GEOGRAPHY CAREERS: Professor Phil McManus
30th October 2023
By Nicole Miller - Communications Officer, IAG
Human Geographer Professor Phil McManus chatted to us ahead of his Geographical Research webinar called ‘Infrastructures of Settler Colonialism’. He reflected upon the recent referendum, his work and geography career.
Indigenous infrastructure is a rapidly expanding field of study. Yet in Australia, Aboriginal stories, perspectives, and voices remain largely absent from infrastructure research despite persistent infrastructural gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians which must be understood in the context of Australia’s settler-colonial structure.
University of Sydney Professor Phil McManus is researching Indigenous infrastructure. His work is being featured in Geographical Research and is the topic of an upcoming webinar that is co-hosted by publisher Wiley, the Institute of Australian Geographers and the journal.
On Thursday 2 November will be joined by Dr Naama Blatman (Western Sydney University) and Dr Lorina Barker (University of New England) for the webinar called ‘Infrastructures of Settler Colonialism’.
The collaborators will chat to the Editor-in-Chief of Geographical Research about their research, which looks at new directions in the study of settler colonial infrastructures. Their work aims to unsettle conventional colonial narratives of infrastructural triumph and expansion.
We also asked Phil to reflect upon his geography career and mentors. He shared tips for early career researchers – on how to get funded and published.
A human geographer working on infrastructure research
What’s your job title and where are you working?
Professor of Urban and Environmental Geography, School of Geosciences, The University of Sydney.
What ‘type’ of geographer do you call yourself?
I tend to use the broad term ‘human geographer’.
Can you tell us briefly about your paper in Geographical Research and your key findings?
This is a future theme issue of Geographical Research that is likely to include five papers. Two have already been published on early view, being Clements, et al, (2023) and Rogers et al (2023) while three other papers are in various stages of the review process.
The overall theme issue is important because while Indigenous infrastructure is a rapidly expanding field of study throughout the world, in Australia to date the increased interest in studying infrastructure has seen an absence of both Aboriginal perspectives and research on the intersection of geographies and Indigenous histories.
The five papers address different aspects of infrastructure as it relates to the experiences of Aboriginal people. While the papers vary, key findings include the importance of truth-telling in relation to infrastructure in settler-colonial societies being on Aboriginal land, sometimes being built and operated using Aboriginal labour and having varied impacts on the lives of Aboriginal people. At present, these truths are largely silences in the narratives of infrastructure that privilege economic development, state-building and progress.
Why are these findings important?
Truth telling is a basis for any future progress on Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people coming together. The truth has often been erased in and by infrastructure, and it needs to be reclaimed by working with Aboriginal people in culturally-sensitive ways. This is important in terms of process, but also in terms of what they want said to a wider audience.
“Infrastructure is too important and complex to not consult with, and actively involve, First Nations people. Elders, in particular, have important knowledge, insights, and connections to Country and community. They can transform social, economic and physical infrastructure planning and projects.”
Professor Phil McManus
What do you hope will be the impact of your paper?
The theme issue will raise awareness of the importance of infrastructure and the contributions and impacts on Aboriginal people. The article by Clements et al (2023) has already drawn attention to the assumptions in the infrastructure literature that often perpetuate dispossession and marginalisation.
A webinar on Indigenous infrastructure
Who do you hope will attend your webinar?
We think that this webinar should interest all geographers and many associated disciplines such as history, labour history, environmental studies, urban planning and so on. Given recent events in Australia around The Voice, this is a very timely webinar and it is important and wonderful to see Geographical Research engaging with these crucial issues.
What do you want people to think about afterwards?
We would like people to think about the research and what it means for the future of Australia and other settler-colonial societies. We would also like people to think about their own research and practices. The theme issue about the absence of Aboriginal voices and recognition has already heightened my own awareness about my previous research and assumptions. This will lead to changes in my own approach in the future.
Can you tell us about a myth you bust about infrastructure and/or the relationship between First Nations people and infrastructure?
In our own paper in this theme issue we highlight the importance of Aboriginal employment in the railways. There is very little written about this in academic histories of railways in NSW and Australia more generally, but without this employment the railways would not be what they are today. Importantly, this employment appears to have both enabled Aboriginal people to have access to housing, education, etc. and been a way for them to maintain connections with Country.
"A geography career is an opportunity to work on projects that can make a real impact on people and our planet.
You can do exciting work that can help to protect the environment, influence policy and improve people’s lives.”
Professor Phil McManus
Tips for early career geographers
Any advice for early career researchers when preparing a journal article for Geographical Research?
Be clear about the scope of your article. It does not have to include everything that was in your thesis. It should be more focused to address a particular research question(s) and then do that well.
Can you tell us about any positive experiences you have had as a mentor or mentee? Why were they important for your career as a geographer or your work?
In my early career working in urban planning for the state government in Western Australia I had a supervisor, Gay Bridgement, who took the time to observe, listen to what I was saying and to provide helpful feedback. She cared about other people and found ways to physically change her own work environment and the wider work relations.
I realised that I was happier and more productive at work because of this, so while people and contexts are different, in various teaching, supervision and Head of School work I have always endeavoured to foster a culture of respect, caring and initiative.
Any advice on connecting and collaborating with other geographers?
This is important as we are often dealing with immediate matters but may not be establishing and nurturing relationships that help us live, support our discipline and foster the important work that geographers do. The relationships must be based on trust, which is a foundation for collaborative activity.
Why study geography?
Any advice you would give anyone considering studying geography?
If you are interested in studying geography then do it. You will learn more if you enjoy what you are doing.
Sometimes people are concerned about what job it leads to, but I see geography as a foundation for many different types of career opportunities in urban planning, international development, health, education, environmental fields, and so on.
By studying the subject of geography, you learn about things, develop thinking, communication and technical skills, and can become more aware of the potential future work you may engage in to use that knowledge and skill set.
Links to Phil’s work and about geography
Register for the webinar
Register for the webinar on Thursday 2 November 2023. The event runs from 4-5pm Australian eastern daylight savings time.
Connect with Phil on X
Follow and connect with Phil on X (formerly Twitter) – @Phil_McMan.
Professor Phil McManus’ research
Find out more about Phil’s research on his Google Scholar listing.
Geographical Research webinar series
Register for the next webinar and watch past talks on the Geographical Research website.
What can I study if I like geography?
If you liked geography when you were at school, there are lots of study opportunities. See our links to Australian universities that offer geography degrees or subjects.
Geography career ideas
Find out about the diverse geography career opportunities.
Institute of Australian Geographers membership
Joining a professional member organisation can turbo-charge your career by connecting you to peers and mentors. An Institute of Australian Geographers membership has many benefits. Find out more.