Category Archives: Geography

Southern Latitudes

Another forthcoming conference, to be held at the State Library of New South Wales, Southern Latitudes, is presented by the Australia & New Zealand Map Society (ANZMapS) and is to be held from24–27 May 2011. The conference will cover a wide range of topics from presenters including several Petherick readers. Speakers include:

  • Frederick Muller, ‘The first map documenting Magellan’s sighting of the Southland and sailing of the Pacific: Fries’ Tabula moderna alterius hemispherius, 1525’
  • Dr Michael Pearson, ‘Charting the sealing islands of the Southern Ocean’
  • Allen Mawer, ‘Incognita: The Incredible Shrinking Continent’
  • Sydney map collector Robert Clancy, ‘Shaping Australia: 1850-1950’
  • Rupert   Gerritsen, ‘The Freycinet map of 1811 – The first complete map of Australia?’
  • John Robson, ‘University of Waikato, ‘John Lort Stokes’
  • Mark Alcock, Project Leader, ‘Law of the Sea and Maritime Boundary Advice Project’
  • Bronwen Douglas, Senior Fellow at the ANU, ‘Geography, Raciology, and the Naming of Oceania, 1750–1850’
  • Christine Kenyon and Katrina Sandiford, ‘Charles Sturt, 1838, Overlander and Explorer: Tracing his journey by map and diary’
  • Bernie Joyce, ‘The 150th Anniversary of the Burke & Wills Expedition’

Details of the program, and registration etc are at

Suvendrini Perera: An Insular State

An Insular State

Thu 02-09-10, 7:30pm

At least since Thomas More’s Utopus founded his ideal state by carving it free, by the use of forced labour, from the continent to which it was bound, the topos of the island, organised by an ontologised division between land and sea, has been central to the geopolitical imagination of western modernity. In his 1998 Boyer lecture David Malouf described island-Australia as the product of an entirely new and uniquely European act of envisioning: When Europeans first came to these shores one of the things they brought with them, as a kind of gift to the land, was something that could have never existed before; a vision of the continent in its true form as an island … And this seems to have happened even before circumnavigation established that it actually was an island … Aboriginal Australians, however ancient and deep their understanding of the land, can never have seen the place in just this way … If Aborigines are a land-dreaming people, what we latecomers share is a sea-dreaming, to which the image of Australia as an island has from the beginning been central (my emphasis). For Malouf island-Australia is the fulfilment of a European (more specifically, English) desire that completes a teleology of colonial desiring: a gift. Reciprocally, insularity is the distinctive gift the colonisers bring to the land: an opening of previously unimaginable ways of seeing and being. This paper explores what is at stake in insularity as a gift of form, at once a topographic and imaginative figure and a political programme, for Australia, the island-continent.

Suvendrini Perera is Associate Professor of Cultural Studies at Curtin University. She completed her PhD at Columbia University, New York, and her B.A at the University of Sri Lanka. Her most recent book is Australia and the Insular Imagination (New York: Palgrave, 2009). A co-edited volume, Enter at Own Risk? Australia’s Population Questions for the 21st Century is forthcoming in 2010.

Institute of Postcolonial Studies
78-80 Curzon Street
North Melbourne
Victoria 3051 Australia (map)
Tel: 03 9329 6381
Admission – $5 for waged, $3 for unwaged, and free for members.

Paul Carter on Dry Thinking

On a crisp autumn night, Paul Carter presented a paper on ‘dry thinking’ as a contribution to the Southern Perspectives series. There was a complex North-South dynamic at play in Carter’s talk. Although published in German, Carter’s paper had never before been presented in English before. And although invoking the broad trajectory of Western philosophy, it offered a view from a country in a radically different zone – Australia.

Carter’s talk provided an opportunity to respond to the challenge laid down by Raewyn Connell regarding the geopolitics on knowledge. What kind conceptual thinking might embrace the experience of living in country like Australia? It is hard to think of anyone in Australia who is better fit for this challenge than Paul Carter.



Carter has been able to combine a career both as a writer and ‘place maker’. His 1987 seminal contribution to Australian historiography Road to Botany Bay will be republished this year. Since that book, he has produced a series of publications that uncover a broader poetic context for inhabited space. His most recent Dark Writing, published by the Institute of Postcolonial Studies last year, develops the link between his thinking and the challenge of designing public space. University of Western Australia is about to publish his next book, Groundtruthing.

