School of History Seminar: Slow Catastrophes: Living with Drought in Australia

Mulching prickly pear to feed to cattle in NSW during drought in the 1930s. (National Library of Australia, Fairfax glass plate negatives, obj-161051760)

Climate and weather, both in their consistency and their variability are important players in history.  Droughts are slow catastrophes which have helped to shape Australian soil, flora, fauna and topography as well as the social, emotional and economic lives of the people who live with them. Droughts’ impacts are profound but their recurrence and tenacity have meant that people have, over the long term, found ways to adapt. The ways people have responded, accommodated and adapted to drought is the subject of this research.  While I take a long view of drought resilience, from the 1870s to the present, my research focused particularly on the exceptionally dry decades between 1890 and 1950. 

In this final seminar for my DECRA fellowship I will discuss the process of researching amorphous, incremental and intangible catastrophes such as drought.  I will outline the deliberate, conscious, creative, and at time surprising strategies people have used to respond to drought during the last one hundred and fifty years and will briefly touch on the implications of these insights for climate variability today, and in the future.

Dr Rebecca Jones is just completing a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award in the School of History at ANU. Slow Catastrophes: Living with Drought in Australia will be published by Monash University Publishing in early 2017. Rebecca’s research and teaching background is in environmental history, interdisciplinary history of health, and public (or applied) history. She has just returned from Canada and the United States where she was researching responses to climate variability in California and the Palliser triangle region of the Canadian Prairies.


Date & time

Wed 11 May 2016, 4.15–5.30pm


McDonald Room, Menzies Library, ANU

Event series


School of History


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