Meet our researchers

Find out more about some of our researchers and what they do.

Dr Vannessa Hearman

Dr Hearman doing an interview

Dr Hearman doing an interview

Dr Vannessa Hearman joined the Department of Indonesian Studies this year after completing her PhD on the 1965-68 anti-communist repression in East Java, Indonesia. Her research deals with activism, social movements and the Indonesian left, as well as transitional justice in the aftermath of dictatorships.

Dr Hearman is part of several collaborative research projects about the 1965-66 violence in Indonesia. In February 2013 she worked with colleagues from the University of Melbourne, University of Queensland and the ANU to organise a conference that brought together activists and researchers from Indonesia.

Dr Hearman is also collaborating with Dr Kate McGregor at the University of Melbourne to research Indonesia’s transnational linkages during the Sukarno years. This project involves archival and interview research in Europe, Indonesia and Cuba. It aims to provide a new history of Indonesia’s connectedness with the world in the 1950s and 60s and a more complex picture of the Cold War, especially as seen from Southeast Asia.

Dr Damien Field

Dr Damien Field, SSEAC Country Coordinator for Laos

Dr Damien Field, SSEAC Country Coordinator for Laos

Dr Damien Field from the Faculty of Agriculture is passionate about Southeast Asia’s soil. His research focuses on how various soil functions affect and support both agriculture and the surrounding environment. But Damien is equally passionate about teaching and he believes students should actively engage with real world issues and problems through fieldwork.

January 2013 was the fourth year where a group of students from the Faculty of Agriculture joined students from the National University of Laos (NUOL) on field work throughout Laos to learn about Agroecosystems in developing countries. Damien co-teaches this fieldwork unit, originally developed by Dr Paulo Santos, with Prof. Silinthone Sacklokham and Chitpasong Kousonsavath from NUOL.

In 2013 the students travelled to the south of Laos, where visits with government authorities, NGO’s and private enterprises enabled them to investigate issues of crop improvement, changing agricultural practices, land-use allocation, infrastructure development, and access to markets and finance. This kind of integrated learning experience not only produces more engaged students, it can also contribute to more culturally sensitive science.

Dr Damien Field is also working with Adjunct Professor William Rathmell and Professor Peter Sharp on an AusAid supported project in the region; 'Regional Capacity Building in Sustainable Agricultural Education and Extension Services in Southeast Asia to Reduce Rural Poverty and Increase Food Security in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.'

Professor Budiman Minasny

Budiman speaking at an event

Budiman Minasny speaking at an event

Faculty of Agriculture and Environment

Soil is essential for food production and it has numerous functions in the environment, from regulating how water moves, to affecting climate, to maintaining biodiversity and the ecosystem. In Indonesia, information about soil is essential for agricultural production. Recent development in digital soil mapping technologies pioneered by researchers at the University of Sydney have revolutionised the way soil information can be obtained and mapped.

The project provides the world's first freely-available, fine-scale, three-dimensional digital map of the globe's soils. The project aims to make a new digital soil map of the world using state-of-the-art and latest technologies. The University of Sydney has a special role in training and capacity building in the Oceania Node of this project, which aims to coordinate the cooperation and advancement of soil mapping within the region.

Professor Budiman Minasny, from the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment is involved in the project. His research focuses on how and why soil varies across different landscapes and how it changes over time. He has collaborated with researchers from around the globe including South Korea, Denmark, Brazil, Iran and USA. In Indonesia he has worked closely with researchers to examine the change in soil carbon over eighty years of agricultural activities in Java.

Professor Peter Windsor

Professor Peter Windsor

Professor Peter Windsor

The majority of the population of rural Cambodia and Laos, two of the world’s poorest countries, is heavily reliant on agriculture. In both countries, cattle and buffalo are an important part of rural life with farmers using them for draught, fertilizer, beef and as a store of wealth that can be sold in times of need. At the same time, both countries are experiencing a growing demand for red meat in their domestic and regional export markets, providing an opportunity for rural farmers to supply this demand. However, the production of cattle and buffalo is constrained by poor husbandry including inadequate nutrition and the constant threat of disease.

Researchers from the University of Sydney, led by Professor Peter Windsor from the Faculty of Veterinary Science, have been involved in projects that aim to alleviate poverty in Cambodia and Laos by improving the productivity of cattle and buffalo. The projects, funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research and the Crawford Fund, have applied a participatory action research approach to identify, implement and test a series of interventions in six villages from three provinces in both southern Cambodia and in northern Laos. The researchers have worked with multiple research and operations partners including the Department of Animal Health and Production (Cambodia) and the Department of Livestock and Fisheries (Lao PDR).

Over the course of the project, extension workers and then farmers were trained in forage technology for livestock nutrition, biosecurity and preventative health, reproductive management and marketing. After this training the researchers witnessed changes in the participating villages. Forages were rapidly adopted and spread within and beyond the project sites into neighbouring communes and districts. Farmers growing forages saved considerable time each day not searching for cattle and buffalo feed, which resulted in significant social impacts including increased time available for the education of their children. Large ruminant production has increased with average daily growth and some farmers have reported that their incomes have doubled or more than doubled since the project began.

More information can be found at the following websites or by contacting the Australian Project leader, Professor Peter Windsor at: .

