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island conversations
podcast series

"Island Notes" composition in Cretan Flat Mandolin by Christophoro Gorantokaki @"Melody Box"

Welcome to SICRI’s “island conversations” podcast series.

The aim of these podcasts is to highlight the work of island studies scholars and practitioners who make a significant contribution to islands’ research, arts, and culture landscape.

The podcasts are accompanied by a curated transcript that is edited to read as an independent piece.

In this podcast, we will be hearing from Professor Philip Hayward, one of the SICRI founders. Phil is in conversation with Prof. Henry Johnson, the Chair of the SICRI AB.


Phil, it's great to have you here online. You set up SICRI, the Small Island Cultures Research Initiative, a number of years ago. Could you give me a bit more information about that?



We set up SICRI initially as something quite smaller than it… developed into. In the early 2000s, I was working, almost coincidentally, on a number of music projects that were based on islands. I came in contact with Danny Long, who is a linguist at Tokyo Metropolitan University, and his specialism is island languages, small island languages. And we were talking about the similarities, and the crossovers in things like lyrics, between his work and mine, and we realized that there was this kind of ground for looking at those two areas… of music cultures, and language cultures. And then we made the obvious next step, probably in terms of literary cultures, culinary cultures and everything else, that there was ground, for a kind of comparative work.


So, we accompanied each other on fieldwork projects. I went up to Ogasawara, in Japan, accompanied Danny there on some research, and then Danny came down to Norfolk Island, which is in Australia, off the Pacific coast. And during the course of these, we thought, why don't we try and have an initial meeting of researchers we knew to try and see whether we can develop some comparative island work. And the original idea was that we get together in a seminar room at Tokyo Metropolitan University. Danny suggested a room that has about a capacity about 20– 25 people. We thought that would be ample. And since we started planning, people started saying “Oh, I’d like to come to that”, or, “Will you do this”, and soon we thought “this is kind of growing a bit”.


So, what we did was approach Kagoshima University’s Research Center for the Pacific Islands. And we said, look, we've got this interest, would you be interested in hosting a conference for us, and we kind of sold them the idea. And there was the professor there at the time, who was head of the school, and also was involved with the center, who decided that since we'd made the effort (I'd flown from Australia to Kagoshima basically on a ‘blind call’, and Danny had come from Tokyo), if we were that serious, he’d give it a go. So we had the first conference in Kagoshima. On the first day there was around 90 people there – and there's evidently enough interest, and from that we put the proposal to the meeting to set up SICRI. It flowed from there and it's continued through to the present.

Charismatic mega-flora Yakushima.jpg

Charismatic mega-flora, Prof.Philip Hayward with Prof. Sueo Kuwhara, Yakushima island, Japan 2012

I remember the Kagoshima conference very well. That was in 2005. In the initial setting up of SICRI, you've mentioned already a couple of islands, Ogasawara in Japan, and also Norfolk Island in Australia, right in between New Zealand and Australia. Could you share some of your memories of researching on either these islands or other islands, maybe just give a few examples?


I'll start off with what inspired me to be interested in islands, which preceded my academic involvement in island studies. After leaving university, I went to the Scilly Islands in the UK, which are off the tip of Cornwall in the southwestern corner of England. And I didn't have much of an idea about them, apart from the fact they're interesting. And I thought they had a similar character, because they're a group of islands similar in size, very close together. But when I went there and traveled around, I was really struck by the differences in landscape, which was a kind of huma- produced cultural landscape by cultivation, construction, etc. And also, in attitudes. There were jokes about people between the islands in a small space. There were perceptions of people on one island that there's something about the other island as different. They didn't know what it was. And I thought this is quite strange. It's such a small group of islands. And that's when I had this kind of realization that even in archipelagos, variety was quite pronounced. It was a bit of an echo of what Darwin probably got when he was in Galapagos looking at the species, it's like, what's all this about? So that sent the thing in my head that I never realized was there until I started work on, you know, consciously on the islands. So those two examples I talked about, Ogasawara and Norfolk are both interesting because both of them were settled by people other than the people who were the dominant ones of the nation. In Ogasawara, the islands were not occupied by Japanese until the Japanese authorities heard that there were Americans and Polynesians who had landed there and set themselves up. And so, they were like, oh, okay, we're gonna have to send some Japanese people because we can't have a non-Japanese society in what we claim as Japanese islands. That led to all kinds of complex linguistic stuff, heritage things, political-social complexities, which carried on and then through World War Two, with the American occupation, got even more complex.


