Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research (AUSCCER)

AUSCCER - Leah Gibbs profile 2014

Leah Gibbs

POSITION: Senior Lecturer in Geography
                    Head of Postgraduate Studies
OFFICE: 41.252
PHONE: +61 2 4298 1547

Link to UOW Scholars Page


  • PhD, Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, Australian National University, 2006
  • BSc(Hons), Department of Human Geography, Macquarie University, 1999

Previous Positions

  • June 2010 - 2014: Lecturer in Geography, University of Wollongong.
  • 2007 - 2010: Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow.
  • 2006: Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Geography, University of Sheffield.

Research Interests and Expertise

  • Cultural geographies of nature
  • Environmental governance
  • Interdisciplinary research methods

I am fascinated by people’s interactions with nature. My research focuses on cultural practices and values, and on the politics and processes of governing environments. I am particularly interested in how we negotiate ‘troublesome encounters’ with nature; be that how people use and value water in arid landscapes, negotiate protection of species that may pose a threat to human life, or make decisions about invasive species in the context of growing environmental change and uncertainty.

I am a human geographer, but my research emerges from training across the discipline of geography and Indigenous Studies. This training has shaped my interest in learning and communication across the disciplines and with broader audiences. I am a field-based researcher with experience working in arid and temperate Australia, northern Britain, and Tanzania.

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Current Research Projects

Human shark encounter

Sharks have come to be the focus of intense public and policy debate in recent years. My research examines the cultures and politics of human-shark encounter and shark hazard mitigation.

Following a number of fatalities in Western Australia, the state government in 2014 introduced a controversial strategy involving baited hooks – or drum lines – designed to minimize risks to beach-goers by reducing shark numbers. In this project I am, with Dr Andrew Warren (UOW), investigating the experiences and attitudes of the people most likely to come into contact with sharks: divers, board-riders, swimmers, Surf Life Savers, fishers, and other ocean-users. This project has been funded by a UOW URC Small Grant, 2014.

I have extended this research to the east coast through analysis of the long-standing strategies in place here, including the NSW Shark Mitigation (Bather Protection) Program, and through a multidisciplinary project entitled ‘Threatened & threatening: governing sharks for conservation and human safety’. Project collaborators are: Lachlan Fetterplace and Matthew Rees (Institute for Conservation Biology & Environmental Management), Assoc. Prof. Quentin Hanich (Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources & Security) and Dr Andrew Warren (Department of Geography & Sustainable Communities). The project is supported through UOW’s Global Challenges Program.

Read about the sharks projects in The Conversation: ‘More shark nets for NSW: why haven’t we learned from WA’s cull?’ (13 October 2016); ‘Spectacular shark encounter: Fanning’s close shave reminds us we share the ocean’ (20 July 2015); ‘Western Australian shark cull policy dumped: experts react’ (12 September 2014).

See recent media coverage about the sharks research: ‘Shark nets don’t enclose swimmers – they catch and kill sharks’ (The Guardian, 13 October 2016); ‘Why are we scared to go in the water?’ (The Stand, UOW, 20 September 2016); ‘Ocean users collectively reject shark cull’ (Science Network WA, 28 August 2015 - via; ‘WA ocean users oppose shark nets and culling: university study’ (, 10 June 2015). 

Invasive species belonging (or not)
Invasive species and their impacts have become a focus of global environmental management. My research examines social and cultural questions raised by this environmental phenomenon through close attention to the material and political conditions of individual species.

In collaboration with Drs Jennifer Atchison (UOW) and Ingereth Macfarlane (UniSA) we have examined the conditions under which camels are deemed to belong, or not, in the Australian landscape. We are concerned with the specific environmental and political circumstances within which camels have existed over time, and how these circumstances guide thinking and practice towards feral and native species management.

Read a blog post about our camels research. Listen a conversation with Sound Mind Radio’s Michael Schubert, and with Radio 3CR’s Emma Townshend.

Also with Dr Jennifer Atchison (UOW) we are investigating the implications of using volunteer labour in invasive species management. Our project examines killing European carp (Cyprinus carpio) through community fishing events.

