Academic Publications


Reardon-Smith, M 2024, ‘ A seat at the table? Planning, meetings and the ‘stable relation’ of a joint managed National Park in northern Australia’, Geoforum,

Over the last fifteen years, most national parks in Cape York Peninsula, far north-east Australia, have been transferred to Aboriginal ownership and are now jointly managed by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and the relevant Aboriginal traditional owner groups. The park in which this research was conducted has been jointly managed for just over a decade, but the transition to joint management is entwined with challenges related to the bringing together of different knowledge and management systems. The main forum for discussing and implementing change is in the mutual space of formal joint management meetings. However, this mutual space is not co-produced on equal terms. Joint management meetings and the production of management plans function as a way for Queensland Parks to fulfil their obligations to Aboriginal traditional owners while simultaneously reaffirming their status as the more powerful co-managing institution. Rather than fostering a space of indeterminacy, in which management partners could co-create new forms of managing and caring for land, meetings and management plans function to construct a ‘stable relation’ between Aboriginal traditional owners and Queensland Parks.


Reardon-Smith, M 2023, ‘The Wet: Shifting Seasons, Climate Change and Natural Cycles in Cape York Peninsula, Queensland’, Oceania,

Land managers in Cape York Peninsula, far northeast Australia, hold different ideas around the causes of climate variability. Understandings of changes in climate are underpinned by particular environmental knowledges, values, and practices. These understandings are articulated in the context of the wet season, when land managers must adapt to the changing duration and intensity of the rainfall each year. The wet and dry seasons function as cyclical agents that precipitate different modes of living and working among different groups of people in Cape York. Where settler-descended cattle graziers tend to frame climate variability as ‘natural cycles’, Aboriginal rangers link climate variability to anthropogenic climate change. The tendency among Aboriginal rangers to link these changes to anthropogenic climate change is a result of the interpenetration of a Western scientific land management model with an Aboriginal land management model in the formal co-management of protected areas. From this context, a ‘spatial vernacular’ of interculturally produced climate-related knowledge emerges. The explanatory models different land managers draw on to understand climate variation in relation to seasonal water, changes to the wet season, and the increased frequency of extreme weather events are linked to their livelihoods, lifeways, and the forms of environmental knowledge they value.

Reardon-Smith, M 2023, ‘Valuing Hard Work: ‘Station Times’, the Pioneer Complex and Settler-Descended Graziers’ Views on Work in Cape York Peninsula’, The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology, 

The historically unequal grazing industry in Cape York Peninsula, far northeast Queensland, gave rise to intercultural relationships between Aboriginal stock workers and settler-descended graziers. However, in recent decades, Aboriginal employment on cattle stations has fallen. Nowadays, many younger Aboriginal people work in government-funded jobs which settler-descended graziers frame as ‘hand-out style’ work. Settler-descended graziers have come to value an ethic of hard work related to both the Protestant work ethic and aspects of pioneer mythology which are entwined with graziers’ senses of belonging. Contemporary Aboriginal people are positioned by settler-descended graziers as having a ‘different’ relationship to work and lacking the valuation of hard work that graziers deem a moral good. In their discussions of Aboriginal people as lacking a valuation for ‘hard work’, graziers seek to critique what they perceive as government overreach in the form of land rights and government-funded jobs.

Reardon-Smith, M 2023, ‘Forging preferred landscapes: Burning regimes, carbon sequestration and ‘natural’ fire in Cape York, far north Australia’, Ethnos,

Fire management is a right and responsibility shared by all land managers in Cape York Peninsula, far north Australia, bringing together Aboriginal traditional owners, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service rangers and settler-descended cattle graziers. The landscape of Northern Australia has been socialised by fire over millennia, resulting in a fire-adapted and fire-dependent landscape. While fire knowledge originated with Aboriginal traditional owners, decades of engagement in the multi-ethnic pastoral industry have resulted in contemporary burning practices that have been interculturally mediated. The Australian government’s carbon sequestration scheme has further transformed local burning practices, precipitating new forms of burning and new forms of critique. Through examining the burning practices and perspectives of Aboriginal traditional owners, Park rangers, and – in particular – cattle graziers, the ideological underpinnings of different fire regimes emerge. These insights disrupt some of the accepted wisdom around fire management and cultural burning in Australia.

Reardon-Smith, M 2023, ‘Grappling with Weeds: Invasive Species and Hybrid Landscapes in Cape York Peninsula, Far North Australia’, Environmental Values, vol. 32, no. 3, pp. 249-269,

The control of various introduced species brings to the fore questions around how species are categorised as 'native' or 'invasive', belonging or not belonging. In far north Queensland, Australia, the Cape York region is a complex mixture of land tenures, including pastoral leases, National Parks and Aboriginal land, and overlapping management agreements. Weed control comprises much of the work that land managers in Cape York do. However, different land managers target different introduced species for control, and the ways in which certain species are understood as more or less problematic indicate how land managers understand and seek to order landscapes. Through investigating the various positions that introduced species occupy, I will explore how Cape York emerges as a 'hybrid landscape' that is produced in contested, overlapping and ambiguous ways, and is rife with 'feral dynamics'.


Reardon-Smith, M 2021, ‘‘We are the ones who know the intimacies of the soil’: Grazier claims to belonging and changing land-relations in Cape York Peninsula, Queensland’, The Australian Journal of Anthropology, vol. 32, no. 3, pp. 340-355

Across Cape York Peninsula, the cattle grazing industry has declined in recent decades due to falling cattle prices, shorter wet seasons and land tenure changes. Remaining graziers perceive their status in the region as increasingly marginal and explain this precarity with the ‘locking up’ of Cape York land regimes and environments by National Parks and Aboriginal interests. Based on 14 months of ethnographic research in south-east Cape York conducted in 2018–2019, in this article I describe and analyse how graziers construct their claims to belonging in the region in response to land tenure changes. Drawing on recent scholarship on non-Indigenous forms of belonging in settler states and using the case study of one particular grazing family, I discuss how graziers position themselves as those who ‘know the intimacies of the soil’, as one grazier stated, due to multigenerational work on the land. Their claim to belonging tends to ignore prior Aboriginal occupation and instead emphasises their long-term relationships with local Aboriginal families, while the third main stakeholder in the region, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, is perceived as a kind of dispossessor representing non-local ‘Green’ ideologies and interests.

Book reviews

Review of ‘In the Shadow of the Palms: More-Than-Human Becomings in West Papua’ by Sophie Chao published in Society and Space Magazine

Non-Academic Writing

Essay ‘When Aboriginal Burning Practices Meet Colonial Legacies in Australia’ published in Edge Effects

I acknowledge the traditional custodians of the stolen-never-ceded lands I live, work, and think on, the Wurundjeri people.