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JOURNAL OF AUSTRALIAN STUDIES https://doi.org/10.1080/14443058.2023.2236639 “I Guess You Could Call It Plant Racism”: Making Kin in Australian Environmental Workfare Jai Cooper School of Humanities, Creative Industries and Social Science, University of Newcastle, Sydney, Australia ABSTRACT KEYWORDS Workfare; eco-nationalism; Some scholars have drawn associations between Australian making kin; Green Army; environmentalism and racism. Others have argued that natural reﬂexivity; environment resource management policies go beyond the science in justifying policies that have their real foundation in Australian nationalism. Yet applying semiotic analyses to focus upon such associations can risk obscuring eﬀorts to actively loosen the nature–culture binary. Australia has a unique history of three decades of national environmental youth training programs such as Green Corps and Green Army. This environmental workfare engages a diverse range of actors: from university-qualiﬁed scientists to unemployed urban and rural youth. If any workplace culture is likely to generate a naïve environmentalist eco- nationalism, then the pseudo-military setting of national environmental workfare programs would be worthy of close examination. Based upon data collected from participants in Australian environmental workfare programs, this article explores how young workers display critical reﬂexivity, engaging creatively and ironically, embracing the more obscure Others. While attempting to generate cultural capital, particularly in the ﬁeld of environmental science, they actively spurn naïve environmentalism. From the midst of the Australian bush, young people are answering Haraway’s call to “make kin in the Chthulucene”. Australian Environmental Workfare and Eco-Nationalism Since the mid-1990s, Australia has produced a succession of federally funded, pseudo- military environmental youth (18–24 years) workfare programs including the Landcare Action Environment Program (LEAP), Green Army, National Green Jobs Corps, and the Green Army. This article shares the experiences of people who have participated in such programs. The perspectives they oﬀered challenge nature–nation associations made within critiques of the “white nation fantasy” and “Australianisation”. Rather than being viewed as derivative of primordialist nationalism, their accounts can be better CONTACT Jai Cooper firstname.lastname@example.org School of Humanities, Creative Industries and Social Science, University of Newcastle, Awabakal Country, Sydney, Australia Ghassan Hage, White Nation: Fantasies of White Supremacy in a Multicultural Society (Sydney: Routledge, 2000); Adrian Franklin, Nature and Social Theory (London: Sage, 2001). © 2023 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/ licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. The terms on which this article has been published allow the posting of the Accepted Manuscript in a repository by the author(s) or with their consent. 2 J. COOPER understood as a response to the call from Donna Haraway to “make kin in the Chthulucene”. Environmentalism is not synonymous with nationalism. However, Australian eco- nationalism is under construction both in practice and by association. A semiotic analysis can readily ﬁnd links between environmentalism and Australian patriotism. As examples, the Clean Up Australia campaign and the Landcare movement are both replete with national symbolism and are often held up by their advocates as examples of Australian environmental success stories. These are not the extremes of nationalism. But in a con- trasting example in early 2021, reminiscent of the Lebensreform movement, Neo-Nazis shared images of fascist symbolism against the backdrop of the Australian bush as they roamed through Gariwerd (the Grampians National Park). Concerns about an emerging eco-nationalism become more salient when considering the intersections between naïve environmentalism and white settler colonialism. For example, the concept of wilderness embeds the nature–culture dichotomy and raises the realist-con- structivist debate among environmentalists. Marcia Langton argues that in Australia, a concept like this reproduces terra nullius as the very basis of the colonial project and that dispossession for Aboriginal peoples occurs in the pursuit of environmental protec- tion. Another example arises when the calls of environmentalists for a sustainable popu- lation entrench what Ghassan Hage describes as the white nation fantasy. According to Adrian Franklin, the symbolic work of nationalism has been argued to lie behind natural resource “species cleansing” programs, which have exceeded their scientiﬁc merit. Franklin has previously gone as far as to accuse some scientists of falling “under the spell of nationalism”, nominating renowned Australian natural historian Professor Tim Flannery as another example. These cases and others indicate a justiﬁable concern about the associations between environmentalism and nationalism in Australia. This article proposes that the critique of eco-nationalism is itself problematic because it risks associating all forms of environmentalism with nationalism, including its extremes, supporting and extending Peter Ferguson’s point that the New Right produces anti-environmentalism by turning the signiﬁers of environmentalism against itself. As Ferguson highlights, a struggle over the semiotics of environmentalism is underway: many of the cultural motifs of the environmental movement have been redrawn against it, and tenuous threads likening environmentalists to Nazis have been made in a discursive culture war. Hence, an empirical basis is required upon which to interrogate the validity of politicised claims. This article presents such a basis, found in accounts Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016). Nick McKenzie and Joel Tozer, “Neo-Nazis Go Bush: Grampians Gathering Highlights Rise of Australia’s Far Right,” Sydney Morning Herald, 27 January 2021, https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/neo-nazis-go-bush-grampians-gathering- highlights-rise-of-australia-s-far-right-20210127-p56xbf.html. Phil Macnaghten and John Urry, Contested Natures (London: Sage, 1998). See Klaus Eder, The Social Construction of Nature (London: Sage, 1996); John Hannigan, Environmental Sociology, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge, 2006). Marcia Langton, “What Do We Mean by Wilderness? Wilderness and Terra Nullius in Australian Art,” The Sydney Papers 8, no. 1 (1996): 11–31. Hage, White Nation. Adrian Franklin, “An Improper Nature? Introduced Animals and ‘Species Cleansing’ in Australia,” in Human and Other Animals: Critical Perspectives, ed. B. Carter and N. Charles (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 195–216. Franklin, Nature and Social Theory, 110. Peter Ferguson, “Anti-environmentalism and the Australian Culture War,” Journal of Australian Studies 33, no. 3 (2009): 289–304. JOURNAL OF AUSTRALIAN STUDIES 3 oﬀered by young environmental workers. Their