Migration and Mobilities: Ancient and Current

Our research examines human mobility and explores the drivers, experiences and outcomes of human migration. Our research spans epochs (ancient and modern), borders and diverse social, cultural and historical contexts.


A change in the weather: Climate change and migration in the Pacific

Lead investigator: Doctor Celia McMichael

Co-investigator: Professor Jon Barnett (School of Geography, The University of Melbourne)

The Pacific Islands are among the most climate vulnerable regions of the world, and climate change-related migration and resettlement is widely anticipated to increase. This research project focuses on Fiji. Using qualitative and multi-sited methods, it is one of the first to investigate the intersections between perceived climate change risks and people's understanding and experience of migration as an adaptive response. The study will produce new knowledge to inform critical policy and programmatic responses in the area of climate change adaptation, and will develop innovative theoretical approaches to understanding climate change-related migration.

Reimagining refugee resettlement through a transnational lens: The Karen in Bendigo

Lead investigator: Doctor Raelene Wilding

School of Social Sciences and Communications

This project examines the settlement experience of the Karen in Bendigo. They are a growing refugee-background community, who make significant positive contributions to their new home city as well as simultaneously sustaining links with Karen living in refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border and resettled elsewhere in Australia and around the world.

The new era of mobilities means that refugee settlement in local communities is increasingly shaped by non-local flows of people, resources and ideas. What are the implications of these flows for processes of belonging and social inclusion in regional Australia? To what extent do local and non-local social fields compete with or complement each other in the experience of settlement, and with what effects? An exploration of the arrival, reception and engagement of the Karen in Bendigo presents a useful opportunity for considering important questions about migration, settlement, belonging and identity in a mobile world.

3D Mapping technology for understanding human adaptations to increasing aridity

Lead investigator: Associate Professor Andy Herries

Co-investigators: Doctor Jessie Birkett-Rees, Doctor Nicola Stern and Doctor Jillian Garvey

The origin of our genus, Homo, is one of the most hotly debated topics in science. Early Homo fossils from the Drimolen and Haasgat caves have recently been dated to older than 1.95 million years. This makes them the oldest well-dated specimens of Homo in South Africa and contemporary with fossils that have been suggested to be ancestral to the genus Homo. The origin of Homo has been associated with a period of increased aridity and significant environmental change that impacted the regional adaptation and evolution of mammal species. The aim is to reconstruct the landscape (geology, ecology) of South Africa in detail between 2.3 and 1.9 million years for the first time and help understand this changing world and the processes that drove our evolutionary history, including the extinction of a number of species. This will be done by 3D mapping the caves themselves as well as changes in the landscape through time by applying cosmogenic nuclide exposure dating to understand landscape erosion. The project will also document the uniqueness of the greater South African fossil record versus the better studied East African record and address the complex origin of our genus, Homo, from a pan-African perspective.

Predictive modelling of ancient cultural landscapes in Cyprus and Georgia: A comparison of similar environmental adaptations in culturally distinct settings

Lead investigator: Dr Jessie Birkett-Rees

Co-investigators:  Professor Steve Falconer and Professor Patricia Fall

This research will enable systematic surveys of ancient settlements and agricultural remains (especially stone terrace wall systems) for Geographic Information Systems (GIS)-based modelling of ancient agrarian landscapes in Cyprus and Georgia. Previous survey and mapping of the hinterland around Bronze Age Politiko-Troullia, Cyprus reveals visible archaeological remains, and has supported localised GIS modelling of long-term agricultural land use. In contrast, archaeological research around the multi-period site of Chobareti, in Anti-Caucasus mountains of Georgia, incorporates regional surveys identifying archaeological sites and associated landscape features. However, alluvium and lush vegetation limit the visibility of archaeological remains here. Modelling methods developed on Cyprus will be used to predict ancient settlement locations and land use patterns on the minimally visible landscapes of Georgia. In a complementary fashion, the broader survey methods developed in Georgia will be used to extend regional reconnaissance around Politiko-Troullia, thus developing mutually beneficial, data-rich models that will enable comparative analyses of long-term population movements and cultural landscape dynamics in Georgia and Cyprus.

Tongans in regional Victoria: settlers, seasonal workers and overstayers

Lead investigator: Professor Helen Lee

Tongans in Mildura and Robinvale have different visa statuses, including Australian citizenship, permanent residence and temporary work visa, in addition to some visa 'overstayers'. A pilot project will be conducted to examine the impact of these different statuses, as well as gender and age differences, on their access to public services, their relationships within their own community and with other ethnic groups in the region, and their trans-local and transnational networks with other Tongans. The pilot study will be used to develop an interdisciplinary project on Pacific Islanders in regional Victoria focusing on these issues. The project will inform policy-making to address problems faced by migrant groups in rural areas of Australia.

