Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research (AUSCCER)

AUSCCER - Lesley Head - 2014

Lesley Head

POSITION: Honorary Member
TWITTER: @ProfLesleyHead



BA Hons, PhD (Monash)

Previous positions

  • 2014: Head, Department of Geography and Sustainable Communities, University of Wollongong
  • 2010-14: ARC Australian Laureate Fellow, and Director, Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research, University of Wollongong.
  • 2012-14: Visiting Professor, Department of Human and Economic Geography, University of Göteborg, Sweden (2 months each year)
  • 2007-09: Head, School of Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong
  • 2005-06: King Carl XVI Gustaf Visiting Professor in Environmental Science, Kristianstad University, Sweden
  • July 2004: Promoted to Professor, School of Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong 

Research Interests and Expertise

  • Human-environment interactions over space and time
  • Cultures of nature
  • Cultural dimensions of environmental and sustainability issues
  • Responding to climate change and the Anthropocene
  • People and plants

My long-term research fascination is human-environment relations, both conceptual and material. That is, I want to understand how humans have physically changed earth’s systems, how we think about our place in nature, and how these two things are connected. I have a particular focus on humans and plants. In recent years I have worked mostly in cultural geography, with projects on backyard gardens, wheat and invasive plants. This developed from my earlier interest in Aboriginal land use, ethnobotany and fire. I started my research career using palaeoecology and archaeology to study long term changes in the Australian landscape, and the interactions of prehistoric peoples with their environments.

Central to my contributions is the concept – and challenge – of coming to terms with landscapes that have been peopled for many thousands of years. Paradoxically, although it is now widely understood that human influences pervade all Earth surface processes, ideals of pristine past landscapes without people continue to dominate environmental management. Recent empirical contexts of my own research include households, suburbs, cities, farms, national parks and indigenous land. By using Australian evidence in international comparative work I have helped bring to light the cultural specificity of many Anglo-American conceptual frameworks. In AUSCCER we are now applying cultural research methods and approaches to the pressing questions of sustainability and climate change. 

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current research projects

Sustainability and climate change adaptation: unlocking the potential of ethnic diversity (with Natascha Klocker, Gordon Waitt, Heather Goodall - ARC DP)

Cultural environmental research: the missing link in multidisciplinary approaches to sustainability (ARC ALF)
1. Rethinking the human in Australian environmental management (book project in progress, working title: Beyond Grief: Geographies of Hope in the Anthropocene)
2. The social life of invasive plants (with Jennifer Atchison)
3. Cultural ecologies of plant food production (with Catherine Phillips, Jennifer Atchison)
4. Enhancing cultural capacity to manage bushfire risk (with Christine Eriksen)
5. Cross-cultural perspectives on threatened species management (with Heather Moorcroft)
6. An ethnography of Australian weather (with Eliza De Vet)

Making less space for carbon: cultural research for climate change mitigation and adaptation (with Gordon Waitt, Nick Gill, Chris Gibson - ARC DP)

Reducing energy use in affluent households: stepping out of the comfort zone in the Illawarra (with Kate Roggeveen, Gordon Waitt, Lesley Head, Paul Cooper, Corinne Cortese, Natascha Klocker, Alan Pomering, Matthew Pepper, Eliza de Vet, Katrina Skellern - UOW Global Challenges Seed Funding)

Planning for the sea. A discursive approach to ecosystem-based marine spatial planning (with Marie Stenseke and Katarina Saltzman, University of Göteborg and Gunhild Setten, Norwegian University of Science & Technology, Trondheim)

