Andrea Gaynor, Associate Professor of History, has always been interested in the environment. With environmental history being her main research focus, she now looks at current environmental issues through a historical lens.
She grew up in the 80s when public environmental concern was flourishing and the hole in the ozone layer was becoming a global issue.
As a child she was intrigued by science, but when it came to tertiary studies she opted for humanities - history in particular - to gain a deeper understanding of people and what made societies tick.
“Historical stories reveal a lot about us as people and the conditions that shape us. From an environmental perspective, history offers important insights into why we find ourselves in such a state of environmental degradation.
“I am a historian, and a teacher. The two are an easy fit, as history loves an audience, and is invigorated by critical scrutiny. History provides fertile ground for learning about the past and the present, and about possibilities for human experience,” she says.
Her research expertise also expands into food production, and interestingly, something that does not often come up in history books – animals and fishing.
Recently, she has been involved in documenting the community opposition to the Roe Highway (Roe 8) and Perth Freight Link projects in a book entitled Never Again: Reflections on Environmental Responsibility after Roe 8. To be launched by UWA Publishing on 3 December, the publication sheds light on the Roe 8 campaign and reveals much of what was at stake for the affected residents and places it in a wider context.
The book also includes creative contributions and Andrea sees it as ‘not only a historical record but also an intervention’.
“We hope our stories and analyses can inspire people worldwide who are working towards healthier, more biodiverse and sustainable cities, and inform government and society so we can learn from the Roe 8 experience.
“It is as much about lessons for the future as it is about recording past processes and practices that we see as detrimental to the environment,” Andrea says.
Aligning with her passion for conserving history and culture, she proudly reveals that a key recommendation in the book centres on the reform of Aboriginal heritage protection.
Andrea is already working on her next publication, which, she says, takes her to the beginning of her publishing career and writing about food production. At the heart of the book is urban sustainability and food production, and the aim is to shed some light on the kinds of cities we are striving for that can sustain our growing need for food.
It is inspiring to see an educator with such a passion for environmental causes and this certainly translates to the classroom.
“I aim for all of my students to take away from their time at UWA an interest in the past, an appreciation of the utility of history as a way of understanding humanity, and a set of useful skills.
“My ‘take home’ message for students is that history is a powerful tool for helping us understand and shape the present,” she says.
As an environmentalist, it is unsurprising to learn that Andrea commutes by bicycle to UWA to reduce her carbon footprint and uses that opportunity to feed her passion for dolphin watching on the Swan River.