Launching a Blue Economy: putting theory into practice
The Blue Economy aims to use innovative, integrated and cross sectoral management to promote socially equitable and ecologically sound use of the natural (‘blue’) capital provided by our oceans. This project investigates the capabilities of the Illawarra and Shoalhaven regions to build and support a new ‘Blue Economy’.

The project is led by Dr Michelle Voyer (Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security – ANCORS), and involves researchers from ANCORS, SMART Infrastructure Facility, Faculty of Business, and Faculty of Social Sciences. This interdisciplinary project is supported by UOW’s Global Challenges Program.

Sustainable Seascapes: integrated approaches to enhancing marine and coastal governance in Niue
For Niue, a small island developing state in the Pacific, marine and coastal resources are vital to traditional values, food security, income generation and community wellbeing. The Niue government aims to manage resources by embracing traditional customary knowledge and community decision-making. This project aligns with that agenda, using mapping techniques to support local communities and open dialogue with local people about how they use and value their marine environment.

This project is led by Brooke Campbell and Dr Aurélie Delisle (Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security – ANCORS), and also involves Assoc. Prof. Quentin Hanich (ANCORS), Dr Sarah Hamylton (School of Earth & Environmental Sciences) and me. This interdisciplinary project is supported by UOW’s Global Challenges Program.

Water places: cultures and politics
My ongoing research interest in water and water places focuses on cultures of everyday practice; the agency of water in shaping everyday life, values and politics; and processes of governing water and water places.

Arts-science collaboration and interdisciplinary research method
Since 2010 I have participated in SiteWorks – an ongoing series of projects facilitated by Bundanon Trust. SiteWorks involves visual and performing artists, scientists, other scholars and local people developing collaborative works on the Shoalhaven River, NSW. My work considers the possibilities presented by arts-science collaboration. I also work with other arts institutions in Australia and the UK.
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Recent Publications

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

Journal Papers
  • Gillon C and Gibbs L 2017 Selling surf and turf: throwntogetherness and real estate advertising on the suburbanising east Australian coastline. Social and Cultural Geography
  • Atchison J, Gibbs L and Taylor E 2017 Killing carp (Cyprinus carpio) as a volunteer practice; implications for community involvement in invasive species management and policy. Australian Geographer 48(3) 333-348
  • Gibbs L and Warren A 2015 Transforming shark hazard policy: learning from ocean-users and shark encounter in Western Australia. Marine Policy 58, 116-124 DOI: 10.1016/j.marpol.2015.04.014
  • Rugemalila R and Gibbs L 2015 Urban water governance failure and local strategies for overcoming water shortages in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy 33(2) 412-427 DOI: 10.1068/c1324
  • Gibbs L, Atchison J and Macfarlane I 2015 Camel country: assemblage, belonging and scale in invasive species geographies. Geoforum 58, 56-67 DOI:10.1016/j.geoforum.2014.10.013
  • Gibbs L and Warren A 2014 Thinking Space - Killing sharks: cultures and politics of encounter and the sea. Australian Geographer 45(2) 101-107 DOI:10.1080/00049182.2014.899023
  • Wilkinson C, Waitt G and Gibbs L 2014 Understanding place as ‘home’ and ‘away’ through practices of bird-watching. Australian Geographer 45(2) 205-220 DOI:10.1080/00049182.2014.899029
  • Skilton N, Adams M and Gibbs L 2014 Conflict in common: heritage-making in Cape York. Australian Geographer 45(2) 147-166 DOI:10.1080/00049182.2014.899026
  • Gibbs L 2014 Commentary: Freshwater geographies? Place, matter, practice, hope. New Zealand Geographer 70, 56-60 DOI:10.1111/nzg.12040
  • Gibbs L 2014 Arts-science collaboration, embodied research methods, and the politics of belonging: ‘SiteWorks’ and the Shoalhaven River, Australia. cultural geographies 21(2) 206-226 DOI: 10.1177/1474474013487484
  • Gibson C and Gibbs L 2013 Commentary: Social media experiments: scholarly practice and collegiality. Dialogues in Human Geography 3(1) 87-91 DOI: 10.1177/2043820613486430
  • Gibbs L 2013 Bottles, bores, and boats: agency of water assemblages in post/colonial inland Australia. Environment and Planning A 45(2) 467-484 DOI: 10.1068/a45107
  • Gibbs L 2010 “A beautiful soaking rain”: environmental value and water beyond Eurocentrism. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 28(2) 363-378 DOI:10.1068/d9207
  • Gibbs L 2009 Just add water: colonisation, water governance and the Australian inland. Environment and Planning A 41(12) 2964-2983 DOI:10.1068/a41214
  • Gibbs L 2009 Water places: cultural, social and more-than-human geographies of nature. Scottish Geographical Journal 125(3-4, Special Issue: Glasgow Geography Centenary) 361-369 DOI:10.1080/14702540903364393
  • Stringer L, Twyman C and Gibbs L 2008 Learning from the South: common challenges and solutions for small-scale farming. Geographical Journal 174(3) 235-250 DOI:10.1111/j.1475-4959.2008.00298
  • Gibbs L 2006 Valuing water: variability and the Lake Eyre Basin, central Australia. Australian Geographer 37(1) 73-85 DOI:10.1080/00049180500511988
  • Gibbs L 2003 Decolonising, multiplicities and mining in the Eastern Goldfields, Western Australia. Australian Geographical Studies 41(1) 17-28 DOI:10.1111/1467-8470.00189
Book Chapter

