A naturalistic gaze characterises protected area management in Australia, and reproduces the nature–culture dichotomy that is thoroughly criticised in geographical discourse. This naturalistic gaze is exacerbated by the compartmentalism of agency roles and responsibilities in protected areas. This paper maintains that many agencies, either unconsciously or deliberately, perpetuate the naturalistic gaze in a way that displaces Indigenous people from authentic engagement in protected area management. This paper provides an example of such marginalisation of Indigenous Australians in the world heritage area of Fraser Island, which is located in one of the most rapidly urbanising parts of Australia where Indigenous people have limited rights. The paper argues that a new process is required that networks people and place using concepts of nature/culture hybridity to avoid the current conceptual dualisms and the consequent marginalisation of Indigenous people. Such a dialectic and relational approach introduces contexts, meanings and associations that are excluded by current environmental and heritage paradigms that have the potential to marginalise many local voices. It proposes that those responsible for world heritage and protected area planning and management must fully realise or renominate these areas as landscapes in which people, and perhaps especially Indigenous Australians, are always and everywhere embedded and implicated in ‘natural’ environments. This will require changes in governance and in the predominantly technocratically-driven processes by which these areas are currently designated and managed.
Geographical Research / Vol. 48, No. 4, pp.398-410