Australia Kimberley Cruise

Meet the Expert: Shirley Campbell

May 11, 2020|Blog Post

We recently had the opportunity to do a quick Q & A with Expedition Leader & Social Anthropologist Shirley Campbell to learn more about her background, what led her from California to Australia, her interests, favorite expedition moments, travel bucket list, and more. We hope you enjoy discovering more about one of our expert expedition team members!

Where are you from and where have you lived? 

I was born and raised in the Bay Area in California, and I went to Columbia, Missouri to undertake my undergraduate degree in fashion design. Believe it or not, that was my first choice and the reason I went to Stephens College. However, I took this class called anthropology and the light bulb went off —THAT was the word for what I had been interested in from the time I found my first human skull fragments (most likely Native American bones, unlikely to be any younger than the early 19th century) and stone tools behind my childhood home in the fields in Lafayette, California! I switched to anthropology and never looked back.

After completing my first degree, I flew to London to work with the only professor doing research and theoretical work in the anthropology of art, which interested me the most. Meeting him in his office at London School of Economics, I was told that he was heading for Canberra, Australia to take up the first chair in anthropology at the Australian National University. So, I followed him here in 1974 and have lived in Canberra, Australia ever since.

I also lived on Vakuta Island in the Trobriand Islands, Papua New Guinea for two years while I was undertaking fieldwork for my PhD.

Tell us about yourself—what path led you to becoming a Zegrahm Leader? 

Picture of Social Anthropologist Shirley CampbellWhile sitting at my desk in my university office in 2006, I received an email with the subject line: Cruise company seeking anthropologist.

I hit delete, having no desire to work on a cruise ship. Several days later, another email came across my computer: Expedition Cruise Company seeking Anthropologist.

This pricked my interest; expedition cruise? It was another company needing an anthropologist to join a trip from Milford Sound in New Zealand to Australia and up the coast to the Torres Strait Islands. Apparently my name had been suggested by a colleague. I answered the email and was engaged to join the ship for the trip. I thoroughly enjoyed my time and was looking forward to the occasional trips that might come my way when the company was sold. Luckily, they asked if I would be agreeable to my name being passed to other companies. A few months later, Zegrahm contacted me and my association with them has continued since 2008.

What other jobs, positions or credentials do you have?

Shirley Campbell on Bigge Island in Australia's KimberleyI am, above all else, a social anthropologist, but my degrees included considerable study in ‘sister’ subjects such as prehistory/archaeology, paleontology, and linguistics. My interest in these subjects continues as understanding human society requires us knowing the past. From 1978 to 2017, I taught anthropology at the Australian National University, the University of Canberra, and a semester at Dartmouth College as a guest professor. I have written many peer-reviewed papers for professional journals and published a book on my research in the Trobriand Islands.

I engaged in a two-year research fieldwork program in the Trobriand Islands, working as an advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at the university and in the political sphere as a lobbyist. I’ve also conducted a six-month research project for a fitness center to help them understand the culture they generated in their business.

As well, in 1986 I began a parallel career in the fitness industry, receiving several accreditation certificates along the way as these became appropriate for my level of growing expertise. In 2006, I became an accredited yoga teacher, with over 80 hours of training. I am now a senior yoga teacher in Canberra and a national trainer and presenter for LesMills Asia Pacific.

What other fields are you passionate about?

Wow, where do I begin? Academically, I continue to be passionate about the capacity of humans to figure out ways to live in the diversity of environments we find ourselves in. I think it is absolutely fascinating the way we use technology today to interpret and understand our human origins and our colonization of the earth. The most interesting thing to me is knowing and understanding what the origins of a population have been and how they became what they are today. This fascination began when I was a small child, as far back as I can remember, and has never diminished.

I am fascinated by identity. How do we, as individuals, define ourselves vis-a-vis the ‘other’. This has extended into my work as a fitness professional and the constructs of body imaging and manipulation (plastic surgery, weight work, piercings, tattoos…) to fit the identities we construct.

Spiritual leader, IndiaI love India! My current fascination and research is directed at India and the complexity that India is. This carries on from my interest in identity construction and the making of individuals—communities—a people. In accepting the diversity of India’s prehistory, history, and contemporary situation, there is something that is India—the ‘beating heart of India,’ if you like. I want to know what that is.