comments demonstrate a ready reﬂexiv- ity against reproducing ideological extremes and how an inclusive making of global kin, with both human and non-human others, can be nuanced and playful. It is this contrast between nationalistic environmentalism and relations with nature that embrace various forms of diversity that this article will highlight. The most recent chapter in the history of environmental workfare in Australia was the Green Army running from 2014 to 2018. The Green Army was initiated by the conser- vative Coalition Government. Their policy for a Green Army deployed some romantic and somewhat jingoistic rhetoric about the Australian environment and people: “Austra- lia’s unique landscape instils in us a deep appreciation of the fragility of the natural environment and the requirement to protect it … Australians are a generous, decent, optimistic and committed people who want to do the right thing by those around them.” National references are not unusual in policy. However, the Green Army’s deployment also coincided with a period of rising nationalism in Australia as the 1915–2015 centen- ary of the First World War Gallipoli landing approached. Joan Beaumont critiqued the Australian national political culture for indulging in a “memory orgy” in the honouring of the Gallipoli legend, with various calculations of centenary celebrations positioning the Australian government as contributing the largest sum per fallen “digger” (soldier) of any nation in the world. In August 2018, as the Green Army program was ending, nationalist rhetoric was in full ﬂight. Newly appointed conservative Senator Fraser Anning, in an inaugural speech to parliament, called for “a cultural reconquest of our own country to take back Australia from Gramsci-inspired left-wing elites” and twice reminded the parliament of “crimson threads of kinship that run through us all”. Environmental authoritarianism has also been emerging over recent years as part of the response to climate change. Policy responses readily conﬂate national adaptation with global mitigation. Calls for a Second World War–styled emergency response (a national response) to climate change (a global problem) have recently increased. “Workfare” often refers to alternative means of providing welfare payments to unemployed people in exchange for work services. In this context, I have chosen the term “environmental workfare” to describe a series of environmental programs with certain similarities in that some participants may be participating under threat of withdrawal of welfare. However, other participants in these programs may not necessarily be unemployed or underemployed and may have selected these programs as a vocational choice. Adding to the ambiguity throughout these programs, participants have been labelled by government variously as “trainees”, “workers”, “volunteers” and “participants”. Generally, participants in these programs have been provided better conditions than welfare payments without some beneﬁts of full employ- ment. For these reasons, “environmental workfare” provides the most suitable collective term for these programs. The Coalition’s Policy for a Green Army, authorised and printed by Brian Loughnane (Barton, ACT: Liberal National Coalition, July 2013), 4, www.realsolutions.org.au (accessed 15 December 2015). Joan Beaumont, “Commemoration in Australia: A Memory Orgy?,” Australian Journal of Political Science 50, no. 3 (2015): 536–44. See Nathan Church, “The Centenary of Anzac: Budget Review 2015–16 Index,” Parliament of Australia, May 2015, https:// www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/BudgetReview201516/ Anzac#_ftn6 (accessed 4 August 2022); and Ian McPhedran, “Government Spending More than $8800 for Every Digger Killed during WW1,” news.com.au, 3 September 2015, https://www.news.com.au/national/government-spending-more- than-8800-for-every-digger-killed-during-ww1/news-story/34808367386af87773c8e4326d2a46e8. Senator Fraser Anning, ﬁrst speech, Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates (Hansard), Senate, 14 August 2018, 473. Paul Gilding, War: What Is It Good For? WWII Economic Mobilisation: An Analogy for Climate Action (Melbourne: Break- through – National Centre for Climate Restoration, September 2016), http://media.wix.com/ugd/148cb0_ 1bfd229f6638410f8fcf230e12b1e285.pdf; Bill McKibben, “A World at War,” The New Republic, 15 August 2016, https://newrepublic.com/article/135684/declare-war-climate-change-mobilize-wwii; Margaret Klein Salamon, “Leading the Public into Emergency Mode: A New Strategy for the Climate Movement,” The Climate Mobilization, 4 J. COOPER Over a decade ago, David Spratt and Philip Sutton called for a war-like, decade-long emergency response and a radical transformation of national economies. Sutton crea- tively drafted an extensive “Climate Emergency (Restructuring and Mobilisation) Act 2017” in the hope of being adopted in Australia. In 2019–2020, amid a summer of extreme bushﬁres, Tasmanian Federal Senator Jacqui Lambie (an independent) proposed to parliament national service for young people to “combat” climate change. As the bushﬁres worsened and national concern about the environment rose to new levels, Senator Mike Kelly, from the Australian Labor Party (which ironically ended military conscription in Australia in 1972), proposed a year of mandatory service for school leavers. The climate crisis is likely to be a means through which further global environ- mental authoritarianism emerges, and it oﬀers opportunities for nation-based author- itarian responses. A nationalist agenda is also capable of recuperating the arguments of environmental- ists. Hage presents the example of the group Australians for an Ecologically Sustainable Population (AESP). It is through AESP’s endorsement of the Ehrlich equation (I = PAT)—in which environmental impact (I) is a function of population size (P), aﬄuence (A) and the technology (T) used in production and consumption—that Hage argues AESP engages a “narrow nationalist framework”, and, in so doing, the fantasy of Australia as a fundamentally white nation is perpetuated. In a subsequent work, Hage suggests that the logic of “generalized domestication” in settler-colonial societies such as Australia is common to the thinking of both racism and ecological domination. Among Hage’s reasoning is that the logic applied to the disposal of diﬃcult waste pro- duced by humans is akin to how some humans, such as refugees, are treated as ungovern- able waste to be managed. This association of nature with nation contributes to the symbolic production of the Australian nation and its identity. Franklin argues that a process of “Australianisation” has succeeded the initial “Britainisation”. This progressive adoption of symbolic relations and mythology engages the descendants of migrants (largely from Britain and Europe) in a romantic embrace with the species and landforms of their new home. As Franklin states: “Animals and plants were directly implicated in Australian nationalism. Australia’s process of separation from British origins