Fresh and Salt: Introduction

Heather Goodall

Abstract

Fresh and Salt was a Trans/forming Cultures workshop on water, an issue of urgent interest in Australia and the region. It focused on the relationships between people and water, with particular attention to the interests of Indigenous peoples and was organised around four themes: freshwater rivers, oceans, borders and commons. Participants at the symposium included activists and academic researchers who brought with them an extraordinarily broad disciplinary background. They ranged from cultural analysts to freshwater biologists, from historians and anthropologists to lawyers, political scientists and geographers. This generated vigorous and wide-ranging discussions, opening up unfamiliar comparisons between conditions on inland freshwater rivers and those of ocean island societies, or between the politics of modernising technologies on vast tropical rivers like the Mekong with those of arid zone rivers like those in inland China and Australia. In doing so, these discussions probed the ways in which the tools of social and cultural analysis can be usefully engaged with those of policy, biology and economics. This introductory essay argues that the papers refined and presented here reflect the qualities of the symposium discussions. They illuminate the ways in which people generate meanings for water, the ways the political battles over water are fought out and the ways in which water as rivers or oceans has formed fruitful but contested border zones across the region.

This symposium was convened by Trans/forming Cultures, the UTS Centre for Culture and Communications in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Science. It was generously supported by the Asia Pacific Futures Network and by the International Centre of Excellence in Asia Pacific Studies. The workshop was initiated and conducted by researchers from the centre, including Stephanie Donald [then TfC Director], Heather Goodall, Kate Barclay, James Goodman, Stephen Muecke and Devleena Ghosh [current TfC Director]. Participants were drawn from a number of active research networks associated with TfC, including the China Node of the APFN, the South Asia Network and the Research Initiative on International Activism.

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