Mobilities in the Murray–Darling region step 1: A travelling workshop

Lead investigator: Doctor Trevor Hogan

Co-investigators: Doctor Raelene Wilding, Doctor Andrew Butt and Doctor Anthony Moran

This is an interdisciplinary research program that examines the causes, impacts and dynamics of population mobility in the Murray Darling Region. The first step is bringing La Trobe scholars from across the faculties into dialogue with regional, national and international experts in mobilities research. A series of events (e.g. public lectures, master classes, seminars and research planning sessions) will be hosted within the Murray Darling Region to create opportunities for collaboration, identify research problems and produce innovative approaches to seeking funding and applying expertise to addressing those problems. Invited participants will include Higher Degree by Research students, multidisciplinary research teams and non-University stakeholders in local government and regional agencies. By hosting the events in Bendigo and Mildura, we will bring international, national and La Trobe expertise into dialogue with local stakeholders, thereby ensuring the resulting research projects are relevant, timely and achievable.

Late Pleistocene cultural and environmental landscape evolution of the semi-arid Mallee region, Victoria

Lead investigator: Doctor Jillian Garvey

Co-investigators: Doctor Jessie Birkett-Rees and Professor Patricia Fall

This project will produce a predictive map of the late Pleistocene landscape of northwest Victoria along the south bank of the Murray River through the creation of a high resolution digital elevation model based on LiDAR data. After retrieving sediment cores from ancient lakebeds a detailed fire record for this region will be produced to determine the timing of the establishment of the semi-arid Mallee woodlands on this landscape. Human settlement and adaptations to environmental changes will be informed by the landscape model and fire history record in this semi-arid region. The results of the research will be used to develop a larger landscape evolution model for the Murray-Darling River System of southwest NSW and northwest Victoria from the last ice age, with its associated megafaunal extinctions and landscape transformation caused by burning, through the creation of historic pastoral landscapes.

Placemaking and rural retirement migration: motivations, practices and processes

Lead investigator: Doctor Rachel Winterton

Co-investigators: Professor Jeni Warburton, Doctor Edgar Burns and Honorary Professor John Martin

This project critically investigates placemaking practices undertaken by retirement migrants within rural communities. Semi-structured interviews are currently being conducted with retirement migrants residing in six diverse rural communities, located in peri-urban, agricultural and amenity settings. Findings will explore the motivations of rural retirement migrants to undertake placemaking activities within their communities, and the types of activities that they subsequently undertake. Significantly, it will also identify which community and external systems and structures that they engage with to undertake these placemaking activities, and their expectations from these systems and structures.  This research will allow a critical exploration of how retirement migrants create and recreate rural places, while providing insight into how retirement migrants can be better supported and utilised.

The palaeogenomic basis of social organisation in the earliest sedentary villages

Lead investigator: Doctor Cristina Valdiosera

Co-investigators: Doctor Phillip Edwards and Doctor John Mitchell

This project will employ the latest Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) technologies to recover low coverage genomes that will allow the researchers to conduct population genomic analysis on skeletal remains from seven individuals from Wadi Hammeh 27. Recently, these NGS technologies have been used to shed light on the spread of farming cultures from the Near East to Europe (e.g. Skoglund et al. 2012), but nothing is known of the genetics of the pre-agrarian populations. If the genetic variability of the Wadi Hammeh 27 population was relatively high, there will be a good chance of tracing specific kin relationships between individuals and testing the patrilocal model of social organisation. The genomic data can also be used to investigate the genetic origins of the Natufians and trace their genetic input to subsequent populations. A pilot study on a human third molar from the site has already determined the presence of sufficient ancient human DNA for further analysis in the sample. The remains of all seven individuals (Webb and Edwards 2013, Webb and Edwards 2002) include teeth, which are the best potential samples for ancient DNA analyses. The samples are stored at The University of Sydney and are administered by Dr Phillip Edwards (La Trobe) under permit from the Department of Antiquities of Jordan.

Archaeomagnetic applications for looking at human-climate interactions in Australia

Lead investigator: Doctor Agathe Lisé-Pronovost

Co-investigator: Associate Professor Andy Herries

Lake Mungo, Australia's oldest human occupation site is primarily a record of campfires and associated stone tools and bone deposited over 50,000 years of fluctuating lake levels. Yet, the record of early Australian fire technology and its change through time in response to environmental change remains poorly documented. Working on material from this world heritage site is crucial, and especially the earliest occupation sites currently being destroyed by erosion. The aim is to use archaeomagnetism at southeast Australian archaeological sites to investigate fire use by Australia's early inhabitants including as an engineering tool for making stone tools; something only documented in Australia during the last 2,000 years. The project also looks at the effects of changing aridity on the use of this technology. The acquired data will also form the basis for the first Australian reference curve for using changes in the Earth's magnetic field through time for dating archaeological sites. This will also provide primary data on changes in the Earth's magnetic field and evolution of the Earth's interior through time, something severely lacking for the southern hemisphere and Australia in particular.