and its distinction https://www.theclimatemobilization.org/resources/whitepapers/leading-public-emergency-mode/ (accessed 9 Febru- ary 2020). David Spratt and Philip Sutton, Climate Code Red: The Case for Emergency Action (Melbourne: Scribe Publications, 2008). Philip Sutton, “Philip Sutton: What a Climate Emergency Act Could Look Like,” Climate Emergency Declaration, 20 July 2016, https://climateemergencydeclaration.org/what-a-climate-emergency-act-could-look-like/. Jacqui Lambie cited in David Crowe, “Jacqui Lambie Calls for Emergency Services Conscripts to Combat Climate Change,” Sydney Morning Herald, 14 September 2019, https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/jacqui-lambie-calls- for-emergency-services-conscripts-to-combat-climate-change-20190914-p52rbe.html. “Concern about Climate Escalates as Bushﬁre Crisis Continues: Climate of the Nation Polling,” The Australia Institute, 14 January 2020, https://www.tai.org.au/content/concern-about-climate-escalates-bushﬁre-crisis-continues-climate-nation- polling. Nick Bonyhady, “‘A very hot war’: MP Calls for Teens to Do Civil Service in Disaster Response,” Sydney Morning Herald,6 January 2020, https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/a-very-hot-war-mp-calls-for-teens-to-do-civil-service-in-disaster- response-20200106-p53p7u.html. Mark Beeson, “The Coming of Environmental Authoritarianism,” Environmental Politics 19, no. 2 (2010): 276–94. Hage, White Nation, 165–78. Ghassan Hage, Is Racism an Environmental Threat? (Cambridge: Polity, 2017). Franklin, Nature and Social Theory, 120. JOURNAL OF AUSTRALIAN STUDIES 5 from other western cultures were achieved, in part, through identiﬁcation with ‘the unique Australian biota’.” In Australia, the distinction between titles of “native” (Australian) and “introduced” (Other) is readily made between those species present in Australia before, or arriving after, 1788: the year regarded as marking the arrival of Europeans in Australia and, at which point, events are divided into pre- or post-contact. This binary distinction between native and alien species as a central tenet of invasion biology is highly con- 26 27 tested. In Australia, deﬁning what constitutes “matter out of place” underscores a state of uneasy national identity, particularly for settler Australians. Nicholas Smith sum- marises the paradox: “Although national myths about nature appear central to the com- prehension of essential national characteristics, settler Australians seem discursively locked into a constant embryonic state of becoming. This same ‘emptiness’ pervades autochthonous nationalism. Ambiguously native nature is simultaneously positioned (temporally and geographically) as the source of our essence and alienation.” Smith’s reference to “autochthonous” suggests that settler Australians are struggling to ﬁnd the same sense of place as held by Indigenous peoples and that, as a young nation still actively undergoing colonisation, many Australians have an uneasy relationship with place. Australians are consequently uneasy about sharing their place with “non-native” species. A national survey of human–non-human relations conducted between 2000 and 2004 revealed the increasing anxiety in Australia about threats to species considered “native”. In response to these threats, Franklin argues that species deﬁned as “intro- duced” are often targeted by environmental managers for “cleansing” because they con- stitute an “improper nature”. Franklin claims that the scientiﬁc basis for many practices of environmental management is questionable because a species bias exists. For example, some native species present in parts of Australia prior to 1788 are not subject to the same eradication practices in places where they have since extended their range. Franklin argues that these campaigns, rather than being for the management of invasion biology, are sometimes more the symbolic work of nation-building. Young Australians participating in environmental workfare programs have been actively engaged in such species cleansing programs, applying the science of natural resource management, in the making of place and interacting with their peers and their communities. If the concerns of Franklin about scientists falling “under the spell of nationalism” were to be observed anywhere, we might expect it in programs of bush regeneration involving the removal of species arriving in Australia since 1788. See Marco Antonsich, “Natives and Aliens: Who and What Belongs in Nature and in the Nation?,” AREA 53, no. 2 (2020): 303–10; Haylee Kaplan, Vishnu Prahalad, and Dave Kendal, “Native for Whom: A Mixed-Methods Literature Review and Synthesis to Conceptualise Biotic Nativeness for Social Research in the Urban Context,” People and Nature 4, no. 1 (2022): 15–31; Charles R. Warren, “Beyond ‘Native V. Alien’: Critiques of the Native/Alien Paradigm in the Anthropocene, and their Implications,” Ethics, Policy & Environment (2021), https://doi-org.ezproxy.library.uq.edu.au/10.1080/ 21550085.2021.1961200. Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (Florence, UK: Routledge, 2002), 165. Nicholas Smith, “Blood and Soil: Nature, Native and Nation in the Australian Imaginary,” Journal of Australian Studies 35, no. 1 (2011): 14. Adrian Franklin, “Human-Nonhuman Animal Relationships in Australia: An Overview of Results from the First National Survey and Follow-Up Case Studies 2000–2004,” Society and Animals 15 (2007): 7–27. Franklin, “An Improper Nature?,” 195–216. Franklin, Nature and Social Theory, 110. 6 J. COOPER The Green Army was the most recent chapter in a three-decade history of environ- mental workfare in Australia, which previously included the Landcare Environment Action Program (LEAP), two versions of Green Corps, and the National Green Jobs Corps (NGJC). There is no formal history of Australian national environmental work- place programs, “environmental workfare”, despite it commencing decades ago. The pro- totype of conservation labour programs is the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that operated across the United States from 1933 to 1942 under President Roosevelt’s post- Depression New Deal stimulus program. Knowledge of the CCC has been assisted by an enduring legacy of alumni, nostalgic pride and a more thoroughly documented history, drawing upon materials in the US National Archive. Other variations of work- fare programs have occurred globally. However, Australia’s series of national environ- mental workfare programs is globally unique: for being national in scope, pseudo- military in design and exclusively publicly funded, as well as for enduring over decades with the aim of recreating an ideal vision of pre-1788 Australian biota. Methodology This project builds upon data collected in focus groups and interviews during 2018 in the wake of the Green Army program. Approval H-2017-0169 was granted to the project by the University of Newcastle’s Human Research Ethics Committee. Although this is not an ethnography, the author has held an “insider-outsider” position, having been a team supervisor