Thinking with Thrombolites

Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps. Thoreau, 1862 

In January 2020 we will begin a series of encounters with children, thrombolites and wetlands.

Thrombolites at Lake Clifton, June 2019

Thrombolites, sometimes known as “living rocks”, are a kind of microbialite – multispecies conglomerations made up of bacteria, algae, and an array of tiny invertebrates. They date back to the Paleoproterozoic period (2500 -1600 million years ago) (Kah, 1992) and continue to exist in a few locations in remnant wetlands south of Perth, Western Australia.

Despite surviving five previous mass extinction events, their hold on life is now very precarious due to human-caused environmental factors such as fertiliser run-off and salinity. Thrombolites found in Lake Richmond, for example, are described as being  at “extreme high risk of extinction in the immediate future.” Others at different locations are already extinct.

Microbialite fossils at Lake Walyungup

Lake Richmond thrombolites under threat from water quality, weeds, rubbish and eutrophication, November 2019

Thrombolites are very important to the Noongar people, the original inhabitants of the south-west corner of Western Australia. According to Bindjareb Noongar elder, George Walley, thrombolites are noorook (eggs) of the Waagal, the creation serpent that made the landforms and waterways.

Thrombolites at Lake Clifton, August 2019

Multispecies ethnography

As we think with thrombolites, we will draw on “multispecies ethnography” (Kirksey, 2010; Ogden et al., 2013): 

We define “multispecies ethnography” as ethnographic research and writing that is attuned to life’s emergence within a shifting assemblage of agentive beings. By “beings” we are suggesting both biophysical entities as well as the magical ways objects animate life itself. (Ogden et al. 2013, p. 6)

Thus, in approaching this multispecies ethnography, we will try to resist a child-centred ethic and instead consider the more-than-human elements —  the place, materials and multispecies others — as equal participants in the research. We know this is not easy work but we hope our “attentive responsiveness”  (van Dooren, 2019, p. 2) will take us beyond exclusively human, cultural and social framings and lead us on an “exploration of possibilities for living and dying well with others — human and not — in an increasingly uncertain world” (van Dooren, 2019, p. 2).


Kah, L. C., & Grotzinger, J. P. (1992). Early Proterozoic (1.9 Ga) Thrombolites of the Rocknest Formation, Northwest Territories, Canada. PALAIOS, 7(3), 305-315. 

Kirksey, S. E., & Helmreich, S. (2010). The emergence of multispecies ethnography. Cultural Anthropology, 25(4), 545-576. 

Ogden, L., Hall, B., & Tanita, K. (2013). Animals, plants, people, and things: A review of multispecies ethnography. Environment and Society, 4(1), 5-24. 

Thoreau, H. D. (1862). Walking. The Atlantic. Retrieved from

van Dooren, T. (2019). The wake of crows: Living and dying in shared worlds. New York: Columbia University Press.