Spiders, backpacks and their unexpected link to researcher positionality.
Usually when I go away and start a blog, I write and write for the first few days and then life kicks in, friends appear and the words become fewer and farther between. Staying true to form, a lot has happened since I last posted on here.
I’ve left the Gold Coast and Griffith Uni and I’m now writing this as I’m heading back south on the Bruce Highway. This comes after taking a train to visit my cousin in Airlie Beach, a coastal resort 1000km north of Brisbane where it’s too dangerous to swim in the sea, yet the whole town is built on water-based recreation.
I’m travelling in a ride share, which should have left between 10 and 11 this morning, but actually rolled out of the small town at 3:30. With an 8 hour drive to the intended destination I have found my previous experience of this route out voting my sense of adventure and I’m the boring realistic one in the car.
In the classic backpacker vehicle of choice, a beat up Ford Falcon, we have an Italian driver, who was quick to tell us about a bad car crash that she had a few months ago which she’s still recovering from, an English co-pilot, who is not familiar with the unwritten law of staying awake if you’re in the front seat, a German chef who seems to be a little confused by the whole situation, and me; who has resorted to taking out a laptop and typing away to pass the time and avoid confrontation over where to go or stop. So that’s where I am now. Which is the easy part. Now I have to work out where to start writing about where I’ve been.
I’ll suppose the uni is the logical point, as that was the reason for the trip. My time in Griffith was interesting; I was able to talk to lots of people and used the time to readjust to life in Australia and get my bearings for the city, the region and visit the world surfing reserve itself. After a week and a half I admitted defeat, rented a car, and gave up on the seemingly effective public transport system and remembered that, because of temperatures and distances, Australia is very much a nation of the automobile.
Speaking of automobiles, I had to stop writing mid way through the above paragraph as I began to realise that our drivers blinks were beginning to last a little bit longer than a blink while driving should last. I stepped up my passenger game and started talking at her to try and keep her awake. This was all within the first half hour, so I was pretty apprehensive about the next 7.5 hours of the mission, trying to visualise the train route in my head to work out where I should say “please stop here, I will get out and take the train tomorrow”.
It turns out, however, that coffee is a wonderful travel companion, especially when it is obtainable for only 80 cents. In a country where nothing is 80 cents, 80 cents for an almost decent coffee is just dreamy. Well it worked to get us through to the next coffee stop which was a few hours away…. I realise that this isn’t anything about my experiences at the university but I’m on a roll so I’m going with it.
I wasn’t happy about driving through the night, so mentioned and made a case to stay at a free campground in 30kms which was on a river and had good comments on the camping app (wikicamp) that didn’t exist when I was here last. Saying “free” to backpackers generates instant and complete attention, along with occasional salivation. Let’s imagine the 80 cents coffee scenario, then take away 80 cents- I’m sure you can see: that’s one happy camper. So after 7 hours of driving, we arrived at a grassy riverside campsite with basic facilities. “Its really bad” said the driver. “How do you know its bad” I asked? To me it was quiet apart from the sounds of the trees and wasnt moving so it looked great in comparison to being in the car. I didn’t get a response.
We set up a few tents and then walked up to the “apartment” which held the toilet- the English guy called it that. I have no idea where that name came from. Anyway, our driver let out a yell and declared that she had been bitten and it was probably a spider and she couldn’t walk and she’d been bitten and it hurt and it might have been a spider and shine a light on it, you can see the marks and ouuuuch…. Oh my it was dramatic.
Now I don’t know how to treat spider bites but I was confident that if it was a spider, and it was a bad spider, then she wouldn’t have been able to do two more trips to the “apartment” and google pictures of spiders and bites for an hour. I drew an outline of the small red mark on her foot so we could check if it got worse, and tried to distract her with a beer.
Ultimately, she and the rest of us survived the night and in the morning we set off to complete the journey to Agnes Water and The Town of 1770. We had a nice time there but I realised on the trip that while I may have been in the past, I’m not a proper backpacker at the moment; I’m half living a backpacker lifestyle, and half working. Like a backpacker, I have a tight budget which I am trying to stretch as far as possible but while I don’t have to worry about finding work in the next town, I also don’t quite have the freedom or mindset of someone on an out and out adventure.
This kind of “thresholder” position; not quite in, not quite out, is something I have been thinking about a lot lately. It resonates closely with my research and my own positionality within it. I can surf and I know about surfing, but I’ll be the first to admit I am a fair weather, little wave kind of surfer. I wouldn’t put myself in the same category as the dawn chargers, big wave chasers or high performance athletes which frequent so many beaches around the world, and in such great numbers in Australia. I don’t have much of a tan, I am from Wales, and I’m female. I don’t feel like I come across as much of a surfing stereotype over here and I wonder how much all of these factors influence how people talk to me, and the impact that may have on my findings.
This is something I will be continuing to reflect on as I proceed- in this highly subjective methodology I do need to be careful with my approach and will “need to think on my subjective position without priveliging it” (Olive 2016). As Olive goes on to say in regard to her own research, in my new favourite paper,
“This approach continues to privilege the surrounding social and cultural world and the perspectives of cultural participants, while reflexively accounting for the limitations of the researchers position within that”. *
So whether that’s me realising I’m only half a backpacker, or acknowledging that I am not in the centre of the surfing community, i think an awareness of positionality is going to be really important in understanding what is being learnt and interpreted.
Well would you look at that, I managed to swing it all back round to the research in the end. Next up, who knows! but now I’m in New Zealand so it might be about a Kiwi. In the mean time, there are some more pictures below that were supposed to go with other posts that i haven’t found time to write yet.
*Olive, Rebecca (2016). Surfing, localism, place-based pedagogies, and ecological sensibilities in Australia. In Barbara Humberstone, Heather Prince and Karla A. Henderson (Ed.), Routledge international handbook of outdoor studies (pp. 501–510) Abingdon, Oxon, UK: Routledge