Redreaming the plains

redreamingRedreaming the plains is an multimedia database project Merrill conceived and directed for Imagine The Future Inc. from the late 1990s. It includes commissioned and volunteered stories about living on Victoria’s basalt plain and other plains around the world.

This project is now archived by the National Library if Australia’s Pandora Project.

This Redreaming  ‘begins’ with the native grasslandsfreshwater wetlands and saltwater marshes of southeastern Australia’s basalt plain, and with the indigenous peoples, who witnessed the most recent volcanic eruptions thousands of years ago. 

The arrival of Europeans changed this plain in every way. Jenny Lee describes frontier conflict along the Maribyrnong and Werribee Rivers and at Portland, for example, and discovers that the Melbourne suburb of Tullarmarine was named for a man who dared resist the processes of colonisation; while Graeme Kinross-Smith finds C19th Europeans, such as Foster Fyans and James Dawson, who stood up for indigenous peoples when others were taking their land.

Today Victoria’s basalt plain is home to people from many different backgrounds. Le Van Tai writes for many recent settlers as he recounts his own journey from Vietnam toFootscray, while a younger refugee, Rahmat, describes his life in Afghanistan.

And all over the basalt plain people are imagining futures that are very different from their presents and their pasts, and are now working together to heal the damage done to their natural heritage, and to live in more ecologically benign ways. More >>

Merrill developed this project further for a Master of Social Science degree (by research), through RMIT University’s School of Social Science and Planning, to explore the power of narrative to effect social change.


The New Media database, Redreaming the plains, was conceived and developed in response to the moral imperative of biodiversity loss and ecological degradation. In this context, the view from the top of Melbourne’s West Gate Bridge across the eastern rim of Victoria’s basalt plain was paradigmatic.  ‘Sustainability’ scientists, resource managers and land stewards might now interpret this view as a hierarchy of nested socio-ecological systems in which human and non-human entities are interacting in complex, even chaotic ways, but as a writer and cultural practitioner, I see it as the localised enactment, embodiment or reification of all the ‘stories’ that have been narrated within this bioregion since the British invasion of 1835. But regardless of our differing perspectives, those of us who subscribe to the contemporary quest, or ‘dream’, of ecological sustainability face the same challenge of reducing anthropomorphic impacts on indigenous ecological communities by changing human behaviour. As a writer, as a moral agent, I have reflexively interrogated myself about my own role in this process: How can I story ‘sustainability’ in ways that are true to my understandings of the complexity of socio-ecological interactions, and still effect change in the world?

 My loaded question raises complex issues about the limits of narrative modes of representation, or mimesis, about agency, and about the relationships between ‘stories’, cognition, identity and human behaviour. While no definitive answers are possible, this post-disciplinary exploration solidly grounds my praxis, and Redreaming the plains itself, in contemporary literary theory, narrative psychology, cognitive science, philosophy and ‘post-normal’ science, and confirms the power of stories to change human behaviour over time – but in ways that remain ambiguous, unpredictable and uncertain.

Read the full exegesis [pdf 1467 KB] here >>   



Merrill gratefully acknowledges support Redreaming the Plains received from

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More on Merrill’s project work >>


Page created 26 January 2011. Last updated 25 May 2013.



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