in the late 1990s and periodically working as a project partner and as a workplace trainer up until the end of the Green Army. This positionality includes being on the “inside” with the team members, supervisors, managers and even the poli- ticians who conceived of, and enacted, the legislation and funding for these programs. It is during this experience that I noticed these programs sat in a “netherworld” contested by a managerial apparatus interested in either physical or economic outcomes. Natural scientists debated the merit of the teams’ material eﬀorts while technocrats measured success by numbers of young people occupied and removed from the unemployment queues. Team members were astute in their understanding of the often-repeated redemp- tive and problematic narrative that presented them as “at risk” youth who had ﬁnally found meaning in work. They realised that some accounts were jingoistic and evoked a romance of the militaristic approach to environmental restoration. We laughed at how often the words young people, Green Corps, Green Army and On the March were used as headlines in local papers. Meanwhile, the academy had largely left See Neil Maher, Nature’s New Deal: The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Roots of the American Environmental Move- ment (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008); John Salmond, The Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933–1942: A New Deal Case Study, Online Book Held by the United States Parks Service (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1967), https:// www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/ccc/salmond/contents.htm. Anastacia Kurylo, “The Problem of the Insider/Outsider Dichotomy for Researchers,” in Negotiating Group Identity in the Research Process: Are You In or Are You Out? (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2016), 1–64. Peter Kelly has extensively documented this narrative: Peter Kelly, “Youth as an Artefact of Expertise: Problematizing the Practice of Youth Studies in an Age of Uncertainty,” Journal of Youth Studies 3, no. 3 (2000): 301–15; Peter Kelly, “Growing Up as Risky Business? Risks, Surveillance and the Institutionalized Mistrust of Youth,” Journal of Youth Studies 6, no. 2 (2003): 165; Peter Kelly, “The Entrepreneurial Self and ‘Youth-at-Risk’: Exploring the Horizons of Identity in the Twenty-First Century,” Journal of Youth Studies 9, no. 1 (2006): 17–32; Peter Kelly, “Governing Individualized Risk Biographies: New Class Intellectuals and the Problem of Youth At-Risk,” British Journal of Sociology of Education 28, no. 1 (2007): 39. JOURNAL OF AUSTRALIAN STUDIES 7 the programs and the conditions of workers unquestioned. Governments, unsurpris- ingly, lauded their own eﬀorts while dismissing those of their political opponents. After more than two and a half decades of youth environmental training programs, in contrast to an established and growing ﬁeld of research exploring the experiences of environmental activists, a notable absence of research existed into the experiences of environmental workers. Understanding the experiences of young people in environ- mental workfare would also help to better understand how calls for a Green New Deal and a Just Transition for workers might be interpreted. Research participants were recruited through community networks and key contacts in Green Army Service Providers after the program ceased. With the program ending, I was also no longer part of its management. To widen recruitment, individuals who had been supervisors of teams were invited to contribute. A series of focus groups and indi- vidual interviews were held outside of work hours in the ﬁnal days of the Green Army program throughout various locations in New South Wales. The focus groups and inter- views took place in informal settings (usually licensed hotels, bars or restaurants), and focus groups sometimes included a visit to former worksites, helping to evoke recollections. Nineteen participants had been team members in various programs extending as far back as the mid-1990s, and, of these team members, many had progressed to other roles in the conservation sector. Fourteen had been team supervisors. One had been both a team member and team supervisor. Due to voluntary recruitment to this project and the dispersal of former team members, the views participants provided during interviews are unlikely to represent the full spectrum of participants in environmental workfare pro- grams. Most participants were in their teens to early twenties, and a minority in their thirties to forties. Recruitment provided a fair representation of gender diﬀerence (the majority of supervisors interviewed were women while young men made up the majority of team members), and a good mixture of urban, regional and rural respondents. Although the recruitment process had sought cultural diversity, only one participant identiﬁed as being of a migrant background. Focus groups and interviews were all semi-structured. Semi-structured interviewing allowed me to integrate a series of topics and associated questions that had been devel- oped beforehand. It also meant we could vary the discussion and explore interesting examples as they arose. I applied an iterative process that involved returning constantly from data collection to explore other literature and subsequently reﬁning the discus- sion topics and questions. Initially, a Bourdieusian analysis produced insights into Some examples of the focus on environmental activists rather than workers can be found in Meredian Alam, Pam Nilan, and Terry Leahy, “Learning from Greenpeace: Activist Habitus in a Local Struggle,” Electronic Green Journal 1, no. 42 (2019): 1–18; Linda Connor, “Experimental Publics: Activist Culture and Political Intelligibility of Climate Change Action in the Hunter Valley, Southeast Australia,” Oceania 82, no. 3 (2012): 228–49; Dave Horton, “Green Distinctions: The Performance of Identity among Environmental Activists,” Sociological Review Monograph 52 (2004): 63–77; Pam Nilan and Gregorious Ragil Wibawanto, “‘Becoming’ an Environmentalist in Indonesia,” Geoforum 62 (2015): 61–69; David N. Pellow and Hollie Nyseth Brehm, “From the New Ecological Paradigm to Total Liberation: The Emergence of a Social Movement Frame,” The Sociological Quarterly 56 (2015): 185–212. Ariel Salleh “Green New Deal – or Globalisation Lite,” Arena Magazine 105 (2010): 15–19; International Labour Oﬃce, Guidelines for a Just Transition towards Environmentally Sustainable Economies and Societies for All (Geneva: International Labour Oﬃce, 2015). Alan Bryman, Social Research Methods (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). Michelle Gabriel, “Writing Up Research,” in Social Research Methods, ed. M. Walter (South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2006), 343–67. 