I am a cook. I love the experience of buying all the variety of ingredients that go into a meal; the vegetables and fruits, the meats (if using), the spices, the oils, all the raw materials that become washed, dissected, chopped, diced, and put together in new combinations, cooked using a variety of methods, and resulting in a delicious and nutritious meal to be shared.

I’m interested in the history of food, the ethics of food production and procurement, the cultural identities associated with different cuisines and how these came about. I am also a breadmaker, having made bread now for 40 years. I am self-taught but would absolutely love to do a proper course on breadmaking so that I could understand the science behind this magical food. It is so simple. Just flour, water, and salt—I use a wild yeast, sourdough, made of water and flour—produces this most delicious food.

I should stop now.

Shirley CampbellWhere can people find your written work?

I have several publications in peer-reviewed journals and books, and I have published a book, The Art of Kula.

What excites you about working for Zegrahm Expeditions?

The thing that excites me most about joining my next trip with Zegrahm is seeing the people I am proud to call my friends; fellow expedition staff, guests who travel with us a lot, and the ship’s crew. We make up one big Zegrahm family and this is the best part of working for Zegrahm.

The other aspect of Zegrahm that gets me on the plane is the destination-oriented outlook. For us, it is all about the destination. These are usually remote, underexplored, and really special destinations. Even in less remote areas, like when we travel to parts of Asia or India, for example, our itinerary aims to make the experiences unique, unrepeatable, even for us when we travel to those destinations again. Even with an itinerary that has been finalized, we are always looking for opportunities to step outside the usual and explore the unusual.

What is your favorite Zegrahm memory?

Every trip has really special moments. You just never know what is in store for you as we enter the world around us with our eyes open.

Some memories that spring to mind: 

Photo of Shirley Campbell in the Sub-Antarctic Islands of New Zealand

●     Arriving very early in the morning at the Snares in New Zealand’s Subantarctic and standing on the open decks in our bathrobes in the dark listening for, then seeing the shapes of hundreds of thousands of shearwaters flying out from their nests before dawn so that skuas wouldn’t see where their nests were. 

●     Walking with a group of local rangers into East Cape’s Fynbos country in South Africa and asking if there was any San rock art in the rocky outcrops, being assured there was none, only to find some myself when we visited a rock overhang. The rangers were astounded! 

●     Visiting the Karawari River in Papua New Guinea to find that on this particular visit the locals were celebrating the rebuilding of the lodge and, as local custom dictates, re-energizing the ancestral spirits with cultural dances, speeches, and several other activities I had not seen before. 

●     Taking guests into the remote mountains of northern Vietnam, staying at a local homestay, and being part of a shaman’s ritual incantations to the spirits. On this trip we also were welcomed to Luang Prabang by one of the surviving princes who welcomed us into his grandfather’s home.

●     Sitting on the rocky beach of Macquarie Island, Australia when a couple of elephant seal pups decided to join me, snuggling up close and personal.

●     Visiting an island in Vanuatu that had never had visitors before and experiencing the array of cultural experiences they had prepared for us and immersing us in their lives.

●     Visiting Tanna volcano on Tanna Island, Vanuatu and walking right up to the caldera ridge to peer down into the caldera’s vent. 

●     The sheer beauty and diversity of Kimberly, Australia’s sunsets.

I could go on, there are so many… 

Picture od Shirley Campbell in Australia's KimberleyWhat’s left on your explorer’s bucket list/where do you still want to go that you haven’t been yet? Why there?

I am told I need to go to Antarctica. I am not an avid cold-weather person, preferring the warmth of equatorial latitudes, but I will have to go there before it is too late.

There is also much more to discover and visit in India. I'm very much looking forward to experiencing the Kumbh Festival on Zegrahm's 15-day tour that I'll be leading next spring. 

More generally, there is not a place that I have been to regularly that I am not excited to revisit. For example, I have probably visited Australia’s Kimberley region more than a dozen times, but I always love going back as it is always different. 

What does being a part of the Zegrahm family mean to you?

It means being a part of a company that pushes the boundaries whenever possible, working with like-minded people, and sharing what we know as a team to like-minded guests.

Who is the Zegrahm explorer? 

Anyone who cares to know about the world and how amazing it is, rich with cultural traditions, wildlife experiences, and natural phenomena. Zegrahm offers guests opportunities to be immersed in unique experiences. It is absolutely the company that goes “Beyond the Destination.”

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