A Condingup farmer has achieved a PhD from the University of WA after years studying the environmental history of the Esperance region.
Dr Nicole Chalmer completed her 93,000 word thesis, ‘Consuming Eden: An environmental history of food, culture and nature in the Esperance Bioregion’, after five years of external study from 2013 to 2018.
After finishing her undergraduate in Zoology, Dr Chalmer was given the chance to do further study but couldn’t due to family matters.
“For a really long time I've wanted to do it, and I finally thought if I didn't do it now I’d never do it,” she said.
“I’ve been writing a book about the Esperance region for a long time, so I thought, why don't I do that as a PhD.”
Despite a science background, Dr Chalmer entered the university’s history department.
“They are actually now recognising history is not only about people, it’s about the environment they live in and the impacts they have on the environment,” she said.
“It gave me the chance to explore deeply how people have interacted with the environment in this region.”
The thesis argues for sustainable production to ensure long term food security.
A major issue Dr Chalmer explores is the threat of salinity.
“There’s been a continuous process of politically ignoring it and pretending someone in the future will have a solution,” she said.
The thesis also delves into other environmental issues, including climate change and the link between land clearing and a lack of rainfall.
During her research, Dr Chalmer was surprised to discover how much land Aboriginal people controlled before Colonialism.
“It was all being managed in some form and it was highly efficient,” she said. “They had population control methods and there was plenty of food for everyone.
“They lived well into their 80s and were far healthier than most of us today.”
Dr Chalmer spent a lot of time sorting through archives and musty old journals.
It’s really important to realise if you want to do something like this, you can.Dr Nicole Chalmer.
She spent many hours at the Esperance Museum and travelled to Perth to explore the State Library and the Department of Agriculture archives.
“I spent a lot of time talking to local Ag Department researches and interviewing local farmers and indigenous people,” Dr Chalmer said.
Although a lot of information was online, some research needed to be done in Perth.
Dr Chalmer said studying from Esperance had its challenges, but it was definitely possible.
“Don’t think you need to be in the city,” she said.
“It’s really important to realise if you want to do something like this, you can.”
She said Esperance Community Arts executive officer Jane Mulcock, who has a PhD in anthropology, was a big help in sharing ideas.
Dr Chalmer said she planned to turn her thesis into a book, which could be understood by the general public.
“I would like to get this published as a book and write more papers and some books about what I discovered during the thesis that could be developed a lot more.”
The thesis is expected to be available digitally in about two years.