Tasmania through the lens of ‘ecocriticism’

Tasmania -Writing the Island 2018 brought ecocritical literature into focus.

Year 10 students adopted the spirit of American Professor Timothy Morton’s critique of a set of ideas collectively known as “ecocriticism” throughout their 2018 IGS SAGE experience in Tasmania.

In his book Ecology Without Nature (2009), Morton argues for a clearer sense of environmental justice which leads to new, and perhaps radical, possibilities in environmental art and criticism. This type of ecological culture can free itself, he claims, from other current versions which embody differences in race, class, and gender.

In Ecology Without Nature, Morton specifically proposes an environmental justice ecocriticism, which “considers how environmental destruction, pollution, and the oppression of specific classes and races go hand in hand” (page 10), with an associated politics geared towards “conquering aggression and violence” (page 177). Morton deconstructs relationships between and among texts, along with the ways they reflect the world and itself; Science with its technological drivers, importantly those that produce capital; and the ideologies and aesthetics that representation and materialism can produce.

This begins a search for a theory of ambient poetics, which he defines as “a materialist way of reading texts with a view to how they encode the literal space of their inscription … the spaces between the words, the margins of a page, the physical and social environment of the reader” (page 3).

We decided to present these ideas to students on our third expedition to Tasmania in 2018 and encourage them to experiment with them. We wanted to challenge them on questions about what ecologies are, and to provide them with opportunities to reflect and comment on their assumptions about nature. This was the purpose of the 2018 writing journals, in which students were asked to make their own inscriptions, their own records, of their thoughts about the nature and culture of Tasmania before, during, and after the expedition.

The project commenced at the end of 2017 with students choosing from a suite of IGS Tasmanian experiences, each of which was designed to bring students into contact with the island’s physical environment and the culture of the people on it, in different ways. The work students produced reflects their sense of the air, earth and water in Tasmania and how this influences the internal spaces of their own relationships, with themselves, with one another, and with the world. As such, it exemplifies Morton’s ambient poetics in its own special ways. In every case, students demonstrate an understanding that they are responsible to, and for, the environment. Their work shows a “care-full” understanding of the environment, and resistance to the beliefs that humans arbitrate the web of life from a privileged and pre-destined position at the centre and top.

Students’ meditations on place, and the meanings of place, as they experienced Tasmania are collected and presented here. We congratulate every single student on their efforts and in meeting the challenges of their own experience!

In 2018, 51 students elected to experience Tasmania in the open air on treks about the island. This involved spending some or all of the time in tents or eco-cabins. A further 43 students elected to experience Tasmania through the culture of art, film-making and writing. In planning, emphasis was given to small-group, specialised experiences which encourage strong bonds to form among students, based upon their thoughts and practices associated with ecocriticism. 

The Tasmanian outdoor groups trekked in the following locations wonderfully led by IGS staff:

  • The Overland Track, with Caitlin Cockburn
  • Freycinet National Park, with Brian Downton and Dan Collins
  • East Coast Ramble (on Maria Island), with Helene Schmidt
  • Three Capes Track, with Lyndon Kleeman and Jessica Saggers.

The Tasmanian culture groups visited locations and were inspired by IGS staff:

  • West Coast Adventure: Cradle Mountain, Strahan and Hobart, with David Hamper and Veronica Whitaker
  • Bruny Island Art: Bruny Island and Hobart, with Annie Phillips
  • Victorian Ghost Story Film: Hobart, New Norfolk and Port Arthur, with Craig Malyon, Hannah Fenton, Tim Lester and Danielle Wong.

Both sets of teachers and students were supported by Paul Galea and Derek Patulny.

Enormous thanks and appreciation are extended to Brittney Wedd and Amanda Carter, without whom “Writing the Island 2018″ would not have been possible.

Finally, we wish to thank Principal Shauna Colnan whose vision has enabled “Writing the Island”, and the entire SAGE project, to develop into an extraordinary series of rewarding experience for students and staff alike.

We hope you enjoy the outstanding work of Year 10 IGS students in Tasmania in 2018!

IGS Head of Literary Projects Derek Patulny and Head of Sport and Outdoor Education Brian Downton

Reference: Morton, T., (2009), Ecology Without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics, Harvard University Press, Mass.