8 J. COOPER the social ﬁelds being contested and the accumulation of various forms of capital. Yet some coding of data did not ﬁt neatly with Bourdieu’s concepts. For example, a ques- tion I asked early during interviews and focus groups was, “Can you tell us about your project?” This prompt invariably produced other interesting themes regarding relations with native and non-native species. As new themes emerged, I coded the data, and it was possible to explore further literature before revising the interview process. New Buds In environmental workfare programs, weed control was a common task, partly because it usually requires few resources and can be undertaken in existing bushland with relatively low levels of technical knowledge. For many team members, the experience of weed control was their introduction to environmental work and a common way in which they were introduced to the division between “native” and “weed” species. Trainers and supervisors instructed team members in making this distinction for the plant species where they were working. Hell Is Other Species A Green Army team supervisor, Christine, a European migrant to Australia who speaks English as another language or dialect, had embraced the weed/native distinction enthu- siastically. She introduced her team members to diﬀerentiating weed species from others with the deliberate aim of unsettling their view of “nature”: Yeah, I see that even some people that I know that didn’t care much, they still saw how many weeds there are … Before, that looked all green for them and they just see, just simply by that, that there’s a problem. If they can’t do something at this stage of their life, maybe not, but maybe later, and I’ve found that interesting how it’s a changed world when you start to ID plants and that’s a thing that they should know by the end of the project, that that’sa weed and that’s a native, and then they go, and they go into the city … and the most you see is weeds … and then all of a sudden, the place that I thought is nature is actually full of weeds. Christine aimed to forever taint a pure view of nature by her team members. For those new to the practice of plant identiﬁcation, areas formerly perceived as wild and natural would be reconﬁgured as infested with weeds. Christine deployed her classiﬁcatory knowledge to willingly sabotage a naïve view of untainted nature (Figure 1). Team members reﬂected this angst after being introduced to the classiﬁcation of certain species of plants as “weeds” (plants out of place). This was more than a revelation for Adam: Morning glory is the worst plant on the planet, clearly … What essentially happened was that after Green Army, I started seeing it everywhere, like no matter where I’d drive … there’d be just so much morning glory on the way there, I can’t believe it. Sometimes, I feel like actually pulling over and actually pulling some of it out, which I know is not necess- arily a bad thing but I know the public would be like [impersonates other voice], “Oh, it’s got pretty purple ﬂowers, you can’t do that!”… [returns to his own voice] “Oh, it’s gotta be one Pierre Bourdieu, “The Forms of Capital,” in Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, ed. J. G. Richardson (New York: Greenwood Press, 1986), 241–58. JOURNAL OF AUSTRALIAN STUDIES 9 of the worst weeds on the planet.”… I’ve never actually pulled over and pulled morning glory but when I went on holidays at least a year and a half ago, the ﬁrst thing I saw when I got to Byron Bay was morning glory everywhere. It kind of like ruined my trip. For Adam, the recognition of morning glory (see Figure 1) as a weed led to him imagin- ing a struggle with a broader public defending the invader. Adam admitted to never physically engaging that struggle, but he recounted a sense of loss. The practice of weeding various species became so deeply embedded in Bruce’s mind that they even began to invade his dreams: “Yeah, you see a lot of weeds around here, mostly lantana, I see the occasional bitou bush, oh, I can’t … (exasperated sigh) … I always see asparagus fern, I have nightmares sometimes. When I was doing the project, I had Figure 1. Ipomoea purpurea (one of many species known as “morning glory”). All photographs cour- tesy of the author. 10 J. COOPER a dream of, I think morning glory as the weed, just sitting there endlessly rafting it. It just didn’t end.” As matter out of place, weeds served as a reference point for understanding the relative condition of a worksite. The removal of environmental weeds for the creation of speciﬁc heterotopias, oases of remnant (pre-1788) vegetation, was a common and approved aim of projects. Their projects aimed to make new places out of the old: to work towards pur- ifying places that had been tainted, to clear away unwanted material, and to establish or re-establish the visions required by the managers of the land. The Policy Is Not the Territory However, while such puriﬁcation may have been the aim of workplace policy, unques- tioning application of policy can lead to other problems. Young team members were astute to these nuances and showed an understanding of the potential utility of weed species. Adam gave an example describing benign uses of Lantana camara, a species of South American origin whose range now extends widely throughout Eastern Australia, threatening endangered ecological communities (see Figure 2): “As a kid, I was always growing up hating lantana because that is what I was told, ‘This thing’s bad, it’s growing everywhere’, then getting into Green Army, we learned how you could put it around native reserves and stuﬀ to keep humans out … It’s always good to get rid of those humans … it was also like nesting for little birds and keeps away most weeds as well, by not letting the seeds in and stuﬀ like that.” Adam showed a nuanced understanding that this “weed” can be used to counter other weeds and can be useful for “little birds”. In this example, a complex allegiance was formed including the human worker, a plant species often seen as a weed, and various Figure 2. Lantana camara (lantana). JOURNAL OF AUSTRALIAN STUDIES 11 small bird species. Team members consistently recognised that other perspectives on weeds are possible. The ironic misanthropic reference that Adam strategically added demonstrated comic reﬂection on puritanically preservationist logics. This was a recur- ring theme in the responses from young team members. Evoking a practical application of Alfred Korzybski’s famous line, “the map is not the territory”, new recruits quickly discovered that their work required them to apply discretion. Site plans or policies, like maps, are based on abstract thinking. Yet plans and policies such as pest management (including weed eradication) must be interpreted by workers on the ground: the “terri- tory”. Team members recognised that universal approaches to their work could be coun- terproductive, citing examples such as oﬀ-target damage to, or loss of habitat for, desirable species and to the acceleration of erosion after excessive vegetation removal. Another way in which this reﬂexivity emerged was as respect for species otherwise presented as enemies. Kyle explained that after developing an interest in species con- sidered weeds in Australia, he became more curious to understand