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Recent Publications

For full publication and citation list see UOW Research Online>>

Authored and edited books
  • Gibson, C., Farbotko, C., Gill, N., Head, L. and Waitt, G. 2013 Household Sustainability: Challenges and Dilemmas in Everyday Life, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, UK. ISBN 978 1 78100 620 7 (hb) 978 1 78100 621 4 (eb).
  • Head, L., Atchison, J. and Gates, A. 2012 Ingrained: a human bio-geography of wheat. Ashgate, UK ISBN 978-1-4094-3787-1.
  • Head, L. and Muir, P. 2007 Backyard. Nature and Culture in Suburban Australia. University of Wollongong Press, Halstead Press. 184pp. ISBN 978 1 920831 51 6
  • Head, L. 2000 Cultural Landscapes and Environmental Change. Arnold, London, 179pp. ISBN 0 340 73113N (hb) 0 340 73113 0 340 73114 1 (pb)
  • Head, L. 2000 Second Nature. The history and implications of Australia as Aboriginal landscape. Syracuse University Press, New York. 272pp. ISBN 0 8156 0587 0
Journal papers
  • Head, L. 2014 Contingencies of the Anthropocene: lessons from the ‘Neolithic’. The Anthropocene Review. Online early
  • Eriksen, C. and Head, L. 2014 Geographical Fire Research in Australia – Review and Prospects. Geographical Research 52(1): 1-5
  • Head, L., Adams, M., McGregor, H. and Toole, S. 2014 Australia and Climate Change. WIRES Climate Change 5:175–197. doi: 10.1002/wcc.255
  • Head, L., Farbotko, C., Gibson, C., Gill, N. and Waitt, G. 2013 Zones of friction, zones of traction: the connected household in climate change and sustainability policy. Australasian Journal of Environmental Management 20: 351-362. DOI:10.1080/14486563.2013.835286
  • Atchison, J. and Head, L. 2013 Eradicating bodies in invasive plant management. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. 31: 951-968.
  • Farbotko, C. and Head, L. 2013 Gifts, sustainable consumption and giving up green anxieties at Christmas. Geoforum 50: 88-96
  • Klocker, N. and Head, L. 2013 Diversifying ethnicity in Australia’s population and environment debates. Australian Geographer 44: 41-62
  • Head, L. 2012 Earthly indifference and human difference. Progress in Human Geography 36: 683-685 (doi:10.1177/0309132512451004b)
  • Organo, V., Head, L. and Waitt, G. 2012 Who does the work in sustainable households? A time and gender analysis in New South Wales, Australia. Gender, Place and Culture 20: 559-577. DOI: 10.1080/0966369X.2012.716401
  • Waitt, G., Adams, M., Atchison, J., Head, L., Jones, M. Macquarie, P., Saltzman, K., Setten, G. and Stenseke, M. 2012 The Teleconference and its implications for geographical knowledge sharing. Geography 97 (1): 42-46
  • Head, L. and Gibson, C. 2012 Becoming differently modern: geographic contributions to a generative climate politics. Progress in Human Geography 36(6): 699-714 DOI: 10.1177/0309132512438162
  • Head, L. 2012 Decentring 1788: beyond biotic nativeness. Geographical Research 50: 166-178
  • Waitt, G., Caputi, P., Gibson, C., Farbotko, C., Head, L., Gill, N. and Stanes, E. 2012 Sustainable Household Capability: Which households are doing the work of environmental sustainability? Australian Geographer 43(1): 51-74
  • Head, L., Atchison, J., Gates, A. and Muir, P. 2011 A fine-grained study of the experience of drought, risk and climate change among Australian wheat farming households. Annals, Association of American Geographers 101(5): 1089-1108
  • Saltzman, K., Head, L. and Stenseke, M. 2011 Do Cows Belong in Nature? The cultural basis of agriculture in Sweden and Australia. Journal of Rural Studies 27: 54-62
  • Gibson, C., Head, L., Gill, N. and Waitt, G. 2011 Climate change and household dynamics: beyond consumption, unbounding sustainability. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers 36: 3-8
  • Eriksen, C., Gill, N. and Head, L. 2010 The Gendered Dimensions of Bushfire in ‘New’ Rural Landscapes. Journal of Rural Studies 26: 332-342