Gibbs L 2017 ‘Sharks, nets and disputed territory in eastern Australia’ in Peters K, Steinberg P and Stratford E (Eds) Territory Beyond Terra Rowman & Littlefield International, London.

Other Academic Publications
  • Gibbs L 2010 Book review “Troubled Waters: confronting the water crisis in Australia’s cities” by Patrick Troy (ed.) Urban Studies 47(1) 222-224 DOI:10.1177/00420980100470011105
  • Gibbs L 2009 Book review “Resurrecting the Granary of Rome: environmental history and French colonial expansion in North Africa” by Diana K. Davis Land Degradation & Development 20(3) 347-348 DOI:10.1002/ldr.890
Non-academic Publications

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Research Grants

2017: Project AIRSHIP: sharks, video imaging and the public perception of risk (Global Challenges Seed Funding, University of Wollongong)
Davis A, Adams K, Gibbs L, Li W, Broad A

2017: Mapping the Islands: how art and science can save the Great Barrier Reef (Global Challenges Seed Funding, University of Wollongong)
Hamylton S, Gibbs L, Ihlein L, Williams K

2017: The Leadership a Gender: promoting future diversity (Global Challenges Strategic Funding, University of Wollongong)
Thomas L, Mundy T, Reynolds N, Yu P, Atchison J, Gibbs L, Robinson S, Sheridan L

2017: Creating innovative research training environments for knowledge transformation (University Internationalisation Committee, International Links Scheme, University of Wollongong)
Chen H, Senior K, Gibbs L, Nielsen W, Kelly P

2016: Launching a Blue Economy: putting theory into practice (Global Challenges Strategic Funding, University of Wollongong)
Voyer M, McIlgorm A, Warner R, Kenchington R, Perez P, Herath S, Kaidonis M, Gibbs L, Harden-Davies H

2015: Sustainable seascapes: Integrated approaches to enhancing marine and coastal governance in Niue (Global Challenges Seed Funding, University of Wollongong)
Campbell B, Delisle A, Gibbs L, Hamylton S, Hanich Q

2014: Threatened and threatening: governing sharks for conservation and human safety (Global Challenges Strategic Funding, University of Wollongong)
Gibbs L, Rees M, Fetterplace L, Hanich Q, Warren A

2014: Death and the ocean: human-shark encounters and the cultures and governance of the sea (URC, University of Wollongong)
Gibbs L

2010: Australian water governance in an era of climate change (URC, University of Wollongong)
Gibbs L
$12 000

2010: Values of Environmental Writing: inspiration, communication, action (Arts and Humanities Research Council UK)
Lorimer H, Gibbs LM, Williams R
£24 414