their origin: Kyle: I play this game with myself when I’m on the train going up to Sydney to see how many, you know, pampas grass I can see out the window, little things like that, yeah. Jai: Once you know what they are, you can’t erase them? Kyle: Oh, it’s scary sometimes! [laughs] … but I’ve actually sort of for some reason … developed this sort of interest into going into seeing weeds in their original habitat. So, my girlfriend was just over in Kenya doing her … a module for her degree, she was doing like surveys and stuﬀ … and the one thing I asked her to do was, “Can you ﬁnd some African lovegrass for me?” [laughs] Kyle’s interest in weeds led to a form of “tourist gaze”, in which he hoped to view them in their original habitat. He went as far as to recruit his girlfriend into his interests. While Kyle may have viewed this species of African Lovegrass as a menace when in Australia, this perspective did not inhibit his interest in it. Like others, Kyle laughed to demonstrate his understanding of his contradictory positioning. His interest in weeds was playfully enacted as a “game” to overcome the boredom of a train trip. Importantly, he had devel- oped a deeper interest in his foe and was quite willing to become familiar with it. Native plants, however, were not considered so sacred that they could not be farmed. For example, Dean’s appreciation for native species led him to question agricultural prac- tices based on “foreign” (European) traditions: “We could do a total 360 type of thing and start like farming natives. I feel like, it’s weird that we farm cows ‘n that. Like, bring in all foreign food and then we got things here that could work in a farm, but no one tries it … We bring in things that aren’t from here and they’re hard to grow and all that whereas there’s a million things out there that we could grow that could be eaten.” For Dean, native species were not romantic idols to be held in a museum state but were biological resources that, among other uses, could be eaten. His sentimentality for Australian “natives” was combined with their potential utility. Alfred Korzybski, Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics (New York: Inter- national Non-Aristotelian Library Publishing Company, 1933). John Urry, The Tourist Gaze: Leisure and Travel in Contemporary Societies (London: Sage, 1990). 12 J. COOPER From Little Things Big Things Grow While exotic weed species, despite their aesthetic or functional value, generated a mixture of emotions, research participants consistently demonstrated an appreciation for the more obscure “native” species. Their appreciation was not directed towards the charis- matic mega-vertebrates typical of nationalist sentiment. They rarely referred to the com- monly recognised species used as Australian national icons. Rather, it was the obscure native species they consistently admired. Adrienne recounted a revelation shared with her mother about a rare invertebrate: “Like, I showed my mum the Cumberland Plain Land Snail and then she was so interested in it … she was like, ‘Why don’t more people know about this?’… I’m like, ‘Who’s gonna care about a snail, when they want to care about lions?’… Do you know what I mean? It’s the little things like that … that the world isn’t seeing, a snail that’s going extinct and what does that mean for the ecosystem, biodiversity, all that sort of stuﬀ?” Adrienne shared her frustration that other humans do not recognise diversity. Sym- bolic capital was attributed to participating in the defence of the obscure with team members citing various forms of fungi, saltmarsh, obscure invertebrates and rare native grasses. The Melting Pot When referring to human cultural diversity, team members were far from promoting a “white nation fantasy”. I speciﬁcally asked each about cultural diversity within teams and whether it posed any barriers to participation. Their responses consistently embraced cosmopolitanism with discussions among focus groups suggesting both the presence, and acceptance, of high levels of ethnic diversity within the teams. While age was an explicit barrier to participation, research participants regularly defended their teams as inclusive of all people. One Green Army supervisor, Kate, herself of East Asian back- ground and the only respondent outwardly identifying as being of a migrant background, explained that cultural diﬀerences were to be expected in her region, and diversity was simply normal: “I found that most of my recruits were from Western Sydney so … I didn’t have to consciously have to think about it because, again, growing up in Western Sydney, you’re in this melting pot, so it’s just natural, we’re just a bunch of people … most of mine were born in Australia, obviously some of them had migrant parents, some of them didn’t … Yeah, it’s their own, like Western Sydney’s their home, they took it as their own.” For Kate and for her team, cultural diversity was normal—being born in Australia or of migrant parents had equal status. The youth of Western Sydney have not always been recognised for harmonious relations, however. For Kate, Western Sydney was itself a “melting pot”, and people there were developing their own sense of place and identity. In the management of the programs, there was a focus upon “culture” as synonymous with “Indigeneity”. Human culture was presented as a binary of either Indigenous or non-Indigenous. For example, as part of program requirements, every Green Army par- ticipant completed “cultural awareness” training. In practice, this was Aboriginal and Sherene Idriss and Rosalie Atie, “Race in Australia’s Youthful Urban Leisure Scenes,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 43, no. 10 (2020): 1854–71. JOURNAL OF AUSTRALIAN STUDIES 13 Torres Strait Islander cultural awareness training. The term “culture” features in the Green Army evaluation report several times with association to “Indigenous” (meaning Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) culture and with association to indus- trial practices of agri-, horti- and abori-cultures. However, there was no reference to the ethnic diversity of non-Indigenous Australia. A consistent feature of participants’ discussions was strong support for Indigenous culture. Racism towards Indigenous people was vehemently rejected. There was a strong reverence for Indigenous cultural land-management practices. Elspeth Probyn argues that, in postcolonial societies, establishing such a connection has a productive value in the redemption of “white guilt”. Environmental justice can also be served by honouring Indigenous knowledges. Notably, when participants discussed their relationship to Indigenous people, they spoke about people they knew, such as public ﬁgures, fellow program participants, personal friends or project partners. They consist- ently referred to examples of Indigenous/Aboriginal people in the present, rather than simply as romanticised ﬁgures from the past. As an example, Brent shared his appreci- ation for having an Indigenous supervisor: “It was good that my team leader was to have