Macdonald Holmes Medal
James Macdonald Holmes was McCaughey Professor of Geography at the University of Sydney during the period 1929 to 1961. To commemorate his achievements over these years, the Geographical Society together with the Geography Teachers’ Association awards, biennially, a medal bearing his portrait and name, to a person deemed to have made a distinguished contribution in the field of geographical education in Australia.
The 2011 recipient of the medal was Professor Richie Howitt.
Professor Richie Howitt has made an outstanding contribution to Australian Geography. He has also been supportive of the work of the Geography Teachers’ Association of NSW and takes a close interest in the study of Geography in schools.
Richie graduated from the University of Newcastle in 1978 with a BA (Hons) DipEd. He subsequently completed a PhD at the University of NSW (1986) and a Post-graduate Certificate in Educational Leadership at Macquarie.
Richie reflects passion for education, geography and justice in his unconventional path to become Professor of Human Geography at Macquarie University. Postings to small rural schools confirmed the importance of the community development role of rural schools and refined his used field-based geography, music and multiculturalism in classes. Transition to academia was slow, as he traversed roles in education consultancy (K-6 Education for Peace) and the Commonwealth Aboriginal Education Service, before taking a maternity leave replacement contract at Sydney University.
At Sydney, Richie’s passion for tertiary teaching ignited. Teaching across economic, social and cultural geography, he pushed students not just to develop knowledge and understanding, but also to explore the social and ethical responsibilities that go with the privilege of knowledge. Many of his graduates still emphasize the life-changing impact of his role plays in their undergraduate studies. He eschewed the traditional categories of ‘research’, ‘teaching’ and ‘service’ and developed an academic practice that encompassed field-based teaching with Indigenous research participants and mining company executives; high level negotiation training for Native title claimants, executive development for Indigenous directors in community roles and community-based courses to train young Indigenous people as researchers in their own organizations. As a member of Macquarie University’s Human Ethics Committee, he addressed the need to educate researchers and research administrators on intercultural ethics to improve research protocols with Indigenous communities and to strengthen recognition and protection of Indigenous intellectual property. In more recent times, his mentoring in managing the integration of teaching, research and community service with family life has been appreciated by many early and mid career colleagues.
Richie’s concern with issues of social justice, ecological sustainability, economic equity and cultural diversity has focused on advancing and facilitating Indigenous rights. His practice as a professional geographer includes applied research and community activity including Native title negotiations, advocacy of Indigenous self-determination, social impact assessment of resource-based development projects, critical evaluation of corporate culture in Australia's resource industries, and research on issues of power, human rights, research ethics and geographical scale. His current research focus includes the interfaces between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, considering the fragile geographies of coexistence, the roles of social enterprise and not-for-profit sectors, avenues for sustainable and just development in remote communities and the implications of relational concepts of geographical scale for our analysis of, and responses to, these situations, including developing new research networks into Japan, Taiwan and Malaysia.
In collaboration with Emeritus Professor Bob Fagan and a group of their graduate and honours students, Richie optimistically referred to the graduate supervision relationship as a “nourishing conversation”, in which the student, the supervisor and the discipline are all nourished simultaneously.
During his career Richie has supervised (and benefited from) many innovative postgraduate research projects dealing with Native title, planning, Indigenous co-management, water rights, disability, environmental ideologies, local governance in remote areas, applications of GIS to Indigenous planning, development of regional agreements, land claims and land management, and urban development and planning. Richie’s students are generous in their praise of his mentoring skills and academic rigor – and he is full of praise for the work they’ve done.
Richie’s contribution to the discipline and broader community include Treasurer, Institute of Australian Geographers (1999-2002); membership of the Editorial Board of Journal of Geography in Higher Education (2005-present); membership of the Editorial Board of Geography Compass (2007-present); and membership of the US Transportation Review Board, Committee on Environmental Justice in Transportation (2005-present). He has also held numerous positions within Macquarie University including Head of Human Geography (2005-2008). From 2012 he will take up a new role as Director of a new research partnership between Macquarie University and the City of Ryde from within the Department of Environment & Geography, confirming the relevance of geography, geographical research and geographical education in community development, governance and sustainability.
Richie has received numerous awards during his academic career. These include a Queen Elizabeth II Research Fellowship in Human Geography, University of Sydney (1989-1991); a Macquarie Queen Elizabeth II Research Fellowship in Human Geography, University of Sydney (1989-1991); a Macquarie Outstanding Teaching Award (1999); an Australian Award for University Teaching (Social Science) (1999); and a Distinguished Fellowship, Institute of Australian Geographers (2005).
Last updated: 2 July 2012