Women of the Great Barrier Reef
Stories of Gender and Conservation
Keywords: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.
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Expedition cruise company Aurora Expeditions in March 2021 dedicated a ship to five of the world’s leading women conservationists. ‘Coral conservation champion’ Wallace was honoured with deck 6. In: Holly Payne, ‘Aurora Expeditions’ Sylvia Earle lauds female conservationists,’ Seatrade Cruise News, 22 April 2021, https://www.seatrade-cruise.com/shipbuilding-refurb-equipment/aurora-expeditions-sylvia-earle-lauds-female-conservationists.
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This article presents oral histories gathered as part of a collaborative research project funded by a State Library of Queensland John Oxley Library Fellowship 2020, titled ‘The Women of the Great Barrier Reef: Discovering the Untold Stories of Environmental Conservation in Queensland’.
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Unless otherwise stated, quotes by Wallace presented in this paper are from Carden Wallace (2020), interview by Kerrie Foxwell-Norton and Anne Leitch, transcript, ‘Women of the Great Barrier Reef: Oral History Collection 2020–21’, Griffith University.
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