January 19, 2018

Floods and Flood-mindedness in Early Colonial Australia



To date, environmental histories of rivers, floods, and settlers in early colonial Australia (1788–1820) have meshed with colonial historiography rather than challenging it. Missing from these studies are problem-oriented questions about the behaviors of rivers and people alike. What were the specific histories and impacts of floods and freshes? How did settlers survive, conceptualize, and understand floods? Why did they stay on the riverbanks, even defying governors’ orders to move to higher ground, when they well knew the river’s destructive power? These are questions we might ask of all humans who live on floodplains. This


article argues and demonstrates that a deep ethnographic and environmental approach can do more than graft new environmental research onto existing historical narratives. It can unlock the radical potential of environmental history to reveal past peoples more fully, more humanly, in a whole new light—in short, to change the way we think about them and their environments.

by Grace Karskens

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