In this talk, Carter considered the use of water as a metaphor by thinkers in the European tradition. This offered a critique of the way water has been consistently problematised as a symbol of doubt and confusion, by contrast with the ‘dry thinking’ that subscribes to fixed distinctions. But Carter’s talk went beyond this in critiquing metaphorical thinking per se as a form of abstraction that denies relation to place. So Carter speculated on which river it was that Heraclitus thought we could not step into twice. He contrasted the gridded landscape around Descartes with the variegated nature within which Vico wrote. In painting these scenes, Carter seemed to take an almost cinematic approach to thinking, considering its ‘scene’ in the specific time and place of its emergence.

There was some discussion about the relationship between Carter’s grounding methodology and the determinist theories of geography by writers such as Montesquieu and the German Romantics. For Carter it seems more a matter of poetic interpretation as thinkers reflected on the world around them:

Look out through the porticos of the Stoa and, in Australia at least, the bush is burning. It makes little sense to praise the potentiality of democratic communities lying in wait when drought drives the pioneers of the plough from the land, or when deforestation removes their shelter. The philosophical Ilyssus, whose flowing has always hitherto licensed philosophers to dream of composing music – visions akin to poetry’s – has, at least in the south, dried up. 

There seemed room there for the kind of move characteristic of the existentialism of Sartre. Here the individual is seen to seize responsibility to create a project that responds to their immediate political situation.

One obvious challenge arising from Carter’s thought is to consider how his methodology might be applied to other locations outside the familiar scenes of Western thought. What ideas like under the shadow of the Andes or on an atoll? How might this be extended beyond landscape to engage with the layers of political history that inform a sense of place?


Paul Carter ‘Dry Thinking and Human Futures’





An opportunity to hear one of Australia’s leading thinkers reflect on the philosophical challenges of living in a recalcitrant environment:

Australia’s natural water body is, as it were, too humid to be relied upon. It spreads out and refuses to solidise. It collects in billabongs and necklaces of ponds that do not communicate with one another, and cannot be accumulated.

Alongside the desiccation of parts of the planet, thinking also grows drier. Instrumental reasoning not only fails to imagine the reciprocities that inform living human and non-human regions – and their exchange – but actively inhibits a capacity to narrate these. In effect, the disparagement of concrete thinking mediated through metaphors of all kinds is a leaching of language that directly impoverishes the physical and the psychic domain.
Paul Carter is Professor of Creative Place Research at Deakin University. His book Dark Writing: geography, performance, design was published in the Institute’s Writing Past Colonialism series in 2009. His new book is entitled Ground Truthing: Explorations in a Creative Region.

Event details :

Paul Carter ‘Dry Thinking and Human Futures’
Thursday 29 April 2010, 7:30-9:00pm
Institute of Postcolonial Studies
78-80 Curzon Street
North Melbourne (map)
Tel: 03 9329 6381
Admission – $5 for waged, $3 for unwaged, and free for members

Dark Writing: Geography, Performance, Design by Paul Carter




Paul Carter’s new book is a protest against the dumbing down of imaginative thinking. It champions a common reader who resists being patronised, and who is hungry for a deeper understanding of the places we live in – how they came into being, and how, if their creative origins are remembered, they can be changed for the better.

Carter has a long-term interest in the poetic mechanisms of colonialism – mapping, naming, marking – and in this book he presents a critical philosophy of placemaking that recognises the historical burden of our ‘designs’ on the world. He transforms this into a new language of drawing, writing, and choreographing places into being. This, unlike its colonial predecessors, preserves the possibility of meeting, of something un-prescribed happening.

The key to this is what he calls ‘dark writing’: the elemental marks, historical traces, place associations, and other phenomena that shadow our positivist history of placemaking. But to take agency over our places, we must also relocate our thinking, as this will determine where and how we arrive. The place of Carter’s own thinking – situated, poetic, dynamic, opportunistic, and evolving in the laboratory of professional collaboration – complements his notion of ‘material thinking’. This approach respects the intelligence of circumstances and performs in relation to them.

Disregarding the disciplinary stand-offs that endure in our institutions, Dark Writing moves with ease between historical geography, continental phenomenology, major public artworks he has co-designed, a radical reappraisal of the Western Desert Painting Movement, and a survey of ‘dark writing’ in tomb art, photography and handwriting. But Carter’s goal is clear: to free our senses to occupy public space differently, not as passive spectators but as mobile bodies creatively endowing our environment with meaning.

Paul Carter’s many books include the acclaimed The Road to Botany Bay, The Lie of the Land and Repressed Spaces. He is Creative Director of Material Thinking, a placemaking research and design studio, and is currently designing a public space project in Darwin.