After 12 months, The Iconic Landscapes project is drawing to a close. The study’s final exhibition, set up at the University’s Sci-Tech library, will be running until 3 December.
In August 2009, a team of Arts and Science scholars from the University of Sydney commenced a year-long study of how scientific researchers can make better connections with the people who live in the environments that the scientists investigate. The project was called ‘Iconic Landscapes’, because of the special regions that were examined: 1) Sydney Harbour, 2) the Simpson Desert in the arid dry-zone and, 3) the rangelands in Western NSW. The ‘Iconic landscapes’ team examined how fresh knowledge can be made available to the local people and how local knowledge can be accessed while research is under way. The team started with a hunch that more ‘down-to-earth’ explanations about the objectives of the scientists could be combined with better understanding of the values of the people living in the study regions. Perhaps this dual approach could produce richer knowledge and experiences for everyone involved?
The project needed to test this hunch or hypothesis. So the team looked at how scientists were investigating and communicating their knowledge of:
1) wildfire and predators in the Simpson Desert
2) engineered habitats for seawalls in North Sydney
3) the grazing behaviour of sheep and kangaroos in the rangelands.
Most importantly, the team paid close attention to how and why the community members engaged (or did not engage) with the scientists.The team staged special events in each location, bringing the communities and scientists together to explore not only scientific research but also the emotions and desires of various people involved with the particular regions. These exchanges were important, as they helped scientists reconsider how to make inquiries and deliver results that meet the challenges and the deep feelings that are most important to the communities.Unlike conventional ecological studies, ‘Iconic Landscapes’ sought to combine scientific and cultural observations by supplementing empirical data collection with humanities methods of analysing why people do what they do and how communities form bonds and act together. Using cross-disciplinary techniques, the study sought a better understanding of the relationship between biological events, ecological and social value and human practices of place-making. In addition to scientific data-gathering, ‘Iconic Landscapes’ also pursued ‘softer’ or more qualitative investigations involving storytelling, memory-gathering and playful word-associations in response to questions about the emotions attached to particular places. At the end of the project, when we gather up all the different ‘data-sets’ generated by ‘Iconic Landscapes’, we can see a little more clearly how particular communities experience nature, how they perceive their immediate surroundings, and what they want and need from the people who come into their territories.