Australia’s mass fish kills as a crisis of modern water: understanding hydrosocial change in the Murray-Darling Basin
Research Lounge (552), Level 5
Wide Brown Land: Australian Studies Seminar Series 2019
In the summer of 2018-2019 a series of fish kills on the lower Darling River near the town of Menindee caught the attention of Australians, and then the world. We were members of an interdisciplinary Academy of Science panel that reported on the causes of this disaster. This paper is our attempt to make sense of the issue between the dominant framings of drought, scientific management, and climate change.
We use archival analysis to examine the emergence and transformation of modern water in the Murray-Darling Basin, identifying four historical phases. The central dynamic that links the phases, and entrenches and materialises modern water, is ‘conceptual abstraction’ – from unimpeded navigation flows to entitlement flows based on complicated formulae and the morality of catchment productivity, to exchange flows that make water fungible and ready for marketing and offsetting. The discursive shift towards conceptualising water as fungible occurred at least three decades before ‘market environmentalism’ took hold in Australia. We show how this conceptual abstraction had material outcomes for the human and more-than-human communities of the lower Darling over a long period of time, rendering them increasingly vulnerable.
Sue Jackson is lead author on the paper this seminar draws on, but Lesley Head will present the seminar.
Hosted by the Australian Centre
This interdisciplinary series considers the impact of climate change on aspects of Australian life and society and presents research on issues and practices that are important to contemporary Australia, and to Australia’s relations to the region and the world.
All welcome, light lunch provided.
Professor Lesley Head, Head
Professor Lesley Head
School of Geography, the University of Melbourne
**Professor Lesley Head** is Head of the School of Geography at the University of Melbourne. She previously held an ARC Australian Laureate Fellowship at the University of Wollongong on the cultural dimensions of sustainability and climate change issues. Her most recent book is *Hope and Grief in the Anthropocene* (Routledge, 2016). Lesley was a member of the Academy of Science panel that reported on the causes of the Menindee fishkills in early 2019.
Professor Sue Jackson, Australian Rivers Institute
Professor Sue Jackson
Australian Rivers Institute
**Professor Sue Jackson** is a geographer in the Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University. She previously held an ARC Future Fellowship and is an expert on customary Indigenous resource rights and management. Her most recent book is *Planning in Indigenous Australia* (Routledge, 2018). Sue was a member of the Academy of Science panel that reported on the causes of the Menindee fishkills in early 2019.