The Ideal Australian: The role of the gum tree in an Australian collective cultural identity
Gum trees, or eucalypts, encompass all species belonging to the genera Eucalyptus, Corymbia, Angophora, Stockwellia, Allosyncarpia, Eucalyptopsis and Arillastrum. They are the most abundant group of trees in Australia and have adapted to almost every Australian natural and urban landscape and climate. They have also found a significant place in the cultural landscape, featuring heavily in Australian art, books, stories, songs, poems, movies and television. Attempting to understand this collective cultural significance could provide insight into relationships between humans and nature, as well as better understand human motivations to protect or defend nature. This thesis explores how and why gum trees are such a strong part of Australian cultural identity, asking this of a particular group of Australians – academics whose discipline involves gum trees and/or Australian nature, within a science or social science field of study. There has been very limited research on the relationship between Australians and gum trees, and focusing on a group that has direct professional linkages to gum trees means potentially extracting deeper and more considered responses that can then be used for Australians outside this group in further research. An ‘audio diary’ methodology was used to extract data from eight participants in this study. This involved sending a series of eight questions out via email over a period of four weeks (two questions per week), asking participants to record their answers on a personal recording device such as a mobile telephone, and to send their recordings back each week. The types of questions asked were open-ended and experiential, encouraging emotive responses and personal stories where appropriate. The recordings were then transcribed and the resulting corpus was analysed using grounded theory and schema analysis. Central and underlining themes were extracted and their interactions were mapped in a visualisation (Figure 3). There were two themes to all of the data collected: toughness and comfort. Toughness represented the general perception of gum trees being independent, adaptable, and distinctive and giving off an impression of individualism. Comfort addressed feelings of belonging, the idea of provision and associations with home. Separate to these two central 3 themes there was also a focus of human impact amongst participants. Impacts were generally negative, and included habitat destruction, introduced species, die-back, climate change and the neglect of indigenous knowledge. This third theme introduced a level of vulnerability to gum trees that contradicted with toughness and comfort and was upsetting to the participants. It was also reflective of the participants’ specific field of study, as many of the impacts discussed were related to research that they had conducted. As such, it is likely that Australians outside of this group would not have the same focus on human impact, and perhaps the potential themes of toughness and comfort could create a sense of ambivalence in terms of the protection of nature.
Advisor: Medvecky, Fabien
Degree Name: Master of Science Communication
Degree Discipline: Centre for Science Communication
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Australia; gumtree; eucalypt; eucalyptus; identity
Research Type: Thesis