Women of the Great Barrier Reef

Stories of Gender and Conservation


  • Kerrie Foxwell-Norton Griffith University
  • Deb Anderson Monash University
  • Anne M. Leitch Griffith University




Carden Wallace, the Great Barrier Reef, feminist and environmental movements, the Reef as gendered space, conservation politics, Women of the Reef project


In the late 1970s, Carden Wallace was at the beginning of her lifelong exploration of the Great Barrier Reef — and indeed, reefs all over the world. For Wallace, who is now Emeritus Principal Scientist at Queensland Museum, the beginning of her Reef career coincided with the emergence of both feminist and environmental movements that meant her personal and professional lives would be entwined with a changing social, cultural and political milieu. In this article, we couple the story of Wallace’s personal life and her arrival in coral science to identify the Reef as a gendered space ripe to explore both feminist and conservation politics. The article is part of a broader Women of the Reef project that supports a history of women’s contribution to the care and conservation of the Reef since the 1960s. In amplifying the role of women in the story of the Reef, we find hope in the richness of detail offered by oral history to illuminate the ways discourse on the Reef and its women sits at the intersection of biography, culture, politics and place. In these stories, we recognise women’s participation and leadership as critical to past challenges, and to current and future climate change action. By retelling modern Reef history through the experiences and achievements of women, we can develop new understandings of the Reef that disrupt the existing dominance of patriarchal and Western systems of knowledge and power that have led us to the brink of ecological collapse.

Author Biographies

Kerrie Foxwell-Norton, Griffith University

Kerrie Foxwell-Norton is an Associate Professor of Communication and Media at Griffith University, where her work is supported by the Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research and the Griffith Climate Action Beacon. Her research expertise is environmental communication, where she explores the politics of community, culture and nature, with a particular focus on coastal and marine environments.

Deb Anderson, Monash University

Dr Deb Anderson is a journalist and academic born in Far North Queensland, now based in Melbourne. Her research at Monash University draws from oral history, journalism and ecofeminism to explore the lived experience of extreme weather in an era of politicised knowledge on climate change. She is the author of Endurance: Australian Stories of Drought (CSIRO, 2014).

Anne M. Leitch, Griffith University

Anne Leitch is a science communication researcher who began her career with jobs that took her all over the Great Barrer Reef counting crown-of-thorns starfish, recording fish behaviour and identifying reef invertebrates. She now spends her time writing about these things and researching climate change adaption and community resilience to coastal change.


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How to Cite

Foxwell-Norton, K., Anderson, . D., & Leitch, A. M. (2021). Women of the Great Barrier Reef: Stories of Gender and Conservation. Queensland Review, 28(2), 150–165. https://doi.org/10.1017/qre.2022.12




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