Indigenous Australian descent, because he taught us a lot about the cultural value of land and … from what he knew … so, I would say as far as ethnicity and things like that are concerned, that was like overwhelmingly positive.” In Bruce’s example, being supervised by an Indigenous man was a privilege. This is not to suggest that misunderstandings did not occur on worksites. Participants reported chal- lenging racism committed by others both within and outside of their teams. However, they expressed strong interest in applying Indigenous land-management practices in the present, such as cultural burning techniques for bushﬁre hazard reduction, and many comments condemned the eﬀects of colonisation. Outdoors Type If there was any criterion on which research participants compared themselves to others, it was the divide between indoors and outdoors. They consistently referred to the outdoors as a better space in which connections with other species and experiences could be made and greater understanding of, and appreciation for, the environment acquired. Murray recounted the sensory highlights he found outdoors: “I love being outdoors and just nature and hearin’ the birds and the water runnin’ past, even the river was nice. It feels a lot more fulﬁlling than being inside an oﬃce or something like that.” Brodie recounted how others envied them for working outdoors: “Certain people were just like, ‘I wish I could like work outside all day, like that sounds pretty good.’” For these workers, time spent outdoors heightened their connection with other species and landforms. Time outdoors was not only enlightening, liberating and pleasurable, but it also provided a means by which they could diﬀerentiate them- selves and elevate their status. Australian Government, The Green Army Three Year Evaluation, vol. 2017 (Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 2017), http://www.environment.gov.au/land/green-army/three-year-review (accessed 4 August 2022). Elspeth Probyn, “Everyday Shame,” Cultural Studies 18, no. 2/3 (2004): 328–49. Michelle M. Jacob et al., “Indigenous Cultural Values Counter the Damages of White Settler Colonialism,” Environmental Sociology 7, no. 2 (2021): 1–13. 14 J. COOPER Know your Enemy The combination of investing in place by restoring the environment, an acceptance of cos- mopolitanism, and a strong aﬃnity for Indigeneity suggested that among participants, a form of Australian nationalism was emerging. Yet rather than presenting naïve environ- mentalism or overzealous eco-nationalism, research participants revealed a distinctive form of reﬂexivity towards their own position. While comments about weed control were often pitched as a struggle, they lacked the deeper vitriol or solemnity that might come with discussion of mortal combat with other humans in defence of nations. Neither team members nor supervisors were pious or mindless in their attitude. Instead, they demon- strated a sense of irony towards their work. Across repeated comments, young team members expressed a shared, carefully measured and often comic form of hostility towards those species against which they struggled. Metus hostilus was coined in Roman times to describe the fear of an enemy binding nations together, a concept aptly summarised by Rodney: “I just found a lot of people easy to get along with, as I said a mutual hatred of weeds really brings a team together.” Rodney made this comment twice during a focus group, both times with a chuckle. The focus group had been discussing interpersonal dynamics within his project team. Rodney was not suggesting that this struggle against weeds was a serious investment—more a convenient way to distract from petty diﬀerences among team members. Similarly, Kyle reﬂected on his own contempt for weeds as some- thing to view with a comedic caution: “I really hate weeds, I detest them sometimes. Some of them are nice … like Ochna’s pretty, but I don’tlikeitgrowing inAustralia kind-of-thing … I guess you could call it ‘plant racism’,I guess, whichisprobably not a good way to put it but … I just really don’tlike exoticspecies!” [laughs] Figure 3. Ochna serrulate, also known as “Mickey Mouse Plant”. JOURNAL OF AUSTRALIAN STUDIES 15 Kyle oscillated between appreciating Ochna’s aesthetics (see Figure 3) and excluding it from Australia before critiquing his own position. This reﬂexive form of hostility allowed individuals to exhibit a form of symbolic violence against the foreign “other” without lowering themselves to the point of zealotry. Team members consistently demonstrated a capacity to ﬁnd disgust, pleasure or utility in a diversity of species, regardless of whether they were classiﬁed as native or non-native. They emphasised the value of both human and non-human diversity, and they actively demonstrated reﬂexivity about the merit of their work. Acquiring knowledge of a diversity of species provided them with the opportunity to generate further distinction. Another comment from Bruce illustrates a complex journey across nature-cultures. In this comment, Bruce deployed a repertoire of cultural capitals and demonstrated his capacity to adopt a variety of positions: “Yes, I did notice weeds in America. Everywhere you went, people had asparagus ferns in their gardens, argh … it was interesting when I went to Disneyland, they had Ochna, the Mickey Mouse plant, in a pot, I was kind of happy to see that there because it did ﬁt in, sorta. I think it’s a South American weed, though.” Bruce’s roaming comment is particularly interesting for a range of reasons. Firstly, earlier during this focus group, Bruce described himself as coming from “not a really well-oﬀ background” and that he had been “pretty sheltered”. International travel would have been a signiﬁcant event in his life. Bruce traversed a range of territories: from Austra- lia to the North and South Americas, from local bushland to American gardens through to the ﬁctitious world of Disney. While referring to people, a plant species (see Figure 4) and a giant anthropomorphised cartoon mouse, he made no enemies of them. As someone who considers himself to have been disadvantaged by his upbringing, Bruce skilfully indulged in his wordplay. He conﬁdently roamed across nature-cultures, invoking knowledge of species, characters, places and names learnt during his environmental work. Figure 4. Asparagus aethiopicus or ground asparagus, spreading over a rock ledge. 