2009: Methodologies for Environment-Society Research: a workshop on multi-disciplinarity and integration (Scottish Alliance for Geoscience, Environment and Society)
Gibbs L, Nightingale A, Brennan R, Potts T
£5 000

2008: Environmental knowledge production and water governance in the global south [Royal Geographical Society (with Institute of British Geographers) Small Research Grant]
Gibbs L
£2 978

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  • GEOG122 Human Geography II: Living in a material world
  • GEOG222/228 Environment and Society (formerly GEOG222/228 & EESC208/215 Environmental Impact of Societies) (Subject Co-ordinator)

Through my teaching I seek to engage students from across the physical and social sciences and humanities who have an interest in human interactions with nature and environments. I draw on contemporary issues and events in order to illustrate the cultural and political elements of environmental practices and decisions. I enjoy using practical exercises and fieldwork in my teaching to build skills of interpretation and analysis of environmental problems. 

Research Student Supervision

Future Students

I am interested in supervising research students working on the following topics:

  • Human-shark encounter
  • Human-wildlife conflict and co-existence
  • Water and climate change
  • Urban nature
Current Students
  • Charlie Gillon (PhD) ‘Sifting through the sand: exploring human-nature relationships in coastal Master-Planned Estates’; Co-supervised with Prof. Chris Gibson.
  • Kiera Kent (PhD) ‘Children’s play encounters: materiality and more-than-human theory’; Co-supervised with Dr Natascha Klocker.
  • Vivian Pham (PhD) ‘Low-carbon retrofit for community housing and household resilience’; Co-supervised with Prof. Gordon Waitt and Prof. Paul Cooper (Sustainable Buildings Research Centre).
  • Nicholas Skilton (PhD) ‘‘Privilege and marginalization in Australia’s national imaginary: constructions of mining and sex worker identities through technologies of power’; Co-supervised with Prof. Chris Gibson.
  • Carrie Wilkinson (PhD) ‘Saving water for a rainy day: thinking through the materiality, agency and assemblage of water tanks in a changing climate’; Co-supervised with Prof. Gordon Waitt.
Past Students
  • Ellen van Holstein (PhD, 2017) ‘Community and Ownership: a relational study of community gardens’; Co-supervised with Prof. Lesley Head
  • Katie O’Neal (MEnvSc, 2016) ‘Improving coastal management outcomes through science and the law’; Co-supervised with Richard Kenchington (Australian National Centre for Ocean Research and Security)
  • Jonathon Cook (BSc Hons, 2013) ‘Household water values: everyday practices and climate change’
  • Carrie Wilkinson (BSc Hons, 2013) ‘Understanding the embodied geographic knowledge of people who watch birds: an exploration of encounter, performance and “becoming”’; Co-supervised with Gordon Waitt.
  • Nicholas Skilton (BSc Hons, 2012) ‘Conflict in common: heritage making in Cape York’; Co-supervised with Michael Adams.
  • Andrew Wilbur (PhD, 2012) ‘Seeding alternatives: Back-to-the-land migration and alternative agro-food networks in Northern Italy’; Co-supervised with Jo Sharp (University of Glasgow) and Jane Jacobs (University of Edinburgh).
  • Jacqueline McKinnon (BSc Hons, 2011) ‘It’s not easy being orange: exploring NSW State Emergency Service volunteer attitudes and practices towards nature’
  • Annalee Moes (BSc Hons, 2011) ‘Map-making methods: young people and the Shoalhaven River’

