Environmental Exchanges Seminar - Rohan Howitt

This semester, the Centre for Environmental History's Environmental Exchanges seminar series will include four fantastic papers from a diverse group of historians on the theme 'extraction'. All seminars will be held both in person, and online (Zoom links will be provided via Eventbrite closer to the date).

The third Environmental Exchanges seminar of our 'extraction' series in Semester 2 2023 will be the following paper from Dr Rohan Howitt:

Oil from Penguins: Mentalities of Extraction in the Southern Ocean World, 1889-1933

From 1889 to 1919, Macquarie Island was the centre of one of the world’s most unusual extractive industries. On this small island, roughly midway between Australia and Antarctica, penguins were killed and boiled down to produce oil. Yet despite a single company having a virtual monopoly and investing heavily in machinery that allowed them to process 3,500 penguins a day during the summer oiling season, penguin oil never became the lucrative commodity its boosters predicted. This paper explores two overlapping processes of extraction in the Southern Ocean World. It firstly reconstructs the extraction of oil from penguins on Macquarie Island, a deeply controversial industry that triggered an organised transnational conservation movement aimed at ending penguin oiling and establishing a wildlife sanctuary on the island. This physical process of extraction is then used to explore the wider mentality of extraction that both animated the penguin oilers’ schemes and shaped visions for the island’s future articulated by the oilers’ critics. The paper argues that the history of penguin oil provides an entry point for understanding how extraction has shaped human interactions with the Southern Ocean World.

Dr Rohan Howitt is a lecturer in environmental history at Monash University. Rohan is a global and environmental historian of the Southern Ocean World, focusing on the deeply interconnected histories of Australia, Antarctica, New Zealand, the subantarctic islands, and the Southern Ocean itself. Prior to joining Monash, Rohan was the inaugural Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Environmental History at the Australian National University in 2022.

When: 27 September 2023,12:30-1:45pm (Canberra time)

Where: Room 6.71, RSSS Building, ANU & Online via Zoom

Zoom links for joining the event remotely will be circulated in the days ahead of the event. Ensure you register early to receive the link.

To find out more about the Centre for Environmental History, or to sign up for our newsletter in order to hear about more exciting events and opportunities, click here.

Date & time

Wed 27 Sep 2023, 12.30–1.45pm


Room 6.71, RSSS Building, 146 Ellery Crescent, ANU


Rohan Howitt


Centre for Environmental History


Jess Urwin


Updated:  4 September 2023/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications