Tuesday, 28 June, 2016


The 2016 Robin Mcdonald Scholarship winner Sinead Francis-Coan was driven by a passion to create a better future for the Hunter Region when deciding to do a Master’s study focussing on conflicting land use in the Upper Hunter.

Sinead grew up in the Hunter, spending time on a property outside Gloucester before moving to Newcastle, where she studied at Hunter School of Performing Arts. The issue of conflicting land use in the Hunter came into focus for her after she completed a Bachelor of Social Sciences in Recreation and Tourism and spent several years travelling the world.

“Having lived on a rural property in the Hunter, I know what the land means to residents, who often have an emotional attachment to it,” she said. “I’m very interested in the idea of sustainable tourism and how people’s knowledge of their local landscape can lead to tourism opportunities.”

Sinead noticed that different sub-regional groups in the Hunter communicate their values about their area using place names.

“The Hunter is home to wine country, coal town, Scone horse-country, coal river, Muswellbrook ‘bursting with energy’, ‘clean green’ Gloucester and many other examples of meaning embedded in place-names,” she said. “The expansion of open-cut coal mining has the potential to not only impact on alternative uses of land but also on the visual symbolism and group identity captured in names such as Scone horse country.”

Sinead will interview people representing mining, government, equine and viticulture and to community groups to answer three key questions:

  • How is the Upper Hunter represented by key stakeholder groups?
  • How are key stakeholder group representations of the Upper Hunter shaped by shared values, common knowledge and a shared world view?
  • How do key stakeholder groups express their response to alternative representations of the Upper Hunter that threaten their identity?

“My research will apply a new framework to better understand the social processes through which prominent forms of land use are established,” Sinead explained. “It will also examine power relationships between stakeholder groups and understand how these are established.”

Sinead aims to complete her Master’s thesis, supported by the $5,000 Robin Mcdonald Scholarship jointly funded by HRF and the University of Newcastle Business School, by the end of the year. She hopes her study, Exploring Land Use conflict: Representations of Mining and Tourism in Rural Spaces, will result in guidelines for both future research and future attempts at resolving land-use conflict, in the Hunter and other regions.

HRF has invited Sinead to give a ‘three-minute thesis’ presentation about her study at the Upper Hunter Economic Breakfast in October.