About Love and Extinction

My Life As A Sniffer Dog 

Young dingo in Queensland, Photo: John Murray
Young dingo in Queensland, Photo: John Murray


This blog is dedicated to life at the edge of extinction. My life’s purpose is to explore the entangled ethics of love, contingency and desire in the face of almost incomprehensible loss. Social justice, ecological justice and human-animal relationships are a good part of it, but the work goes further in wanting to help us to reconfigure our deep understandings of the world of life in this time of cascading loss. I always want to plunge into the depths of things, and my ability to take these plunges has been shaped and given strength through sharing life and learning with Aboriginal people in Australia.

I came to Australia in 1980 to live with Aboriginal people in the hopes of learning about their relationships with country and other species. Instead of going home to the USA, I stayed to work with people on land claims and other decolonising agendas. I became an accomplished bush cook and 4X4 driver, and many of the happiest times of my life were, and are, in the bush.

My favourite bush camp (2013)
My favourite bush camp (2013)


I now spend more time at the computer than at the driver’s wheel, but my love of the earth’s great generosity of life continues to grow.  As love grows, so does anxiety. These are the days of violent catastrophes, of global dimming and moving dust bowls, of habitat fragmentation, ice melt, and plundered lives. Animals too are experiencing all this loss. With species going extinct daily, and with lives and habitats being ruined at every moment, how is a human being to respond? What does it mean for us as ethical and caring creatures to live within the midst of all this loss?

I have been investigating these questions most recently through ethnographic work with ‘multispecies communities’. This work requires me to think again (and again) about ‘community’, ‘ethics’, ‘species’, and, always, about the death which goes beyond death to become an irretrievable loss in the world.

Every living thing is fascinating, and so too are many non-living things. I sometimes think of myself as a sniffer dog: everything is of interest, at least for a while. My research does call for more than a sniff or two, though; the case studies that are central to my current work include Australian dingoes, Flying-foxes (Pteropus spp), Hawaiian monk seals, and Laysan albatross.

My little dog JJ and me, Simpson Desert
My little dog JJ and me, Simpson Desert


I began exploring questions of life, love, death and extinction in my recent book Wild Dog Dreaming: Love and Extinction (available in paperback and on Kindle). I have also put many of my articles online at Academia.edu. Other books include Reports from a Wild Country, Country of the HeartDingo Makes Us Human, and Nourishing Terrains (free download).

The Extinction Studies Working Group, of which I am a founding member, helps me nurture my thinking, and my sense of solidarity in a time when a lot of what is happening is quite desperate. Likewise, the Kangaloon Group of creative scholars concerned about the future of life gives me sustenance.

I am a Professor in the Environmental Humanities Program at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Recently we started a new MOOC (massive online open course) on ‘Environmental Humanities: Remaking Nature‘, and I am delighted to be one of the educators. In addition, I am  a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia. I live in Sydney with my partner the poet Peter Boyle.

Much of the research that I report on concerning endangered species has been funded by the Australian Research Council (most recent Discovery Grant, shared with Thom van Dooren: ‘Encounters with Extinction: A multi-sited, multi-species approach to life at the edge of catastrophe in the Asia-Pacific region’).


Flying-fox belly-dipping, Courtesy of Nick Edards
Flying-fox belly-dipping, Courtesy of Nick Edards


RK13 and pup
Hawaiian monk seal, mother and pup


Laysan Albatross, Parent and egg
Laysan Albatross, parent and egg


5 thoughts on “About Love and Extinction

  1. Just a line to let you know I have found your blog and twitter account, and that I’m going to read your work.
    Best regards, Karin de Bruijn

    1. Thanks! there is some tough stuff on this site, but it is all true, and it is never without love and commitment to a better world.

  2. Hi Deborah,

    I’ve followed you since first year history (1994) at Adelaide Uni when Bill Gammage set your book “Dingo makes us human” to review and write 500 words. So I read the whole thing (as I couldn’t stop) and didn’t quite manage to get down to 500 words!!
    Since then I have studied Aboriginal and Oral history with Bain Attwood, reading “Hidden Histories”, then Public History at Monash and came to presentation you were giving there, circa 2000.

    I ended up at the Kimberley Language Resource Centre and again I found your work on the east Kimberleys. There I ate a lot of bush coconut and archived the language recordings and linguistic materials. I came back to Victoria and worked for AAV and an Archaeologist as a historian. My area of expertise became the contact period in Australia.

    I am now a permaculture teacher, also tinkering at the edge of extinctions and trying very hard to slow down this 6th major extinction. I have recently been in Alice Springs to research desert food systems – both Aboriginal and white Australian – after reading Bruce Pascoe’s “Dark Emu”. I am drawn to the desert having come from Whyalla in SA and I miss it terribly living here in Melbourne. I’ve recently been directed to your book “Nourishing Terrains” and intend to download it after my gardening job today.

    This is a long winded email!! But, I wanted to let you know that your work has had a huge impact on my life and I hope we cross paths in the inland of Australia one day. Also, if you know of anyone or communities that are interested in learning about or doing permaculture and ecosystemic food growing I’m interested in seeing how we could work together.

    Huge amounts of appreciation for you work,

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