  • Trigger, D. and Head, L. 2010 Restored nature, familiar culture: contesting visions for preferred environments in Australian cities. Nature+Culture 5(3): 231-250, Special Symposium Issue on Urban Ecological Restoration
  • Head, L. 2010 Cultural ecology: adaptation – retrofitting a concept? Progress in Human Geography 34: 234-242
  • Atchison, J., Head, L. and Gates A. 2010 Wheat as food, wheat as industrial substance: comparative geographies of transformation and mobility. Geoforum 41: 236-46
  • Gill, N., Waitt, G. and Head, L. 2009 Local engagements with urban bushland: Moving beyond bounded practice for urban biodiversity management. Landscape and Urban Planning 93: 184-193
  • Ghosh, S. and Head, L. 2009 Retrofitting the suburban garden: morphologies and some elements of sustainability potential of two Australian residential suburbs compared. Australian Geographer 40: 319-346
  • Denham, T., Fullagar, R. and Head, L. 2009 Plant exploitation on Sahul: from colonisation to the emergence of regional specialisation during the Holocene. Quaternary International 202: 29-40
  • Waitt, G., Gill, N. and Head, L. 2009 Walking practice and suburban nature-talk. Social and Cultural Geography 10: 41-60
  • Head, L. and Atchison, J. 2009 Cultural ecology: emerging human-plant geographies. Progress in Human Geography 33: 236-245
  • Parker, K., Head, L., Chisholm, L.A., Feneley, N. (2008) A conceptual model of ecological connectivity in the Shellharbour Local Government Area, New South Wales, Australia, Landscape and Urban Planning 86:47-59.
  • Head, L. 2008 Is the concept of human impacts past its use by date? The Holocene 18: 373-7 (No. 19 in top 50 downloads, September 2008)
  • Castree, N. and Head, L. 2008 Editorial: Culture, nature and landscape in the Australian region. Geoforum 39: 1255-1257
  • Head, L. and Muir, P. 2007 Changing cultures of water in eastern Australian backyard gardens. Social and Cultural Geography 8: 889-906
  • Head, L. 2007 Cultural ecology: the problematic human and the terms of engagement. Progress in Human Geography 31: 837-846
  • Thomson, E., Cleirigh, C., Head, L. and Muir, P. 2006 Gardeners’ Talk: a linguistic study of relationships between environmental attitudes, beliefs and practices. Linguistics and the Human Sciences 2(3): 425-460
  • Head, L. and Muir, P. 2006 Suburban life and the boundaries of nature: resilience and rupture in Australian backyard gardens. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers NS 31: 505-524
  • Ward, I., Fullagar, R., Boer-Mah, T.,Head, L. Tacon, P., and Mulvaney, K. 2006 Comparison of sedimentation and occupation histories inside and outside rock shelters, Keep River Region, Northwestern Australia. Geoarchaeology 21: 1-27
  • Head, L. and Muir, P. 2006 Edges of Connection: reconceptualising the human role in urban biogeography. Australian Geographer 37: 87-101
  • Waitt, G., Head, L. and Gill, N. 2006 Introduction: Applied Natures – cultural engagements with Australian environmental management. Australian Geographer 37: 1-3
  • Head, L., Trigger, D. and Mulcock, J. 2005 Culture as concept and influence in environmental research and management. Conservation and Society 3(2): 251-264
  • Ward, I., Nanson, G., Head, L., Fullagar, R., Price, D. and Fink, D. 2005 Late Quaternary landscape evolution in the Keep River region, northwestern Australia. Quaternary Science Reviews 24: 1906-1922
  • Atchison, J., Head, L. and Fullagar R. 2005 Archaeobotany of fruit seed processing in a monsoon savanna environment: evidence from the Keep River region, Northern Territory, Australia. Journal of Archaeological Science 32: 167-181
  • Head, L., Muir, P. and Hampel, E. 2004 Australian backyard gardens and the journey of migration. The Geographical Review 94: 326-347
  • Head, L. and Muir, P. 2004 Nativeness, invasiveness and nation in Australian plants. The Geographical Review 94: 199-217

