Bracken Fern Mattering

This blog is emerging from encounters with Bracken Fern that have taken place while walking-with Gabbiljee, also known as the watery place at the end of Derbarl Yerrigan (Swan River). The blog has been written in response to unfolding tensions that exist between my own relational and embodied encounters with Bracken Fern and local council’s management of what is labeled as an ‘invasive weed’. Rather than providing a solution to the ‘problem of weeds’, this blog sits with these tensions in order to trouble normative responses to weeds that typically play out as place-based pedagogies in early years education. The blog intentionally stories my own encounters with Bracken Fern alongside alternative Place stories and theory, with the intention of opening up a space to consider the differences that are emerging from between the entanglement of stories and theory. The space invites speculation about how education might respond to weeds in ways that account for weed-child(ren) relationality and an ethics that attends to the more-than-human.  

Gabbiljee is a wetland area described by the local shire as being rich in native flora and fauna. Today it is home to Banksia, Grasstree, Jarrah, Marri and Freshwater Paperback. Splendid Wren, various frog species and Quenda live with the wetlands. Gabbiljee is also home to Bracken Fern. When walking-with the bushland surrounding the wetlands, it is impossible to ignore Bracken Fern. 

Image: Bracken Fern Carpet

Trampled, greying and dying, upright, green and thriving, Bracken Fern lines the banks of Gabbiljee creek in various stages of life and death. A dry, brown carpet of dead Bracken envelopes the surrounding bushland. Scattered glimpses of bright vivid green emerge from the brown, dry carpet. Despite so much death, Bracken Fern is determined to flourish.

What types of pedagogies might respond to the mutual vulnerability of weeds and children?

Bracken Fern is a plant identified by the local shire as an invasive weed. The council, various volunteer groups and local schools have been working together to try to eradicate Bracken Fern from the area. Due to its prolific and rapid growth (particularly after fires) Bracken Fern has damaged bushland that surrounds the wetlands. Bracken Fern embodies the anthropocentric quest to control and restore nature to its natural, and therefore idyllic, state.  Deborah Bird Rose describes this period of history as an era of human control over nature (Rose, 2015). We are in a “moment of cleansing, in which humans decide to rid their neighbourhood of those they don’t like” (Rose, 2015, p. 87). Historically, environmental education has romanticised the image of a child playing in ‘perfect’ nature (Taylor, 2013). Anthropocentric responses that attempt to control and manage nature in order for it to return it to its ‘natural’ state can be seen in the ways in which place-pedagogies play out in schools  today. Activities such as weed pulling and rubbish clean ups often feature in outdoor projects that are designed to teach children how to ‘fix up’ the environment. Nxumalo and Rubin call these types of responses to environmental crises “anthropocentric traps” (2019, p.202). 

Image: Rhizome Mattering

Bracken Fern stem meets with ground. Underneath the ground, stem meets with rhizomes, rhizomes spread forwards, backwards, sideways, wherever earth allows. Sitting-with Bracken Fern, imagining rhizomes reaching like fingers, pushing, shaping, moulding earth. Smaller roots shoot out from rhizomes, like tiny tentacles growing, shifting, changing earth. Roots push upwards until they break free from earth to meet air.

How might an attunement towards relationality invite a different type of response to weeds?  

To control the spread of Bracken Fern you must completely destroy it’s rhizomes. Even when badly damaged, rhizomes are still able to regenerate. Bracken Fern colonises especially rapidly in fire affected areas. However, its rapid growth after fire provides shelter for Quenda. Bracken Fern appears to be both enemy and ally.      

Anthropocentric responses to weeds abound in binaries – human and nature, native plants and weeds, good plants and bad plants, past and present, then and now. Haraway (and others) reminds us that while these anthropocentric responses to control the environment work to try and separate humans from the more-than-human, it is impossible to untangle the knots of complexity that bind us together in shared common worlds (Haraway, 2016). The Anthropocene has likely played a part in Bracken Fern being in this Place  – perhaps through the human movement of Bracken Fern rhizomes into the area or perhaps through human impact that has caused increased amounts of fires in the area. But maybe humans have had nothing to do with Bracken Fern growing in the area. What does matter is that Bracken Fern exists in this Place because of thousands of years of mattering.  

