05 September 2014

Described so memorably in Dorothea Mackellar’s poem, My Country, first published in 1908, our land of sweeping plains and ragged mountain ranges is something many Australians hold dear. Our love of the outdoors – even just our local parks and beaches – is often celebrated as part of our cultural identity. 

But with the march of technology and the evolution of an “always-on” work and play ethic, are we still really an outdoorsy society? 

Over the next month researchers at the University of South Australia are calling on you to help explore just how much we use, value and feel attached to our green or outdoor spaces in a special project – Operation Outdoors

The citizen science and history project involves a partnership with ABC Local Radio 891 ABC Adelaide which also includes an online survey where people are asked to reflect on all the ways they engage in the outdoors - from the hard core activities of remote camping and hiking, right down to walking the kids to the local playground or simply gardening or having friends around for a barbecue. 

UniSA Urban ecologist Professor Chris Daniels will be working with Australian historian, Dr Kiera Lindsey from UniSA’s David Unaipon College of Indigenous Education and Research and UniSA social scientist and mapping expert Dr Delene Weber, to understand more about our physical, cultural and emotional relationships with the outdoors, how they have changed over time with each generation and why. 

Prof Daniels says the project will help to identify which outdoor places are South Australians’ favourites. 

“Working with 891 ABC Adelaide we’re relying on the public to tell us why they love the outdoor places they do and how they use those spaces,” Prof Daniels says. 

“They’ll be identifying what we call green ‘hot spots’ and the online survey tools will give them an opportunity to share their outdoor experiences as a story or a message or simply to map their outdoor activities with an online mapping tool. 

“Research from around the world is starting to evaluate the importance of humans’ engagement with nature and to question if our modern urban lives may be alienating us from the many benefits of the great outdoors. 

“There are obvious benefits of physical activity and fresh air, but some of the things we need to look at more closely are how being outside may benefit mental health, our understanding of our biological connection to nature and our cultural connection to our environment.” 

Dr Kiera Lindsey says she hopes the survey will encourage people to provide feedback on how outdoor places and experiences might have enduring meaning. 

“Places have more than a physical presence - they carry important history and memories and with that, also significant emotions and meanings for people. The beach is the place many learned to swim or battle the surf, while the hills often hold memories of annual family picnics or our very first school camp. 

“Our attachment to these outdoor spaces is deeply grounded in childhood and memories of other formative experiences. And when the experiences of those places are shared in a community, they underpin the formation local culture. 

“The more we are invested in these places, the more we are likely to care for our environment and pass on that knowledge and passion to future generations.”   

Operation Outdoors invites South Australians to think about and talk about the green spaces in their lives and their towns - how they use their parklands, botanic gardens, community veggie plots, and front gardens. 

ABC Local Radio will host the project, running special programming to encourage listeners to take part in the research. You can find out more about the project and here

The project is being supported by UniSA’ Barbara Hardy and Hawke Research Institutes and 891 ABC Adelaide will be running a series of segments and interviews to spark interest and encourage involvement. 

The data gathered will help inform research about how engaged Australians are with the outdoors, which green spaces are keeping us engaged and why, and what factors may both encourage and discourage people to spend time outdoors.


Media contact: Michèle Nardelli office: +61 8 8302 0966 mobile: 0418 823 673 email: Michele.nardelli@unisa.edu.au

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