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 ‘multi-species communities’. This work requires me to think again (and again) about ‘community’, about ‘ethics’, about ‘species’, and, always, about the death which goes beyond death to become an irretrievable loss in the world.

Deborah and JJ, Simpson Desert

Deborah and JJ, Simpson Desert

No living thing is without interest, and I sometimes like to think of myself as a sniffer dog – everything is of interest, at least for a while. Specifically, the case studies that are central to this blog include Australian dingoes, Flying-foxes (Pteropus spp) throughout their region, Hawaiian monk seals, and Laysan albatross.

I began exploring these questions in my most recent book Wild Dog Dreaming: Love and Extinction (2011, University of Virginia Press), available in paperback and on Kindle. I have also put many of my articles online at the Academia website. Other books include Reports from a Wild Country, Dingo Makes Us Human, Country of the Heart, and Nourishing Terrains (free download).

The Extinction Studies Working Group, of which I am a founding member, helps nurture my thinking, and supports 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 Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, and a Professor in the Environmental Humanities Program at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

Much of the research that I report on concerning endangered species has been funded by the Australian Research Council (Discovery Grant: 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’, Sydney.         Courtesy of Nick Edards.

Hawaiian monk seals, mother and pup, Kaua'k

Hawaiian monk seals, mother and pup, Kaua’i

Laysan Albatross, Kaua'i

Laysan Albatross, Kaua’i

6 thoughts on “About Love and Extinction

  1. Usually I don’t learn article on blogs, however I wish to say that this write-up very pressured me to check out and do so! Your writing style has been amazed me. Thanks, very nice article.

  2. 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.

  3. 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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