Professor Richard Howitt (Australia-International Medal)
Professor Richard Howitt (Macquarie University)
Conferred Brisbane 2017
Professor Howitt is recognised internationally as a leader in Indigenous geographies, and is known by those who have been lucky enough to work with him and those who have been inspired through his actions and writings, as a man of great wisdom, incredible generosity and deep humility. Richie has nurtured a lifetime of outstanding and significant contributions to Australian geography and to societal transformations around justice, equity and sustainability.
Richie started his career as a teacher and continues to draw on his natural ability to inspire those around him through all aspects of his work. He has an innate ability to see issues from different perspectives and to challenge and radically rethink systems, structures and relationships. Through his focus on relationships and connectivity, he challenges separations between research and teaching, between thought and action, between the academy and society, and produces work which not only reshapes academic landscapes but the life of many of those he works with.
Building on his undergraduate studies at the University of Newcastle, and his early association with the University of Sydney as a QEII Research Fellow, Richie has spent over 25 years nurturing geography from his base at Macquarie University. During this time, Richie’s work has touched and transformed more lives than can be mentioned. His work spans key areas of geography, including: Indigenous land rights in Western Australia; decentring mining on Cape York Peninsula; negotiating native title rights in South Australia; rethinking economics in the Northern Territory; considering the social impacts of infrastructure and mining; exploring the cultural dimensions of risk; facilitating greater engagement between Macquarie University and City of Ryde Council; and most recently revisiting Jan Monk’s seminal work by engaging with the changing social and economic conditions of Aboriginal people in rural NSW. Richie has inspired great thinking and action and forged new ways of approaching old problems.
Building on the experience and understanding gained through this substantial body of work, Richie has made significant contributions around Indigenous geographies and methodologies, geographical understandings of relational scale, resource management, research ethics and participation, and social impact assessment. His seminal book Rethinking Resource Management remains a key text for many undergraduate courses and continues to inspire new generations of researchers working in natural resource management. Richie has written and edited eight books, and published more than 95 articles and book chapters. His work in these areas led to the development of undergraduate and postgraduate teaching programs in human geography, environmental management and social impact assessment where he has inspired many new generations of researchers and practitioners and worked hard to create inclusive spaces for those who have historically been marginalised.
Particular pedagogical highlights include Richie’s design and implementation of the world’s first university-accredited program in social impact assessment. Many students who studied geography and environmental management at Macquarie University have had the pleasure, and slightly unsettling experience of, participating in one of the many role plays he designed. These transformative learning opportunities allow the real-world experience of native title negotiation or the social impacts of resource development to come alive for students.
Richie’s generosity can be seen in the incredible numbers of hours he puts into his attentive, sensitive and supportive supervision and mentoring of numerous students and researchers across the social sciences. He has supervised over 32 PhD students through to successful completion. He currently mentors two Macquarie University Fellowships for Indigenous Researchers. His tireless commitment to teaching, service to the discipline and community engagement has been recognised through awards including: the Australian Award for University Teaching (Social Sciences) 1999; the Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Higher Degree Research Supervisor of the Year 2013; the Fellowship of the Institute of Australian Geographers 2004 and Macdonald Holmes Medal 2013.
Richie, who is retiring at the end of 2017, is currently Professor of Human Geography at Macquarie University as well as Director, Macquarie-Ryde Futures Project (2012-17) and an Elected Academic Member of the Macquarie University Council (2014-17). During his esteemed career Richie has been Honorary Treasurer and Councillor for the IAG (1999-2002); commissioning editor Asia Pacific for the Journal of Geography in Higher Education (2005-07); on the editorial board for the Journal of Geography in Higher Education (2007-13); Geographical Research (2014 – present); Journal of Geographical Research (2013 – present) and Geography Compass (2006 - present); a Board Member of the International Geographical Union Indigenous Peoples Rights & Knowledges Commission (2006-present); the US Transportation Research Board Environmental Justice Committee (2007 – present) and the Japan Australia Tourism Foundation (Tamagawa University, Japan) (2010-present); a member of Academic Senate, Macquarie University (2006-2010); a member of the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies since 1987; and founding coordinator of the IAG Indigenous Issues Study Group in 1997 and an active member since its establishment.
Through these and other service positions Richie works hard to challenge from within many of the deep colonising processes which continue to shape academic practice today. For example, his work on the Macquarie University Ethics Review Committee has changed the way researchers approach ethics within the University and beyond. Through his mentorship and leadership Richie has been a champion for many innovative and successful projects that bring together community, government and university collaborators in ways that build ongoing relationships and outcomes that transform how different stakeholders work together. For example through the Unified Ryde project Richie has been instrumental in bringing together City of Ryde Council, The Salvation Army, tenants of Ivanhoe estate, State government bodies and Macquarie University to collaboratively address issues of racism, violence and social injustice (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IiUB-uRAQ3k). This project was awarded the Australian Collaborative Education Network (ACEN) Collaboration award in 2016.
In summary Richie Howitt’s tireless commitment to the discipline of geography has enabled his vision for more equitable, just and sustainable worlds to influence the lives of many through his teaching, research, supervision and community engagement. His knowledge and capacity is matched only by his enthusiasm and generosity to colleagues and students.