Critical success factors for rural regions in times of change

Lead investigator: Associate Professor Warwick Frost (School of Business, College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce)


  • Doctor Jennifer Laing (School of Business, College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce)
  • Doctor Sue Gillett (School of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce)

This study will identify critical success factors which must be addressed to strategically achieve rural and regional change in an Australian context. The focus will be on change related to tourism, cultural events and tourism-related agriculture and manufacturing (such as wine and artisanal and niche food production). This qualitative project will use the Critical Success Factors framework as a theoretical lens to understand the processes of successful rural development. These critical success factors will be identified through a series of semi-structured long interviews with key stakeholders involved in the processes of restructuring, diversification and innovation. This study will focus on three regions and the critical success factors will be analysed from both a business and social sciences perspective. Clearly the problem of restructuring for rural Australia is typically conceived in economic terms, particularly employment. However, it is also important to recognise and understand the social and community implications.

Cultural adaptation of Australian exchange students: Effects of genetic predispositions

Lead investigator: Associate Professor Emiko Kashima

Co-investigators: Doctor Matthew Hale, Associate Professor Stephen Kent, Associate Professor Robert Mitchell and Doctor Danuta Loesch-Mdzewska

Previous research has shown genetic variability in individual's sensitivity to environmental influences. For instance, psychological effects of oxytocin and serotonin system genes have been highlighted. Extending our previous project that examined the associations between these gene variants and psychological adaptation among international students, the present study will investigate if specific genotypes in these neurotransmitters are associated with the ways in which Australian students will adapt to foreign environments when they participate in international exchange and when they resettle back in their home university environment. This study will thereby clarify whether or not the pattern of association between these genotypes are adaptive responses depends on the culture of sojourn destination.

The impact of the pastoral frontier on indigenous vegetation

Lead Chief Investigator (CI): Dr Nicola Stern (ASSC)

This research is designed to reconstruct the vegetation communities that sustained Indigenous societies in the Willandra Lakes region when sheep and cattle were introduced to the area during the 1850s. The pollen record recovered from beneath two early woolsheds in the region, together with historical records kept by the settler communities, will build a picture of the vegetation cover that existed when the pastoral frontier reached this area and how it changed in the decades that followed. This will allow assessment of how pastoral practices impacted on the resources that were critical to the livelihood of the Indigenous communities who lived in the area.

Migrant workers in Shepparton: intersections of social and spatial mobility

Lead Chief Investigator (CI): Dr Martina Boese, HUSS, ASSC


  • Dr Anthony Moran, HUSS/ASSC
  • Mr Mark Mallman, HUSS/ASSC

This project examines the relationship between social and spatial mobilities through an analysis of the employment pathways of migrants who have arrived in Australia within the last 20 years and reside in Shepparton. Shepparton has one of the most ethnically diverse populations in regional Victoria and many employment opportunities in its horticultural, agricultural, food processing and services sectors.

What shapes the mobilities of workers from migrant and refugee backgrounds pre- and post-arrival in Australia? How have the jobs they have held influenced their social and geographical mobility? And to what extent has their geographical mobility shaped and been shaped by their employment opportunities compared with other factors such as social relations or migration regulations? An investigation of migrant employment pathways in the context of lived experiences of mobility and settlement will provide insight into the intersections between social and spatial mobilities of cross-border migrants in a regional setting.

Multimedia, migrant Identities and family relationships: a qualitative investigation

Chief Investigator: Dr Raelene Wilding (HUSS, ASSC, Department of Social Inquiry)

Co-Investigator: Dr Monika Winarnita (Anthropology, ASSC)

This project examines the multimedia expression of identity, belonging and intergenerational family relationships of young female migrants (18-30 years old) from the Philippine and Indonesian communities in Melbourne. In Australia these young women are part of the third largest and steadily growing Southeast Asian migrant population. They are active participants in the international flows of media, ideas and goods.

This project asks how, as part of community cultural practice, their identity, belonging and family relationships are expressed through their multimedia production. What do these multimedia production and stories tell us about the effects of migration and mobility on women’s intergenerational relationships; with their children, parents, grandparents, and extended kin networks? By focusing on multimedia expression of young Southeast Asian female migrants from the two communities in Melbourne, the project presents a novel way of understanding social and cultural change as it relates to issues of identity, belonging and family relationships.