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Passionate stories of the Great Barrier Reef – lecture tour

Passionate stories of the Great Barrier Reef – lecture tour

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef in the world and can be seen from outer space. But it’s the passionate and varied human responses to this extraordinary living structure that are of most interest to historian and social scientist Professor Iain McCalman, who is visiting New Zealand shortly to give the 2015 New Zealand Aronui Lecture for the Royal Society of New Zealand.

In his lecture, ‘Great Barrier Reef Passions – why history stories matter’, Professor McCalman will share historical tales from the Great Barrier Reef.

“Over time, human encounters with the dazzling 2,300-kilometre swathe of corals, islands and lagoons have evoked passionate, if diverse, responses which are shaping the reactions of the reef communities of today. In this lecture I’d like to share some of these passionate ‘Reef’ stories,” Professor McCalman says.

These stories include an account of when Captain Cook first sailed the Endeavour through the Great Barrier Reef calling it an ‘insane labyrinth’, and the harrowing tale of a French cabin boy shipwrecked in the 1860s and living happily with Aboriginal rescuers for 17 years until forcibly returned to white ‘civilisation’. Professor McCalman will also show the first dazzling paintings of Reef sea creatures produced by a marine scientist in the 1890s, and share the story of how a women poet, bohemian artist and forester joined forces to save the Reef from mining.

Professor McCalman is a Professorial Research Fellow at the University of Sydney where he is Co-Director of the Sydney Environment Institute, a think-tank established to understand the relationship between human communities and the natural world they inhabit and how society can adapt positively to environmental change.

He wrote the award-winning book, Darwin’s Armada, which became an international TV series and museum exhibition. His recent book, The Barrier Reef – A Passionate History, was published in 2013 and explores the history that has shaped understanding of the Great Barrier Reef. He has been a historical consultant and narrator for a number of historical documentaries and films.

Royal Society of New Zealand President Professor Richard Bedford says the annual New Zealand Aronui Lecture, organised by the Society, celebrates the study of human life and culture.

“We are delighted to be able to bring to audiences in New Zealand a speaker who embodies the spirit of the New Zealand Aronui lecture. Rather than a talk that focuses on the Reef itself, ProfessorMcCalman is interested in what the Reef has meant to the people whose lives it has touched. I have no doubt it will be a fascinating and inspiring talk.”

Professor McCalman will give the 2015 New Zealand Aronui lecture in Hamilton, Wellington, Dunedin and Auckland . In Nelson he is giving the Thomas Cawthron Memorial Lecture, in partnership with the Cawthron Institute.

Details of the talks are:

Hamilton | 7pm Wednesday 2 December
Te Whare Tapere Iti , Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts, University of Waikato

Wellington | 7.30pm Thursday 3 December
Soundings Theatre, Te Papa

Dunedin | 6pm Tuesday 8 December
Hutton Theatre, Otago Museum, Great King Street

Nelson | 7.30pm Wednesday 9 December
Rutherford Hotel Conference Centre, Nile Street, Nelson

Auckland | 6pm Thursday 10 December
Events Centre, Auckland Museum, The Domain, Parnell

Tickets are free and can be reserved online at


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