Norfolk Island was an island that was uninhabited when Europeans first came to Australia. The first people there were a penal colony of Irish and British, and then the penal colony was cleared, and Queen Victoria offered Norfolk Island to the Pitcairners who were descendants of the Polynesians who had been taken onboard the Bounty, and the Bounty mutineers. So that was set up as another kind of society within Australia with a different language – or fusion language – between Polynesian and English, and they developed their own traditions. And then later on Australians and New Zealanders came in and complexified the situation. So those two parallels, Ogasawara and Norfolk Island, were quite informative for the complexity of small island cultures, very localized within very large Pacific, Oceanic spaces. They were really useful for us to kind of get a start. And we had the second SICRI conference in Norfolk Island to commemorate that (and I haven't abandoned hopes of having a future SICRI conference in Ogasawara if I can persuade the organizers to go there). The principal difference is that with Norfolk Island you can fly to easily by jet from Brisbane or Sydney or Auckland, between two and three hours, depending on which route it is. For Ogasawara Islands, there's no airport, it's 26 hours by sea from Tokyo, on a good day, sometimes over 30 on a bad one. A bit logistically difficult, but I hope we get there one day.


An aerial photo of the Isles of Scilly, Great Britain.

That's very interesting. It sounds like your introduction to island studies research was a confluence of going to the Scilly Islands, traveling to Ogasawara in Japan, and also going to Norfolk Island, and there was some ideas that literally captivated you like the landscape and different attitudes towards islands. Could you say a little bit more about your trip to the Scilly islands?


Yes, so, arriving in the Scilly Islands…  it’s a little vignette, it’s a quite complex experience. There's two ways of going: there's a very long ferry trip you can take from Penzance, which is often really [difficult]… the sea can get very lively there. And because I didn't have a lot of time, I thought I'd take the quicker one. There's a helicopter port near Penzance [and] I went by helicopter... Halfway over, the captain said, we're just going to divert ourselves, we're just going to go down and show you something. So we dipped down, and there was a three-masted sailing ship, a re-creation of one from the 18th century, that was sailing. In the helicopter we kind of buzzed around it. And that was actually quite… strange. It was like kind of temporal patch. And then we… land in Scilly Islands. Beautiful for heliport area, it’s in a field, it was Spring, and it was full of wild flowers, and the helicopter landed, and we walked down the hill into town. And as we went down, you can see the kind of patterning of islands, you can see the age of the settlements there. But there was a sense about how disparate parts were.


Even that very first evening, I remember sitting in a pub and talking to a guy on St Mary's Island, which you can walk around the perimeter… easily in a day, and he was saying, “oh, yes, I used to go over the northeast corner, haven't been there for a long time, don't know the people there”… that kind of fragmentation. And when I walk around the island, I walk past everything from Neolithic burial chambers to more modern, kind of ‘Grand Designs’ type places, and I’m just aware of the variety within those landscapes.


And then by contrast, a few days later, I went to Tresco Island. Tresco is a quite remarkable Island, it was set up in association with Kew Gardens as the place to bring species of plants from the Empire. And because of the microclimate there you can grow subtropical plants. So, it's a subtropical island with walled gardens in the middle of this outer aspect of Cornwall; very different in character from the others. And it was just those impressions of potential variety in small spaces, but socially, botanically, agriculturally built landscapes, that was so resonant for me.


That's fascinating how travel to one island or one group of islands really captivated you and took you into the field of Island studies. Now you've published widely in several areas of island studies research and published in numerous different journals and books and things like that. How would you describe your particular field within island studies and how is this evolved over time?


