El Nino influenced Australian identity

Published on 22 March 2011 by in News

Stock in stress during Federation Drought

Image courtesy of National Library of Australia

Extreme weather events linked to El Nino Southern Oscillation played a hand in shaping the culture of modern Australia according to a new book chapter by climate historian Don Garden.

The chapter examines the social, political and cultural significance of The Federation Drought, which has been linked to a series of strong El Nino events. The Federation drought was one of Australia’s worst natural disasters on record starting in 1895 and persisting until 1903.

Colonists battled through heat waves, rabbit plagues and dust storms to maintain their crops, their bank accounts and their health. Some of these hardships were immortalized by the likes of Henry Lawson, Banjo Paterson and Steele Rudd.

“In their view, the environment was a force in building national character and independence, since those who fought drought, flood and bushfire were hardened and shaped by the experience,” writes Garden.

The chapter entitled The Federation Drought of 1895-1903, El Nino and Society in Australia appears in the book Common Ground: Integrating the Social and Environmental in History edited by Geneviève Massard-Guilbaud and Stephen Mosley and published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010. Follow the link on our publications page to read the chapter.

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SEARCH PhD student awarded NLA Summer Scholarship

Published on 07 December 2010 by in News


SEARCH project PhD student Claire Fenby has been awarded a National Library of Australia Summer Scholarship for 2011.

Claire is the recipient of the annual Norman McCann scholarship, awarded for research into Australian History.

She will be based at the NLA from 4 January to 12 February 2011 to conduct a cross-regional study of south-eastern Australian climate and weather from 1835 to 1845. .

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Old Weather project online and in the news

Published on 30 November 2010 by in News


A groundbreaking citizen science project, led by SEARCH project partners the UK Met Office, has attracted thousands of volunteers and made international headlines.

Old Weather is an online volunteer project aiming to digitise ship logs from WWI Royal Navy vessels, in order to gain a clearer picture of worldwide weather events at the time. The project team recently launched their website, as part of the popular citizen science community Zooniverse.

Old Weather allows volunteers to select a particular WWI vessel they would like to follow.

They will then digitise the ship’s logs, which include meteorological data and observations from the crew. Top contributors to the Old Weather site are given the status of Captain or Lieutenant on their chosen ship.

The Old Weather site has already attracted over 7000 volunteers, who have digitised more than 170,000 pages of data.

The Old Weather project has been profiled by leading international media:


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Positive review for environmental history book

Published on 12 October 2010 by in News


Droughts Floods and Cyclones An environmental history book by SEARCH Project historian Don Garden has received a great review in the latest issue of New Zealand Geographer.

Tom Brooking from the University of Otago’s Department of History provides a positive assessment of Droughts, Floods and Cyclones: El Niños that shaped our colonial past, praising the author’s “impeccable scholarship and industrious research across hemispheres.”

Don’s book is available from leading book stores and online via Australian Scholarly Publishing.

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The SEARCH project has been featured in The State Library of Victoria’s News magazine for July – October.

Project PhD candidate Claire Fenby details some of the valuable historical documentary resources she has been making use of during her research at the State Library of Victoria.

A copy of her article is available for download here (PDF).

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Protected: July project update

Published on 20 July 2010 by in Work in progress


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University of Melbourne Federation Fellow, Professor David Karoly, will hold a public talk in Bathurst to outline the SEARCH project’s landmark research into the climate history of south-eastern Australia.

Professor Karoly will also be calling for assistance to identify local sources that may be of use to the project, such as early instrumental weather records and documentary accounts.

Date: Thursday 29 July 2010
Time: 3:00PM – 4:30PM
Venue: Rahamim, St Joseph’s Mount, 34 Busby Street, Bathurst NSW

Download the invitation (PDF).

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Salvaging sunken treasure

Published on 17 June 2010 by in News


The State Library of New South Wales has published a feature on the SEARCH project in their quarterly SL Magazine.

In the article, lead researcher Joelle Gergis describes how the project is drawing on the wealth of information available in the State Library of New South Wales’ First Fleet journals collection.

Download a PDF copy of the article here. .

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Black Thursday. Image: State Library of Victoria

Black Thursday. Image: State Library of Victoria

The SEARCH project will draw on the expertise of volunteers to build a comprehensive online database of early Australian meteorological records and historical accounts of weather events.

Volunteers will work out of our partner libraries, The State Library of Victoria, The State Library of New South Wales and the National Library of Australia to help us populate the SEARCH Project’s OzDocs Database with this valuable information about South-East Australia’s climate past.

This citizen science project will see our volunteers scouring historical documents such as early settlers’ diaries, the colony’s first newspapers and Government Gazettes, for evidence of significant weather events.

This data will help us piece together details of our climate history, allowing the SEARCH team to view our current climate patterns in the context of natural historical variability.

The OzDocs project is currently in pilot stage. If you would like to contribute as a volunteer, please sign up for a user account, or contact the project team at info@climatehistory.com.au for further information.

The Atmospheric Circulation Reconstructions over the Earth (ACRE) project is undertaking a similar climate history citizen science project, spearheaded by SEARCH project partner researcher Dr Rob Allen from the UK Met Office.

A volunteer team in Adelaide is looking at the early South Australian weather records of Charles Todd, who kept meticulous weather data from Adelaide between the 1870s to the early 1900s.

The ACRE project was recently profiled on the ABC’s Stateline.

One of the most successful citizen science projects is Galaxy Zoo, an online astronomy project that enlists the general public to assist with the classification of millions of galaxies from telescopic images.

Lucas Laurson’s article in Science from June 25 2010 also profiles various research organisations undertaking citizen science projects.

The Journal of Arthur Bowes-Smyth, State Library of New South Wales

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