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Book chapters
  • Head, L. in press Cultures of Nature. The International Encyclopedia of Geography: People, the Earth, Environment, and Technology.
  • Head, L. 2014 Living in a weedy future: insights from the garden. In J. Frawley and I. McCalman (eds.) Rethinking Invasion Ecologies from the Environmental Humanities, London, Earthscan for Routledge, pp. 87-99.
  • Head, L., Farbotko, C., Gibson, C., Gill, N. and Waitt, G. 2013 Cultural research for environmental issues: the example of household sustainability. In ISSC/UNESCO (2013). World Social Science Report 2013: Changing Global Environments. OECD Publishing and UNESO PUblishing, Paris. Chapter 47, pp. 314-318.
  • Atchison, J. and Head, L. 2013 Exploring human-plant entanglements: the case of Australian Dioscorea yams. In J. Webb, D. Frankel and S. Lawrence (eds) Intersections: Environment, Society, Technology and Climate. London: Routledge
  • Head, L. 2012 Have we changed the way we answer questions? Response. In I. Donaldson and M. Finnane (eds) Taking Stock. The Humanities in Australian Life Since 1968. Perth: University of Western Australia Press, pp. 259-263
  • Head, L. 2012 Conceptualising the human in cultural landscapes and resilience thinking. In T. Plieninger and C. Bieling (eds) Resilience and the Cultural Landscape: Understanding and Managing Change in Human-shaped Environments. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pp. 65-79
  • Head, L. and Regnéll, J. 2012 Nature, culture and time: contested landscapes among environmental managers in Skåne, southern Sweden. In S. Haberle and B. David (eds) Peopled Landscapes. Archaeological and Biogeographic Approaches to Landscapes. Terra Australis 34 pp. 221-237
  • Gibson, C., Waitt, G., Head, L. and Gill, N.2011 Is it easy being green? On the dilemmas of material cultures of household sustainability. In R. Lane and A. Gorman-Murray (eds) Material Geographies of Household Sustainability. Aldershot: Ashgate, pp. 19-34
  • Head, L. 2010 Cultural Landscapes. In D. Hicks and M. Beaudry (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Material Culture Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Pp. 427-439
  • Head, L., Fullagar, R., Denham, T. and Allen, H. 2009. Australasia. In C. Gosden, B. Cunliffe and R. Joyce (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Archaeology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Chapter 28, pp. 866-897
  • Castree, N. and Head, L. 2008 Culture, nature and landscape in the Australian region. In Castree, N. and Head, L. (eds) Culture, Nature and Landscape in the Australian Region Geoforum 39(3) 1255-1257
  • Head, L. 2008 Nature, networks and desire - changing cultures of water in Australia. In P. Troy (ed.) Troubled Waters. Confronting the Water Crisis in Australia’s Cities. ANU E-Press. Pp. 67-80
  • Head, L. 2008 Geographical scale in understanding human landscapes. In B. David and J. Thomas (eds) Handbook of Landscape Archaeology. Left Coast Press. pp. 379-385
  • Head, L. 2007 Evolving Nature-Culture relationships. In I. Douglas, R. Huggett and C. Perkins (eds) Companion Encyclopaedia of Geography: From Local to Global. Routledge. Pp. 835-846
  • Head, L. and Muir, P. 2006 Women, men and water in Australian backyards. In K. Lahiri-Dutt (ed.) Fluid Bonds: Views on Gender and Water. Stree, Calcutta in association with National Institute for Environment, The Australian National University pp. 185-201
  • Head, L. 2004 Landscape and Culture. In J. Matthews and D. Herbert (eds) Unifying Geography. Common Heritage, Shared Future. Routledge, London. Pp. 240-258
Other academic publications
  • Eriksen, C. and Head, L. (eds) 2014 Living with Fire. Geographical Research 52(1)
  • Castree, N. and Head, L. (eds) 2008 Culture, Nature and Landscape in the Australian Region. Geoforum 39(3)
  • Waitt, G., Head, L. and Gill, N. (eds) 2006 Applied Natures – cultural engagements with Australian environmental management. Australian Geographer 37 No. 1
  • Head, L. 2013 Coping with abundance rather than scarcity. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. Invited contribution to online review discussion ‘400ppm: Exit Holocene, Enter Anthropocene’ (
  • Head, L., Trigger, D. and Woodward, E. 2004 Nature, culture and the challenges of environmental sustainability: bridging the science/humanities divide. Report to the ARC Special Research Initiatives Seed Funding program. 86pp.
  • Head, L., Atchison, J. and Gill, N. 2013 Living with, living without weeds: bridging theory and practice. AUSCCER Discussion Paper 2013/01 (available
  • Head, L. 2012 Have we changed our cultures of urban water? AUSCCER Discussion Paper 2012/01 (available
Non-academic publications.
  • Head, L. 2013 The conversation we need to have about carbon., 22.7.13
  • Head, L. 2012 Australia’s rich talk about saving the environment; the poor bear the burden of doing it., 26.6.12
  • Head, L. 2012 Have we changed our cultures of urban water? Dialogue 31: 33- 38
  • Head, L. 2011 More than human, more than nature. Griffith Review 31: 74-82
  • Head, L. 2010 Review of Weir, J. 2009 Murray River Country: An ecological dialogue with Traditional Owners. Australian Aboriginal Studies 2010/1: 124-6
  • Head, L. 2010 Is your gender making you green? Sustainability Magazine pp. 127-8
  • Head, L. 2009 Catalogue Essay – The Rewilding of Summerland. In Head, K. Summerland. The Phillip Island Photos of Keith Head. Balwyn: Indiginata Software. ISBN: 978-0-646-52179-4, Pp. 7-18
  • Head, L. 2005 Working with the winds of change. Sydney Morning Herald. Opinion piece, Nov. 9