My particular field is the result of the fact that all my degrees are in different subjects. First degree was in English literature. Master's degree was in media studies. PhD was in intercultural communication involving music. I also have postgraduate qualifications in art history. So, I don't know what my disciplinary position is. Often, when I get called for interviews for jobs and things they go, “you seem a bit interdisciplinary”!  ... I’m as interdisciplinary as it gets. If you want to characterize what I do, it's kind of contemporary and cultural heritage studies. And if there's a follow up to that, it's in geographically specific locations, which is a really big mouthful and never satisfies anybody but is probably quite accurate. What my involvement in island studies has been is to bring these disciplines in. But the great thing for me about island studies is I wheel in these various disciplines, I look at something and think, “now, I really need to know about that”. I've kind of broadened out. The last few things I've written and recently had accepted are stuff that looks at the impact of the Anthropocene on island cultures, so there’s environment in that, environmental history, kind of theorizations based there. And I've also done things such as another recent piece, which was trying to understand the notion of the aquapelagic imaginary… of watery spaces in Venice, in terms of Venice’s history of symbolism. And that was great, I could use my art history. I basically dived off a diving board into 500 years of Venetian visual iconography and tried to make sense of that. And it took months, and I ended up with a 13,000-word article, but it was massively rewarding, and I was just finding more and more fascinating things.


Prof. Hayward on Jersey before ISIC conference on Guernsey 2010

You mentioned the term aquapelagic or aquapelago. Could you say some more about that?


Yeah, it was a term that I originated in response to frustration about how island studies was regarding both islands and archipelagos as entirely terrestrial entities. I'd read something about an island or about an archipelago, and there'll be no mention of the sea, or experiences of the sea or perceptions of the sea or resources of the sea. I always thought it's like island studies is dominated by ‘landlubbers,’  to use an old slang expression from naval days. And it came to a head when there was an attempt to launch archipelago studies within island studies in the mid 2000s. The work that was done was kind of okay, in a way, but I just went, “no, we really can't keep doing this”. And that frustration meant, I thought, that I'm not persuading people by argument and critique to involve more address to water, because everyone just goes “yes, yes, yes” and leaves it. I thought what I need is a strategic way of making an intervention into the debates. So, I thought, okay, how about posing another word, a word that's going to sound awkward the first time you hear it, you're going to go, “what's this about?” Something that sticks and nags, a new/neologism in that sense. So the neologism was ‘aquapelago’ – which is basically trying to emphasize the aquatic dimension of islands and island cultures –  and I set out to theorize all the ways in which those terrestrial marine aspects work, and I did it in a couple of papers, published in 2012, and the idea’s been batted around widely. I’m only now sitting down to write up a kind of revision of those theories based on all the great work being done by other people, including yourself Henry, and Christian [Fleury], into a monograph. That's it, in a nutshell.


Well, that sounds fascinating having a new term and new concept, a new theoretical construct for island studies. Moving away from the theory of the aquapelago, could you give an example of how that term might be applied to a certain location?


Yes, when I was thinking of the archipelago, two things that I thought, two examples, [were] geographical ones. The first is Newfoundland, […]  a really interesting place because it was primarily visited [for] the waters around it and specifically the waters of the Grand Banks at the southern end of it. And people initially just used the shore as a place to reprovision and to dry the fish they caught off the Grand Banks. So, the majority of the time, the people visiting the Grand Banks from Europe were in the water, and the shore was used as an adjunct to the to the watery space. And Newfoundland for a long while was not of any particular interest to European fishing fleets, for the land part; the water was the most important part. And settlement initially started by a few people staying on over the winter season to look after the buildings that people used for drying. And in fact, the British Crown didn't want the land part of Newfoundland settled because it couldn't see any use for it, thought to be difficult to do, and just wanted the watery resources there. So, in a way the land in Newfoundland… in the early days, was the least important part of the joint terrestrial aquatic assemblage that was… the aquapelago. And then as it was settled, it was a flow on result from the cod industry. And in that sense, particularly prior to the collapse of the cod industry, Newfoundland was a very highly aquapelagic space. That was fascinating to me.


Over on another part of the planet, I was looking at the Torres Strait, and the role that the Torres Strait played in arguments for indigenous title in Australia in the famous Mabo High Court Judgment. The person behind that was Eddie Mabo, who was Torres Strait Islander who was living in, I think it was in Cairns at the time. And a lot of his arguments were based on traditional ownership of and uses of the terrestrial and marine resources of the Torres Strait. He identified particular bits of sea floor and watery spaces as traditional territory for Torres Strait Islanders. So, the whole argument for Native title, although it's very largely been seen as a terrestrial thing, was premised on the aquapelagic space of the Torres Strait.


Those two things kind of gave me quite important orientations. And then I started looking for other ones. And the point that is often, I think, forgotten in discussions of the aquapelago, is that I've never proposed we substitute the word archipelago for aquapelago because aquapelago goes to specific types of places where there's a very high instanciation of terrestrial and marine resources and uses of those resources. And so those are specific places, and also specific places in historical terms – they kind of come and go.


