El Nino influenced Australian identity

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.