Image: Layers of Mattering 

Sitting-with layers of Bracken Fern, Banksia, Grasstree, Jarrah, Marri and Paperback mattering. Here you can dig your fingers down towards earth and feel the layers of mattering. You have to dig a while to reach earth because there are lots of layers. Spiky, sharp, fragile, dry . . . each layer feels different. Or scoop up a handful and let the layers sift through your fingers. It is like holding hundreds and hundreds of years in your hands. 

What new modes of attention might be needed to be open to responses that acknowledge the deep time of Place? (Myers, 2017)        

Anthropocentric traps are designed to capture and retain, sometimes through trickery or deception. If we slow down to hesitate (Stengers, 2008) and consider where the idea of an ‘idyllic nature’ has come from, we learn that a colonial logic has trapped us into problematic definitions of words such as native, wilderness and natural (Mastnak et al., 2014). This might explain why Bracken Fern is labelled as both native and weed depending on what you read. The definition of a native plant derives from settler-colonial descriptions of a plant that is unruly, unkept and uncultivated (Mastnak et al., 2014). It refers to a plant that has never been impacted in any way by humans. Calling a plant native is troublesome for this reason – it contributes to the erasure of Indigenous knowledges and histories while at the same time assumes a settler futurity. These words deny an acknowledgement of the sophisticated agricultural practices that have been used by Aboriginal peoples for thousands of years. This specific Place has been home to Aboriginal peoples for at least hundreds of years. It is known to have been an important source of food for the Beeliar group who lived in the area.

What types of responses (to weeds) attend to frictions that exist between different naming practices? 

How might situated and specific Aboriginal Place stories be brought into dialogue with other Place stories (without falling back on stereotypes and appropriation)?

How might the presence of situated Aboriginal Place stories invite otherwise responses to weeds?   

Rather than provide an answer to how Place pedagogies might respond to weeds in ways that avoid anthropocentric traps, this blog is intended to sit with the tensions that come into play when entering a dialogue with different situated Place stories. Thinking-with Bracken Fern opens up a space for considering otherwise responses to environmental concerns. Responses that attend to relationality have the potential to counter the binary thinking that works to separate humans from Place and opens up possibilities for new ways of living with our more-than-human kin in shared common worlds. 

References:

Haraway, D. (2016). Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the chthulecene. Duke University Press.

Mastnak, T., Elyachar, J., & Boellstorff, T. (2014). Botanical decolonization: rethinking native plants. Environment and Planning: Society and Space, 32(2), 363-380.

Myers, N. (2017). Becoming sensor in sentient worlds: A more-than-natural history of a black oak savannah. Between matter and method: Encounters in anthropology and art, 73-96.

Nxumalo, F. & Rubin, J. C. (2019). Encountering Waste Landscapes. In C. Kuby, K. Spector, & J.J. Thiel (Eds.), Posthumanism and literacy education: Knowing/becoming/doing literacies (pp. 201-213). Routledge. 

Rose, D.B. (2015). Flying foxes in Sydney. In K. Gibson, D.B. Rose, R. Fincher  (Eds.), Manifesto for living in the anthropocene (pp. 83-89). Punctum Books. 

Stengers, I. (2008). Experimenting with refrains: Subjectivity and the challenge of escaping modern dualism. Subjectivity, 22(1), 38-59.

Taylor, A. (2013). Reconfiguring the natures of childhood. Routledge.

For more information about Gabbiljee:

https://www.sercul.org.au/fobcc/

https://www.melvillecity.com.au/things-to-do/museums-arts-and-culture/aboriginal-heritage-and-culture/sites-of-aboriginal-cultural-significance

https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/view/15389577/bull-creek-wetland-city-of-melville

For more information about Bracken Fern:

https://florabase.dpaw.wa.gov.au/browse/profile/57

One thought on “Bracken Fern Mattering

  1. What a great post! The complexities of researching one weed-native. Perhaps Bracken Fern is also a feminist or ‘ferninist’ who refuses eradication.

    Like

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