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Research Presentations

  • 2015 Session co-convenor. ‘Oceanic matters’. With Dr Catherine Phillips (University of Queensland), Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting 2015, Chicago
  • 2014 Session co-convenor. ‘Nonhuman agency’. With Dr Andrew Warren (UOW) and Charles Gillon (UOW), Institute of Australian Geographers Annual Conference 2014, University of Melbourne, Melbourne
  • 2013 Session co-convenor. ‘Multi-species politics’. With Dr Catherine Phillips (UOW) and Dr Andrew Warren (UNE), Institute of Australian Geographers Annual Conference 2013, University of Western Australia, Perth
  • 2011 Session co-convenor. ‘River Stories: changing cultures and politics of waterways’. With Dr Emily O’Gorman (UOW), Institute of Australian Geographers Annual Conference 2011, University of Wollongong, Wollongong
  • 2010 Workshop co-convenor. ‘Methodologies for Environment-Society Research: a workshop on multi-disciplinarity and integration’. With Dr Andrea Nightingale (Edinburgh), Ruth Brennan (SAMS), and Dr Tavis Potts (SAMS), SAGES workshop 2010, Scottish Association for Marine Science, Oban
Recent Conference and Workshop Papers
  • 2017 Sharks, nets and disputed territory in eastern Australia. Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting Boston, April 2017
  • 2015 Nonhuman agency in human shark encounter. Co-authored with Andrew Warren. Institute of Australian Geographers Annual Conference Canberra, July 2015
  • 2015 Nonhuman agency in human shark encounter. Co-authored with Andrew Warren. Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting Chicago, April 2015
  • 2014 Nonhuman agency in human-shark encounter. Co-authored with Andrew Warren. Institute of Australian Geographers Annual Conference Melbourne, July 2014
  • 2013 Human-shark encounters and the politics of killing. Co-authored with Andrew Warren. Institute of Australian Geographers Annual Conference Perth, July 2013
  • 2013 Camel country: material assemblages of animal belonging, or not. Co-authored with Jennifer Atchison and Ingereth Macfarlane. Institute of Australian Geographers Annual Conference Perth, July 2013
  • 2013 Camel country: material assemblages of animal belonging, or not. Co-authored with Jennifer Atchison and Ingereth Macfarlane. Association of American Geographers Annual Conference Los Angeles, April 2013
  • 2013 Panellist – Posthumanism, method, and materiality. Association of American Geographers Annual Conference Los Angeles, April 2013
  • 2013 Site as agentic assemblage: a make-and-do methodology. Natures, cultures, identities, materialities: an interdisciplinary ECR workshop on environmental humanities/social sciences with Professor Sarah Whatmore University of Queensland, March 2013
  • 2012 The site as agentic assemblage in collaborative research: SiteWorks, collaboration and the Shoalhaven River. Institute of Australian Geographers Annual Conference Macquarie University, June 2012
  • 2012 Embodied ethnographic methods and the river. Engaging Tactics: the art of raising and sustaining evocative relations with the (social) world Goldsmiths, University of London, April-May 2012
  • 2011 Geography on the Edge: the Fay Gale Memorial Lecture. Institute of Australian Geographers Annual Conference University of Wollongong, June 2011
  • 2011 Three glimpses of the river: SiteWorks and art-science collaboration on the Shoalhaven, south eastern Australia. Association of American Geographers Annual Conference Seattle, April 2011
  • 2010 Water out of place: irrigation landscapes and the transformation of ecologies and ideas in inland Australia. ‘New’ Biogeographies: Invasive, Transgenic, and Hybrid Landscapes University of Wollongong, February 2010
  • 2009 Water governance, knowledge production and environmental justice in the global south. RGS-IBG Annual International Conference: Geography, knowledge and society Manchester, August 2009
  • 2009 Environmental knowledge production, ‘Indigenous Knowledge’ and water governance in Tanzania. 9th Nordic Environmental Social Sciences Conference: Knowledge, learning and action for sustainability London, June 2009
Invited Departmental Seminars

I have received invitations to present departmental seminars at San Diego State University (US), University of Stirling (UK), University of Leicester (UK), University of Manchester (UK), University of Sheffield (UK), University of Glasgow (UK), Western Sydney University (Aus), University of Newcastle (Aus), and Macquarie University (Aus).

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Awards and Honours

  • 2013 Nomination for Vice Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Contribution to Teaching and Learning (UOW OCTAL Award).
  • 2011, 2012 Writer in Residence, Bundanon Trust.
  • 2011 Fay Gale memorial lecture, Institute of Australian Geographers annual conference. This lecture is awarded to an ‘outstanding Early Career Researcher’.
  • 2005 Dean of the Graduate School’s Prize for Excellence in the Graduate Teaching Program, Australian National University, Canberra.

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Last reviewed: 21 March, 2018


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