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Research grants

2014 - 2016: Sustainability and climate change adaptation: unlocking the potential of ethnic diversity (ARC Discovery)
Head, Klocker, Waitt, Goodall

2010 - 2014: Cultural Environmental Research: the missing link in multidisciplinary approaches to sustainability (ARC Australian Laureate Fellowship)
Head, Sole CI

2009 - 2012: Making less space for carbon: cultural research for climate change mitigation and adaptation (ARC Discovery)
Waitt, Gibson, Gill, Head

2006 - 2009: Beyond dualisms in the conceptualisation and management of Australian landscapes and species (ARC Discovery)
Head, Sole CI

2004: Nature, culture and the challenges of environmental sustainability: bridging the science/humanities divide (ARC Research Networks Seed Funding)
Co-ordinator of 29 other applicants

2002 - 2004: Foregrounding the suburban backyard: using hybrid spaces develop new environmental theory for more effective management of human landscapes (ARC Discovery)
Head, Cole CI

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Research student supervision

Current students and topics
  • Eliza de Vet: The role of weather in everyday life in Australia
  • Heather Moorcroft: Engagements between Indigenous Australians and environmental NGOs
  • Ellen van Holstein: The changing image of the organic in the city
  • Annie Bickford: Shell Stringing by Tasmanian Aboriginal Women: An investigation from Ancient to Modern; 1,800 years ago to 1974
  • Diego Korosi: Social and Environmental Impacts of Ecotourism: A comparative analysis of impact assessment procedures between Australia and Mexico
  • Stephanie Toole: Cultural diversity and climate change adaptation in Australian households (co-supervisor)
  • Chantel Carr: The Make Economy: Contested Geographies of Design and Production (co-supervisor)
  • Justin Westgate: Responding to crisis: creative practices in volatile spaces. (co-supervisor)
  • Alison Scobie: Understanding printing behaviours and paper consumption of staff at UOW
  • Paul Marshall: Examining the contribution of ‘community nurseries’ to biodiversity conservation in rural, peri-urban and urban areas.
Past students
  • Mohammed Alam 2012 Invasive plant management in complex social landscapes: a case study in coastal New South Wales, Australia (MEnvSc)(co-supervisor)
  • Athier Hussin 2011 Adaptation to climate change in desert contexts: comparing two Australian Local Government Areas (MSc)
  • Christine Eriksen 2010 Playing with fire?: bushfire and everyday life in changing rural landscapes (PhD)(co-supervisor)
  • Kate Roggeveen 2010 Tomato journeys from farm to fruit shop: greenhouse gas emissions and cultural analysis (MSc)
  • Amanda Baldwin 2010 The White-bellied Sea Eagle in the Jervis Bay region: an exploration of the cultural, ecological and conservation significance (MSc)(co-supervisor)
  • George Susino 2004 Analysis of lithic artifact microdebitage for chronological determination of archaeological sites (PhD)
  • Ruth Lane 2003 Place-making in the East Kimberley: a study of land interests and symbolic capital in North West Australia (PhD)
  • Ingrid Ward 2003 Lost in the Sands of Time. Geoarchaeology of the Keep River Region, Northern Territory, Australia.

