunity’. Implicated in this way, she writes, ‘we are all tangled up in dynamic edges, patches, and zones of colliding uncertainty’ (2013, p. 207).