Venice, photo provided by Prof. Hayward

Yes, that sounds like a particularly useful term to use in island studies to differentiate certain spaces from others. You mentioned Venice and your work in iconography. Could you say a little bit about that?


One of the things I'm quite concerned to do is try and find out how, historically, communities – and some powerful agencies within communities – have perceived and imagined the relationship between terrestrial spaces and aquatic spaces. Now, obviously, we've got some written documents from those periods, which can give us some information. We can't go back and interview people from periods where things happened before audio recording, so one of the things we can do is see how did people express themselves in various media? We can look at literature we can look at song, we can look at painting, we can look at performance, we can look at architecture. And, from these things, we can say okay, well what kind of sense of imagination can you have? For example, in the case of Venice, the dominant symbol of Venice is the Winged Lion of St Mark. Now, that's always puzzled me because Venice is obviously a very wet place. It's in aquatic place. It's a place built in a lagoon where the water interpenetrates. And winged lions? Two things: the lions… there on solid land, is not known for its aquatic abilities, putting it mildly, and it's got wings, it flies above the water. So, I was thinking, […] there must be a load of other images going on. The starting point for that study is why aren't there more particularly mermaid images in Venice, given the mermaid is the symbol of Warsaw, [and] is [also] associated with Copenhagen. You know, Warsaw…. river city, Copenhagen is an island city. So, [the] exploration of the iconography was like, “why is that there, and not something else there?” It's almost like Sherlock Holmesy type stuff, you know, forensic art history and iconography, pulling through whole sets of images, going to, for example, images that the Vatican have kept of varying maps in which they've decorated… with various symbols, and looking at history of Venetian painting motifs and building design, and working through those things. It's trying to uncover lost histories of perception of those faces.


I can really see now how your early history covering several different disciplines from an undergraduate to a postgraduate student and beyond, how all those different disciplines now connect with different parameters, different spheres of island studies. What's your latest work, what's going to come out in the next six months?


I've had a very prolific period during lockdown because I haven't been traveling. And I've had some personal circumstances [that] kept me at home... I've been writing a lot. I've been clearing through a backlog of materials and I’ve also been looking particularly at Australian spaces. I've got to confess I've been seduced by the prospect of flying off to Japanese islands to do something, or spending time in the Adriatic. But during lockdown, I've been looking much more close to home. I've done some work on river islands in North New South Wales that is coming out in the Island Studies Journal this year. I've also done… a number of projects around Sydney Harbour, and the changes that have happened to islands and riverine and estuary spaces in Sydney from first colonization through to now, which includes things such as de-islanding, the way that islands have been turned into peninsulas. Looking at how waterways have been developed in various ways, it's kind of cultural artifacts and then contested and thinking about those spaces. So that's some of the work I've been going through recently in terms of Australian locations.


Wasn't the Sydney Opera House originally an island before it was joined to the mainland?


Yes, correct, it was… a small rocky flat area, which at high tide was completely islanded and… was turned into Bennelong Point, which was a tram depot, which was a bit unique, as it was seen as… not a particularly attractive piece of land so why not turn the trams around there, and when the tram depot was cleared they built the Opera House on it and then it's become the most iconic place and Sydney Harbour and now arguably all of Australia in terms of built environment. But there's also other contrasting things. What really interests me about Sydney Harbour is other places that were de-islanded early were then kept as nature reserves. They were de-islanded to access them, but then they were kept in the condition that they were before, which is quite interesting. And then this place called Garden Island… which has been transformed beyond recognition through successive linkages and developments, but it's kept the name of Garden Island. It’s a kind of strange heritage name to it. There's more than enough material to work on there. And now I've got a place in Sydney, I've loved the great luxury of having a kayak, and I can just paddle off and look at these places and explore them. So, I'm really enjoying old fashioned style research about getting the rucksack and the kayak out and paddling through, but instead of doing it in a kind of remote journalism, in jungles of Borneo, I’m actually just doing it like two minutes start from where I live. It's about time I did that… it's good to do.

Mermaid research 2015.JPG

Mermaid research, Port Lincoln Australia, 2014

CI CRab.jpg

Coconut crab and author, Christmas Island 2018

Rocky Point Island 2017.jpg

As a last question, this is a tricky one to answer. What are your thoughts on the future of island studies?


