Book Review: Flood Country by Emily O’Gorman

Author, Emily O'Gorman holding her book, Flood Country

Author, Emily O’Gorman at the Sydney launch of her book, Flood Country: An Environmental History of the Murray-Darling Basin (Collingwood, Vic: CSIRO Publishing, 2012).

I would never have read this book if it wasn’t for twitter.

Last year I came across the twitter stream of the University of Wollongong’s, Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research (@AUSCCER) and those of researchers who work at the Centre.  I have enjoyed these tweets about geography and the environment . One day I noticed their tweets about the Sydney launch of a book written by one of the researchers at the Centre, Flood Country: an Environmental History of the Murray-Darling Basin.  Happily I was free at that time and could attend.

People remain connected to and dependent on the natural environment despite all our inventions designed to make us more comfortable.  However, our technology and structures have lulled us into thinking that we are immune from the vagaries of our environment.  We get a nasty shock when this veil is ripped from us in a fire, drought or flood and we are forced to confront a difficult reality.

It is no accident that I decided to read Flood Country this month.  I was going to read another book but the flooding in Queensland and northern New South Wales from ex-tropical cyclone Oswald prompted me to change my plans.

My mother remembers flooding along the Murray when she lived there in the late 1950s.  This scrap of newspaper from that period demonstrates a local community grappling with the knowledge that they need to plan for floods.

My mother remembers flooding along the Murray when she lived there in the late 1950s. This scrap of newspaper from that period demonstrates a local community grappling with the knowledge that they need to plan for floods.

In Flood Country author, Emily O’Gorman uses the case studies of four floods to examine the relationship between the European settlers and the environment in the Murray-Darling Basin.  She covers a broad sweep of European settlement starting with the flood in Gundagai in 1852, then moving on to the flooding of Bourke in 1890, Mildura in 1956 and the flooding in south-western Queensland in 1990.  In between the accounts of these floods are chapters that tease out particular issues of the period such as the differing approaches to regulation of water for the pastoral and mining industries in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the rise of the engineered solution to water management in the twentieth century. Continue reading

Advertisements

Disasters at the 2012 Australian Historical Association Conference

Man on cherry picker dismantling a chimney

The Kinglake Chimney which is now part of the Museum Victoria collection of items from the Black Saturday Bushfires. The Age, 21/6/2009.

Day three of sessions at the Australian Historical Association conference started with disasters.  No, nothing awful befell the historians ensconced at the University of Adelaide. Rather, the subject of the plenary panel in the morning was ‘Disasters in Social and Cultural Perspective:  Impact, Response, Memory’.

Archives, museums and libraries around Australia have done tremendous work to preserve collections and collect memories of the recent disasters.  It was therefore fitting that we heard first from Liza Dale-Hallett of Museum Victoria.  She discussed the Museum’s work with the victims of the Black Saturday fires of 2009 through the Sustainable Futures project.  She argued that the experience of the bushfires was a gendered one. As Mike Jones observed on twitter, Dale-Hallett raised “interesting issues of identity and belonging”.  There have been so many other valuable projects like the Museum Victoria Sustainable Futures project.  As I was listening I was thinking of the ABC Open’s ‘Resilience:  Disaster, Resilience and Recovery‘ project and the State Library of Queensland’s work on the Floodlines project to name but two of the many such projects around Australia. Continue reading

Know Your Database

If you are interested in reading more about digital humanities, check out my other blog at http://stumblingfuture.wordpress.com

Over the last week I finally got a chance to try out the tools that Wragge (aka Tim Sherratt) has devised to mine digitised historic Australian newspapers accessed through Trove. This post is about the results of applying his tools.  If you want to do this yourself check out Wragge’s posts, Mining the Treasures of Trove (Part 1) and (Part 2). Firstly let’s look at Wragge’s graph of a topic that I have been writing about this year – floods.

Graph of the occurrence of the word "flood" in Australian newspapers, from the early 19th century to the late 1950s

Wragge's graph of the occurrence of the word "flood" in Australian newspapers since the early 19th century.

Wragge has produced the graph above  showing the occurrence of the word “floods” in Australian newspapers digitised and accessible on the Trove website.  As we would expect the word is mentioned more in years when there was severe flooding such as 1893.

Continue reading

Mapping Australia’s Natural Disasters: Space and Time

Just outside Tully #TCYasi on Twitpic

Just one image from the Tully area after Cyclone Yasi hit. Source: cycloneupdate on Twitpic.

Yet another natural disaster is unfolding in Queensland with tropical cyclone Yasi crossing the coast of Far North Queensland.  There was not much sleep in our household on Wednesday night as we have family members who live right at the heart of the destructive forces of the cyclone.  I resumed this post at around 1 am Thursday morning.  Blogging while keeping an eye on Twitter and regular media is the best way of dealing with the anxiety.

We had a phone call from our family near Tully at the height of the cyclone just after midnight.  They asked when the eye of the cyclone would hit.  Already they had lost some windows, had to nail a board over the door to stop it from opening and then a tree fell on their house.  They had no electricity and little idea of when it was all going to end.  Their house was swaying in the ferocious winds.

We turned to the Bureau of Meteorology’s radar image and map for the information that they needed.  Maps are indispensable when dealing with a natural disaster.  It is hard to understand the extent of the recent natural disasters in Australia without maps.  Maps record the area or space, that has been affected by the disaster.  Floods in Australia have been mapped since early settlement.  In order to get a better perspective of this summer of disastrous weather conditions in Australia I have been referring to maps of the current situation as well as historical maps. Continue reading

Saving Damaged Archives

Queensland State Library

Before: State Library of Queensland April 2010. Source: Zayzayem on flickr

The lower floors of the QLD state library in Brisbane is star... on Twitpic

After: State Library of Queensland 12 Jan 2011. Source: @jonoH on twitpic

Five states have now been affected by floods in Australia in the last month. In my earlier posts both on this blog and On Line Opinion, I have followed the difficulties faced by archives and libraries in face of natural disasters and specifically focussed on the travails of the State Library of Queensland. Now, nearly two weeks later, we can get a better picture of what has occurred and the recovery process.  More importantly, there is something that we can do to help flood-affected families recover the personal photos that they have lost. Continue reading

Southern Queensland Floods – Again

1893 photo of flood in Brisbane CBD, three man in a boat in the foreground.
1893 floods in Brisbane – Queen St. in the CBD. Image from Wikimedia.

We have all been shocked by the devastating floods in south-east Queensland and our hearts reach out to those living through this destruction.  This is not just a crisis in one city, it has affected much of southern Queensland where 2.5 million people live.  Seventy towns have been either flooded or isolated due to floods.

There has been constant reference to the floods of 1974.  The image above indicates that these floods are not an aberration – they have been occurring ever since European settlement and there is evidence of flooding prior to this. Continue reading