Exploring culturally diverse perspectives on Australian environments & environmentalism

What does this project do? 

This project explores diverse ways of understanding and engaging with Australian environments. It is based on an understanding that Indigenous Australians, Anglo-European Australians, and recent migrants from across the globe, all have unique and valuable environmental understandings and capacities. We are interested in better understanding how these diverse sets of knowledge, and unique skills, shape people’s interactions with urban, peri-urban, rural and regional Australian environments. This includes asking the following questions:

  • How do diverse cultural groups understand and value nature? With respect to migrants, we are exploring how values, experiences and practices from countries of origin are brought to bear in the context of Australian landscapes.
  • How does cultural diversity shape agricultural practices? Food production is central to sustainable futures. Our focus is on farms in the ethnically diverse Sunraysia horticultural region (straddling the Murray River in south-western NSW and north-western Victoria); and also on community, market and backyard gardens in peri-urban and urban settings around Wollongong and Sydney. We are interested in learning more about how diverse cultural groups and perspectives mingle to shape practices around food production.
  • How do diverse cultural groups understand and respond to debates over environmental sustainability and climate change? We are exploring how environmental concerns and understandings of climate change shape the ways diverse groups live their daily lives – in their households, and in their interactions with local environments. 


Australia is a country of immense ethnic diversity. A varied Anglo-European population exists alongside a diverse Indigenous population and significant numbers of migrants from non-western countries: China, India, Vietnam, the Philippines and countries of the Middle East and the Pacific, to name a few. At the 2016 Census, just over a quarter (28%) of Australia's population was born overseas; and 49% of people were either born overseas themselves or had one or both parents born overseas. Effective environmental management needs to take account of this diversity.

The broad aim of our research is to leverage ethnic diversity to help address complex environmental challenges. In Australia, dominant ways of relating to nature, the environment and agriculture are shaped by Anglo-European Australian environmental ‘norms’ such as recycling, joining environmental groups, green consumption, participation in nature-based outdoor recreation and the adoption of European/Western farming models. Alternative ways of relating to nature, the environment and practising agriculture are lesser known. As a result, our environmental thinking is being limited at a time when it urgently needs to be more open, innovative and adaptive.

This project has worked with participants from a range of cultural and ethnic backgrounds to draw attention to alternative views. Through doing so, we have begun to highlight opportunities to learn from diverse sets of environmental knowledge and skills in confronting pressing environmental problems. 

How are we doing it?AUSCCER Olivia Dun Cultural Diverse project map photo

This project has engaged research participants in three different locations of south-eastern Australia: the Georges River catchment within Sydney, NSW; the Illawarra region of NSW and the Sunraysia region in south-western NSW and north-western Victoria. In these three regions, a combination of household surveys, interviews, oral history and archival research have been used to elicit research participants’ views on sustainability and climate change as well as to gain an understanding of their environmental and agricultural knowledges and practices. This research is ongoing. So far, we have incorporated perspectives from participants who come from the following countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Burundi, Cambodia, China, Cyprus, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Greece, Iran, Italy, Jordan, Kiribati, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Tonga, and Vietnam.

How can you help?

If you are interested in this project, please get in touch with the research team. The first points of contact for the project are Olivia Dun ( or 0475 200 889) and Dr Natascha Klocker (

Who is funding the research?

This project has been funded by an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Project grant. Funding is for the period 2014 to 2017 inclusive.

Our team

Our research team is comprised of researchers at the University of Wollongong, University of Melbourne and University of Technology, Sydney.

Team members at the University of Wollongong are based in the Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research (AUSCCER):
Professor Gordon Waitt
Dr Natascha Klocker

Team members at the University of Melbourne are based in the School of Geography:
Prof Lesley Head
Dr Olivia Dun
Dr Ikerne Aguirre Bielschowsky

Team members at the University of Technology, Sydney, are based in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences:
Professor Heather Goodall

A number of PhD and Honours students at the University of Wollongong are also working (or have worked) on topics related to this project:
Stephanie Toole – PhD Thesis Title: ‘Adapting to climate change: rethinking vulnerabilities and capacities at the household scale’ (anticipated 2017)
Ananth Gopal – PhD Thesis Title: ‘Growing cultures: cultivating culturally diverse ecological knowledge’ (anticipated 2018)
Rebecca Campbell – PhD Thesis Title: ‘The Gendered Dynamics of Household Sustainability’ (anticipated 2019)
Samira Nowroozipour – Masters Thesis Title: ‘Iranian Households and Domestic Water’ (anticipated 2017)
Sophie-May Kerr Honours Thesis Title: ‘Exploring Everyday Cultures of Transport in Chinese Migrant Households in Sydney’ (2014)
Louisa Welland – Honours Thesis Title: ‘Cultures of Water. Exploring the role of water as a home-making practice in Burmese migrant households in metropolitan New South Wales’ (2015)
Tess Spaven – Honours Thesis Title: ‘‘Exploring Migrants’ Contributions to Agriculture: The Story of Italians farming families in Mildura/Robinvalethe Sunraysia Region’ (2016)


Book Chapters:
Journal Articles:


  • A Garden to Call Home:

For years, the block in Mildura sat unused. A mess of weeds and unruly plants was slowly consuming the land. It needed a bit of kindness and a few people who had the time to get their hands dirty.

That’s where a team of researchers came in. Working alongside a community of former refugees and a range of local organisations, they began the search for a solution that would help migrants gain access to unused farmland.

Read more about this through the UOW The Stand article.

  • Regional Victoria feels like Africa thanks to public garden helping refugees settle in Australia

It has only taken one acre of land to make regional Victoria feel like Africa. A tall crop of traditional African maize is being hand-harvested by a group of former refugees and volunteers who may have stumbled on a new way to ease new migrants in to Australian communities.
Read more of this ABC interview.

  • From Burundi to Australia: Transplanting Farming Know-how

Far from their native home in eastern Africa, a group of former refugees have brought their traditional farming methods to their new home in Victoria’s north.
Armed with shovels and hoes and some seeds, Mildura’s Twitezimbere Burundian community have planted a crop of maize – a traditional staple food in their home country – which is not only connecting them to the greater Mildura community, but is also connecting researchers with new agricultural methods.

Read more about this

  • Migrants to the rescue of Australian small towns

On a small patch of land in the farming region of Sunraysia, in south-east Australia - an area known for its grapes and oranges - stands an unfamiliar crop being grown by a somewhat unlikely group of farmers.

Read more about this

  • Bioculturally diverse farmers

What would happen if landless farmers were given more opportunities to develop ecologically sound social enterprises and feed neighbourhoods?
Su Meh laces up her work boots and leads me past the shipping container, down the wood chip mulch path to a lookout over Green Connect urban farm. We pause and take in the scene. We’ve been talking about growing food and why her community is particularly skilled at farming:

Read more about this story.

Sunraysia Burundian Garden
Sunraysia Daily - Farmers come out of hiding
Sunraysia Daily - Burundian garden opening: Food project a-maize-ing
Sunraysia Daily - Growing Together
Sunraysia Daily - Region harvesting new batch of fans
Sunraysia Daily - Sunraysia Burundian Garden Facebook page

Blog posts:

 AUSCCER Olivia Dun Cultural Diverse project photos

Last reviewed: 3 July, 2018