Okay, so my thoughts are a little bit controversial and have irritated quite a few people over the years, especially people who've got a kind of real affection for the notion of the island, either because they're islanders, or they've been fascinated by them. But I think what we did in the early days of island studies is we put islands on the map in terms of a number of disciplines – cultural geography, geography, and a number of other ones – and we said look islands have a lot that’s interesting about them, that’s distinct about them that merits attention. We set up journals, we set up Island Studies Journal, the early issues of Shima as well, and we had ISISA and SICRI. But what we did in order to do that was over-emphasize the radical difference of islands from other types of lands, and as it came along […] I'd be called upon to justify island studies and I kind of say things that other people say and that I kind of had a belief in. But I was increasingly losing confidence in those answers because people would say to me, “why isn't that particular peninsula just as important in those ways as an island?”, or, you know… other types of landmass? And after a while, I started thinking, yeah, actually, there's a lot in that. So in terms of my work, in terms of Shima, we've...looked increasingly at “almost islands”, peninsular almost islands, the way narrow isthmuses connect them, and so the function of the islands [and] around thinking about other spaces like lagoon spaces that have got things which are islands, and they’ve got marshes, and they've got all these interims.


I think island studies needs to get over the fetish of ideal islandness regarding archetypal islands… remote oceanic islands. A classic example, you know, Rapanui, Easter Island, I mean, that's obviously an archetypal island marooned in the middle of nowhere. But if you use that as your touchstone for everything, you miss the huge amount of islands that are close to coasts, that are in rivers, that are in lakes that are connected by bridges. We've really got to think, if we are doing island studies, think of all types of islands and don't fetishize remote oceanic ones. And then, if you start doing that, think about what other landscapes and interactions and tides. So, we made the strategic decision after… the 20th issue of Shima, we dropped the subtitle of concerning islands, and Shima now is as concerned with watery spaces, inbetween spaces, as it is with islands. I think organizations such as SICRI, which maintain the island focus and go for that [are worthwhile], but don't forget the islands in rivers and lakes and the semi-islands and partial islands. And we need to broaden out rather than being a kind of… being controversial here… an almost fetishistic hobby group for particular types of research.


Thank you Phil, that sounds absolutely intriguing. It seems that SICRI and island studies scholars undertaking research now and, in the future, have got a huge amount of topics that they can study, and really move island studies research into new fields.


I wish I had another 150 years of career to work with emerging researchers and I do think it's a great time to be in this area. And it's almost dizzying the number of angles and perspectives we can take, I mean, your work, as well as taking you from particular focuses on Japan and the Channel Islands to thinking more broadly – and you've moved into those other areas – and you know how exciting that is. It is also challenging; you can get ‘imposter syndrome’ sometime when you're way off your field, but when you get responses back from other people it shows that things are moving well, it's so exciting.


Thank you, Phil, we look forward to reading more about your research in the future.

Rocky Point Island Sydney 2017 (Sydney Harbour Islands - ongoing research)

Additional resources (publications by Prof. Hayward)



Hayward, P. 2012. AQUAPELAGOS AND AQUAPELAGIC ASSEMBLAGES: Towards an integrated study of island societies and marine environments. Shima: The International Journal of Research into Island Cultures, Volume 6 Number 1.


Hayward, P. 2012. THE CONSTITUTION OF ASSEMBLAGES AND THE AQUAPELAGALITY OF HAIDA GWAII. Shima: The International Journal of Research into Island Cultures, Volume 6 Number 2.



Hayward, P. 2014. Social and economic effects of spatial distribution in island communities: Comparing the Isles of Scilly and Isle of Wight, UK. Journal of Marine and Island Cultures, Volume 3, Issue 1, June (9-19).


River Islands:

Christian Fleury, C. and Hayward, P. 2020. Riverine Complexity: Islandness, socio-spatial perceptions and modification—a case study of the lower Richmond River (Eastern Australia). Island Studies Journal.



Hayward, P. 2021. DOMINI DA MAR: Manifestations of the aquapelagic imaginary in Venetian symbolism and folklore. Shima: The International Journal of Research into Island Cultures.


Norfolk Island:

Hayward, P. 2006. Bounty Chords: Music, Dance and Cultural Heritage on Norfolk and Pitcairn Islands. Jonh Libbey.

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