16 J. COOPER Discussion The accounts of young environmental workers can assist with further examination of the realist-constructivist debate among environmentalists. The selection of exotics as matter out of place treats pre-contact Australian nature as an objective reality and assumes it is a scientiﬁc fact that this pristine nature must be preserved. By contrast, a “constructionist” view would see this objection to weeds as socially constructed. Likewise, the objection to “alien species” is seen as a social construction that owes much to pre-existing racist tropes of Australian identity. Such clear delineations were creatively spurned in, possibly, their most likely nursery: a program developed and managed by the Australian government at a time of heightened nationalism. While there is merit in heeding the risks of a “naïve realist” environmental perspec- tive, leading towards eco-fascism, scholars risk obscuring the emergence of chal- lenges to anthropocentric hegemony. Hage’s concerns about links to right-wing nationalism can obscure environmentalists’ calls for a sustainable carrying capacity. The Ehrlich Equation is applicable at the level of any biological unit, including at a planetary level. Hage does not oﬀer an alternative estimate for the carrying capacity of either Australia or the world. By claiming that “this ‘ecological thinking’, then, is not far from other forms of White nationalist domestication except at a rhetorical level”, Hage obscures legitimate analysis of the carrying capacity of the Australian island. Similarly, Franklin’s call for an “alternative view” that might “accept humanity as simply another agent of nature and to accept the changing mix and balance of species as inevitable or given” ignores the argument that the extinction of Indigen- ous species in Australia contributes to a global diminution of biodiversity. These environmental workers were engaging with an ecological argument that such a dim- inution poses risks—a reduction that threatens the ability of all to adapt and retain balance. Science itself can be unfairly represented. It is no secret that strategic responses to invasive species are highly debated within the biological sciences. Franklin’s critique of puritanical eradication thinking itself applies the arguments of scientists (ironically, including those of Professor Tim Flannery). The examples of puritanism cited in Franklin’s critique are often not made by biological scientists, but by advocacy groups, politicians and wildlife documentary makers. Franklin’s criticism of “eradication measures that apply universally to introduced animals in Australia” loses further rel- evance when it is revealed that even young team members in environmental workfare understand the value of not applying such measures universally. Those who engaged in this research project were likely to have been the more enthu- siastic participants in environmental workfare. Unsurprisingly, they invested in the struggle that was put before them and generated further meaning in it. They were inter- ested in the science and were perhaps enamoured or even captivated by it at times, yet the reﬂexivity in their comments suggested that they were not wholly captured by it. Their inclusion of all humans, reverence for Indigeneity, rejection of settler colonialism, and Macnaghten and Urry, Contested Natures. Hage, White Nation, 177. Franklin, Nature and Social Theory, 110. Franklin, “An Improper Nature?,” 196. JOURNAL OF AUSTRALIAN STUDIES 17 comic reﬂexivity about their own angst towards certain species produced their own form of “eco-habitus” and the construction of a “nature-culture” diﬀering from naïve forms of environmentalism or eco-nationalism. They were reﬂexive about their perspectives on environmental problems and produced a nature-culture with a strong appreciation for lesser-known species that did not emphasise the charismatic mega-vertebrates emble- matic of the nation. Furthermore, all cultures could be, in some way, considered nature-cultures. It is here that I wish to draw attention to calls from Haraway to “make Kin”, and also to the words of Franklin, who similarly argues that “throughout modernity it is possible to see new and spectacular moves to rekindle an association with nature whether as wilderness, countryside or bush”. Haraway deliberately turns to the hybridised term of “nature-culture” to loosen a dualistic division: it is a feature of all cultures to relate to nature. The making of nature-culture, therefore, is not something that should be met with panic; it is essential in social relations. Haraway seeks to redeﬁne “kin” in the era of the “Chthulucene”, fully casting away the anthropocentrism of the Anthropocene, to “become capable, with each other in all of our bumptious kinds, in response”. This capability is so that we may respond to the “Trouble” that is the threat to our planet’s ecosystems. Calls to honour Indigenous values oﬀer similar potential to reshape humanity’s relationship to nature. Hage’s more recent work also draws upon the notion of “kin”, asking us to step outside of “generalized domestication” and engage with “reciprocal” and “mutualist” modes of existence. We can adopt a “multi-naturalist framework” to look beyond fears of isolationist nationalism and the dichotomies of nature and culture or of humans and others. These young environmental workers, representing the ecological youth of the “precar- iat”, were attempting to accumulate capitals speciﬁc to the ﬁeld of science and the conservation industry workplace. While not necessarily intentional, they were “making kin” in ways available to them. No shortage of mistaken assumptions has been made about the interests of young people. The interests of others have always coloured how youth are represented. The Australian Government’s promotional materials and reporting on the Green Army actively produced, and perhaps exaggerated, a narrative of young people as focused upon gaining an employment outcome. This research project has revealed nuanced accounts from the perspective of team members. In an era when “real” Nazis are bush- walking in Gariwerd, it is worth noting that young Australians participating in environ- mental workfare are far from embracing the eco-nationalism to which the far right aspires. Lindsey B. Carfagna et al., “An Emerging Eco-Habitus: The Reconﬁguration of High Cultural Practices among Ethical Con- sumers,” Journal of Consumer Culture 14, no. 2 (2014): 158–78. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble; Franklin, Nature and Social Theory, 82. See Jacob et al., “Indigenous Cultural Values,” 1–13; Tyson Yunkaporta, Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World (Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2019). Hage, Is Racism an Environmental Threat?,54–57. Eduardo Kohn, “How Dogs Dream: Amazonian Natures and the Politics of Transspecies Engagement,” American Ethnol- ogist 34, no. 1 (2007): 3–24. Guy Standing, Precariat: The New Dangerous Class (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2011). Steven Threadgold, “Figures of Youth: On the Very Object of Youth Studies,” Journal of Youth Studies 23, no. 6 (2019): 1– 16. 18 J. COOPER Acknowledgements The author thanks Dr Terry Leahy for review and theoretical contributions to this article. Disclosure Statement No potential conﬂict of interest was reported by the author(s). Funding This work was supported by Australian Government Research Training Program (RTP) Scholarship. ORCID Jai Cooper http://orcid.org/0000-0002-7400-0164
Journal of Australian Studies – Taylor & Francis
Published: Oct 2, 2023
Keywords: Workfare; eco-nationalism; making kin; Green Army; reflexivity; environment
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