Research presentations

  • 2012 Past presidential keynote address, Institute of Australian Geographers Conference, Macquarie University, 4 July.
  • 2012 Invited presenter, Faith in the Future Symposium, Royal Palace Stockholm. Symposium to mark the fortieth anniversary of the Rio Declaration.
  • 2010 (Re)Conceptualising the human in cultural landscapes and social-ecological systems. Keynote presentation, Social-ecological resilience of cultural landscapes workshop, Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Arts and Sciences, Berlin, 15-16 June, 2010
  • 2010 Presidential address, New Zealand Geographical Society/Institute of Australian Geographers conference, Christchurch, July 5-8
  • 2010 Invited plenary discussant. Behaviour Change for Sustainability National Congress, Sydney, October 11-12
  • 2008 Griffith Taylor Lecturer, Geographical Society of NSW
  • 2004 Golson Lecturer, Australian National University

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Professional service and memberships 

  • Current Editorial board Geographical Research, Environmental Humanities, Cultural Studies Review, Geo: Geography and Environment.
  • 2014 Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) Program Steering Committee, Securing Australia’s Future program.
  • 2014 - present Member International Advisory Board, Research project on ‘MaRIUS: Managing the Risks, Impacts and Uncertainties of droughts and water Scarcity’ (UK).
  • 2013 - present Member Advisory Board, Research project on ‘Sustainable futures for Europe’s HERitage in CULtural landscapES: Tools for understanding, managing, and protecting landscape functions and values’, via Tobias Plieninger, University of Copenhagen.
  • 2013 Review committee Department of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management, University of Queensland
  • 2012 Member Australian Research Council Excellence in Research Australia Committee, Education and Human Society cluster
  • 2011 - present Member Advisory Board, Sustainability Research Centre, University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia.
  • 2010 - present Member of selection committee, Harvard Chair of Australian Studies
  • 2010 Reference group member for TEQSA Learning and Teaching Academic Standards Geography Discipline Reference Group (DRG)
  • 2010 Reference group member for the National Water Commission Fellowship project ‘Cross-Connections: Linking Urban Water Managers with Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Researchers
  • 2009 - 10 Reference group member for geography, ATARA National Curriculum project
  • 2009 - 10 Advisor and reference group member to ALTC LE9-1183 ‘Demonstrating distributed leadership through cross-disciplinary peer networks: responding to climate change complexity’. $220,000 (Awarded to A. Davison, E. Pharo, K. Warr, P. Brown, H. McGregor, B. Pettit)
  • 2009 - 10 Member Academic Advisory Board, PROPEL. (LATC grant: Succession Planning at Universities: Program for Preparing Early Leaders (PROPEL))
  • 2006 - 12 Vice-President (2006-07), President (2008-09) and outgoing vice-President (2010-12) of the Institute of Australian Geographers, the peak academic body with around 400 members across all subdisciplines.
  • 2006 - 08 Chair, Australian Academy of Science National Committee for Geography (Member since 2004). The National Committees aim to foster their disciplines and serve as a link between Australian scientists and overseas scientists in the same field, in this case via the International Geographical Union.
  • 2005 Member Research and Collections Advisory Committee, Australian Museum, Sydney

Awards and honours

  • 2012 - 14 Visiting Professor, Department of Human and Economic Geography, University of Göteborg, Sweden. (2 months each year)
  • 2011 Elected Fellow of the Australian Academy of Social Sciences, for contributions to geography.
  • 2010 - 14 ARC Australian Laureate Fellow, University of Wollongong. Laureate Fellowships are the highest level of fellowship awarded by the Australian Research Council (15 awarded each year, across all disciplines). Australian Laureate Fellows will be researchers of international repute who will play a significant, sustained leadership and mentoring role in building Australia's international competitive research capacity.
  • 2005 - 06 King Carl XVI Gustaf Visiting Professor of Environmental Science, Kristianstad University, Sweden (Annual award, funded by Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education.)
  • 2004 Elected Fellow, Australian Academy of Humanities, for interdisciplinary contributions to archaeological and geographical sciences. 

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Last reviewed: 29 March, 2016


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