Peter's project websites:

Professor Ben Oldroyd

Ben Oldroyd

Ben Oldroyd examining a nest

Honey bees are a keystone species that are essential for the pollination of many crops and forest trees. For example, the famous lowlands of Southeast Asia are dependent on honey bees for reproduction. But honey bees are heavily hunted throughout Asia, leading to concerns about the long term viability of their populations. We know that the giant honey bee is extinct in Bali, and the Asian hive bee is extinct in Singapore. But our work has shown that, in general, honey bee populations are thriving, and seem to be able to withstand the hunting pressure. The bee populations are highly migratory and connected, so local extinctions are rapidly overturned by migrants from other areas. Nonetheless, it is hard to believe that hunting and deforestation are not having an impact, and more work needs to be done to ensure that these activities are sustainable.

Researchers at the Behaviour and Genetics of Social Insects lab in the School of Biological Sciences study the biology and conservation of Asian honey bees using genetic markers to identify population and family structures. Our work is mainly in conjunction with students from Chulalongkorn University in Thailand and Kunming Agricultural University in China. Over the course of our project, six Thai students have participated in one year internships at the University of Sydney, and six University of Sydney students have worked in Thailand in conjunction with Chulalongkorn University and Kunming Agricultural University. We have also published over 50 scientific papers on Asian honey bees, and a major monograph, Asian Honey bees: Biology, conservation and human interactions (Harvard University Press 2006). This work is raising awareness about the importance of pollinator conservation.

Dr Mark Allon

Dr Mark Allon

Dr Mark Allon

Dr Mark Allon, the Chair of the Department of Buddhist Studies, specialises in Southeast Asian literature written in Pali, the language believed by Theravāda Buddhist communities to be spoken by the Buddha. His main field of interest is the literature produced by Buddhist communities in South, Southeast and Central Asia, and the languages these communities use to compose and transmit their sacred texts. He also does research on the movement of Buddhism and of Pali texts between South and Southeast Asia, the ways Buddhist communities use texts and the preservation of Pali manuscripts.

Dr Allon has worked closely on several projects with the Dhammachai Institute based at Wat Phra Dhammakaya, Bangkok (with an offshoot in Australia). He is an advisor to their project to digitally photograph Pali manuscripts kept in monasteries and public libraries in Asia and the West and since early 2011 he has been an advisory board member of their Dhammachai Tipitaka Project, which aims to create a new critical edition of the Pali canon. This has included producing an assessment of their first pilot edition and participating in a workshop held at their centre in Bangkok. Further workshops will be held in the coming years.

The University of Sydney is the only university in Australia to offer a comprehensive undergraduate and postgraduate Buddhist Studies program and the only one to teach Pali. It is therefore the most productive place for Dr Allon to be based for furthering his study of Southeast Asian Buddhist literature and for training the next generation of scholars.

Dr Martin Polkinghorne

Dr Martin Polkinghorne on site at the Terrace of Leper King Sculpture Workshop.

Dr Martin Polkinghorne on site at the Terrace of Leper King Sculpture Workshop.

Australian Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow

The sculpture of Angkor is recognised by the UNESCO World Heritage listing as among the greatest creations of human genius. Every major public collection of art includes Khmer sculpture in stone and bronze attesting to its world significance. Khmer images are distinguished by precision of execution and the classic canons of beauty: proportional balance and realism. Yet the methods of manufacture and the activities of the teams of artists who created these works are unknown.

Funded by the Australian Research Council and led by the Angkor Research Program of The University of Sydney, a collaborative team from The Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap (APSARA), l’École Française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO) and the Freer / Sackler Galleries of Asian Art of the Smithsonian Institution are conducting research at the location of three sculpture ateliers between 2011 and 2013. A program of documentary research, stratigraphic excavations, and laboratory analyses will identify the processes of sculpture making and address key questions related to understanding Angkorian civilisation.

Projects from the University of Sydney’s Angkor Research Program have helped to preserve and enhance the UNESCO World Heritage value of Angkor through a better understanding of the scientific, historic and aesthetic values of the site. An understanding of these outstanding universal values is critical to maintaining the Angkor World Heritage site’s ongoing potential as a source of economic development and poverty reduction in Cambodia.

Dr Mike Rimmer

Imran Lapong and Mike Rimmer checking aquaculture research trials in Laikang, South Sulawesi

Imran Lapong and Mike Rimmer checking aquaculture research trials in Laikang, South Sulawesi

Senior Research Fellow
Faculty of Veterinary Science

Indonesia has an estimated 650,000 ha of brackishwater coastal ponds (known locally as tambak) used for farming milkfish (Chanos chanos) and shrimp. Mainly located in rural areas, these ponds are important sources of food security and income generation for coastal communities. However, since the 1990’s, widespread outbreaks of viral diseases in shrimp have severely limited the productivity of these ponds.

The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) is funding a project managed by the University of Sydney in partnership with the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, and Hasanuddin University in Makassar. The project is lead by Professor Whittington and managed by Dr Rimmer who is based in Makassar, South Sulawesi, Indonesia.

The project is trialling new aquaculture commodities for culture in smallholders’ ponds, to replace traditional shrimp culture. These include the omnivorous freshwater fish tilapia, the herbivorous marine rabbitfish, the swimming crab and edible seaweed. In order to evaluate these commodities in a ‘real world’ situation, the project is trialling them in local farmers’ ponds at selected field sites in South Sulawesi and Aceh provinces. By working directly with the farming communities, project staff get a better idea of the benefits and constraints that the farmers face in adopting new aquaculture commodities.

One of the most effective ways of getting broader community adoption of new technologies is to form farmer groups so that farmers can learn from each others’ experiences and exchange technical and market information. This project has supported the establishment of three farmer groups in South Sulawesi, two of which are trialling tilapia and one swimming crabs and edible seaweed.

For more information please visit the project website.