Book: Between Pride and Despair: Stories of Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics Rainforests
Chapter: Women of the Great Barrier Reef: Stories of Gender and Conservation
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.