Accepted Papers:

"Take care lad... it's ganka weather!" - the role of an ambiguous Bass Strait sea-monster in socialising seascapes and landscapes  


Tanya King (Deakin University)

Paper Short Abstract:

The 'ganka' of Bass Strait, Australia, is a creature recognised by fishermen and employed to socialise novice deckhands into their seascape. This paper uses the ganka to explore the ambiguous relationships of fishermen on land and sea, emphasising the overlapping sociality of these domains.

Paper long abstract:

The commercial shark fishermen of Bass Strait, Australia, share their seascape with a creature called the ganka which, according to experienced seafarers, is prone to eating the gumboots of inexperienced deckhands during their first night alone 'on watch'. Though unknown to marine scientists the ganka plays a vital role in socialising those who transition between land and sea, guiding initiate crew members onto the appropriate rung of the hierarchy. Indeed, the ganka is a manifestation of the ambiguous nature of life at sea and the inadequacy of considering human and natural worlds exclusively. As Ingold (1992:40) suggests, they are mutually enabling.

Gankas are ambiguous creatures: they straddle reality and myth; they live in air and water, on islands, boats and in the sea; they eat the 'inedible'. However, they never venture to the mainland. The 'existence' of gankas in Bass Strait is dependent upon the performances of those who fish this particular region. Without the relationships among fishermen - one in which deckhands are sometimes the butt of elaborate jokes - ganka populations would dwindle to extinction. While gankas only exist in seascapes they straddle the boundary between social and natural environments, thus facilitating a path for fishermen as they move between the social domains of land and sea.

To understand the seascapes in which people dwell we must be mindful of the ambiguity of the division between land and sea and recognise both connections and divisions between these socialised domains. This paper uses the ganka to explore these ambiguous relationships.

panel P27
Seascape: anthropological and archaeological approaches to the human habitation of the sea