Welcome Dr. Karen Hansen

Dr. Karen Hansen is an anthropologist and cultural heritage practitioner. She has over a decade of experience working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage and has undertaken long-term ethnographic fieldwork in the Philippines for her Ph.D. thesis on surf tourism, gender, and colonialism.

Karen’s career in cultural heritage began in 2011 when, following the completion of her B.A. (Hons) in Anthropology at the University of Western Australia (UWA), she was fortunate to receive an internship placement through the Aurora Foundation. Karen headed to Alice Springs, where she worked for the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA) for two months. Upon completion of the internship program, Karen returned to Perth, where she took up a position as an anthropologist/heritage consultant for a small consultancy, Context Anthropology. Throughout 2012, she split her time between anthropological consultations in the Pilbara and report writing and general office work in Fremantle.

Having fallen in love with anthropology at the start of her B.A. degree, Karen decided, after a year of working as a heritage consultant in the Pilbara, to pursue her postgraduate studies in anthropology at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra. The next decade or so was devoted to her studies, which focused on tourism, gender, and colonialism in the Philippines. Based in Canberra, Karen undertook regular trips to her field site in central Philippines, Siargao Island, culminating in 12 months of fieldwork in 2016 and a further two months in 2018. The body of research she collected during these 14 months formed the basis of her Ph.D. thesis.

While in Canberra, Karen also continued her work in cultural heritage as a Collections Officer and later, Team Leader, in the Photographic Unit at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS). The Photographic Collection at AIATSIS is an amazing collection, comprising over 700,000 images of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from around the country, dating back to the late 1800s until the present day. Karen found it a privilege to work with the collection.

During the COVID years, Karen was able to complete her Ph.D., finally submitting her thesis in late 2021 (and graduating the following year in 2022). After submission, the warm weather and sub-tropical environs of Karratha and the Pilbara called to her, and she relocated to the Northwest to work as a Heritage Advisor for Rio Tinto Iron Ore (RTIO). While the work was interesting and challenging, and the startling red and blue of the Pilbara coast provided a beguiling backdrop to life, working as an advisor didn’t really scratch her ‘anthropological itch’ as much as consulting directly with Traditional Owners would. After 18 months in Karratha, Karen relocated again, this time to the cooler climates of Busselton in the Southwest to take up her current role as a Heritage Consultant with Aboriginal Land Services (ALS). Since starting with ALS, Karen has been undertaking ethnographic consultations with Traditional Owners in the Pinjarra forests. A typical field day for her includes bush-bashing through dense undergrowth, navigating the hazards of feral pigs, snakes, and bushfires, and, of course, working with Traditional Owners and archaeologists to identify and record tangible and intangible Aboriginal Cultural Heritage. She enjoys her work immensely.

Principal Director Bill Bennell states, “We’re thrilled to have an anthropologist join our team, and we’re very fortunate that it’s Karen Hansen. She has seamlessly joined the ALS team, bringing with her a wealth of knowledge, experience, and passion for heritage. She will be an invaluable asset, and we are already seeing great contributions to our business”.

Meet Dr Karen Hansen. 1