Experiencing, understanding and adapting to climate in south-eastern Australia, 1788-1860
AuthorFenby, Claire Dimity
AffiliationSchool of Earth Sciences
School of Historical and Philosophical Studies
Document TypePhD thesis
CitationsFenby, C. D. (2012). Experiencing, understanding and adapting to climate in south-eastern Australia, 1788-1860. PhD thesis, School of Earth Sciences, and, School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, The University of Melbourne.
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2012 Dr. Claire Dimity Fenby
This thesis explores a somewhat overlooked theme in Australian history - climate. Phenomena like drought, flood and bushfire continue to place a strain on Australian society, as we have clearly seen in the past few years alone. The Black Saturday bushfires of 2009, the 2010-2011 Queensland floods and the ‘Big Dry’ drought that stretched from 1997-2009 have had an enormous impact on modern Australian society. It is obvious that climate extremes frequently affect Australia today and this thesis asks: • How were societies in south-eastern Australia affected by weather and climate between 1788 and 1860? • Did European Australians adapt to the problems posed by weather and climate during this period? • Did the impact of rainfall variation in south-eastern Australia differ between and within colonies? An interdisciplinary approach has been taken to answer these research questions. Climate is ordinarily analysed and understood using scientific data like meteorological observations and palaeoclimate records derived from tree-rings, coral growth, ice cores and cave deposits. However, meteorological observations were not routinely kept prior to 1860, leaving gaps in our knowledge of early climate. This thesis fills these gaps by examining historical documents including letters, diaries, newspapers and government records. The information uncovered in these sources was then compared to available historical meteorological records and palaeoclimate data. This unique mix of historic and scientific data sheds light on Australia’s past climate. Australian history includes literature on a range of environmental themes but there remains very little on climate and weather. This thesis makes a substantial contribution to Australian climate history, deepening our understanding of colonial history and broadening our knowledge of historical weather and climate events in the southern hemisphere. This analysis reveals the way European settlers adapted to weather and climate challenges and also reveals the combined impact of climate extremes and colonisation on indigenous people in south-eastern Australia.
Keywordshistory; climate; weather; climate history; historical climatology; drought; flood; bushfire; colonial Australia
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