This Global Seminar in Sydney combines two UC San Diego courses (8 units): MMW14 World History 18th – 20th Century and ENVR 142 Wilderness & Human Values Abroad. These courses offer a symbiotic historical and cultural exploration for which Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most populous city, provides an ideal location, pairing a vibrant urban center (population 5.23 million) with ease of access to surrounding National Parks. This Global Seminar addresses both the antiquity of Australia’s human history, with an indigenous presence that stretches back some 50,000 years, and its development into a modern state, whose beginnings reach only back to the late 18th century with the establishment of New South Wales (Australia) as a British Colony. For a student perspective on the 2019 Global Seminar here, see this brief video.
The Wilderness and Human Values Abroad course explores historical and cultural perspectives on the human relationship with the natural world. The course investigates human interactions with the natural world and considers the ecological, cultural, political, and economic ramifications of this interaction. Australia is an ideal site to explore this topic, from the environmental perspectives and practices of Australia’s indigenous peoples to the emergence of an agricultural and livestock industry and the establishment of Australia’s first National Park on April 26, 1879 (Royal NP), shortly after the 1872 creation of the world’s first such park at Yellowstone in the U.S., and today, the nation hosts more than 350 National Parks. The course looks at Australia’s utilization of natural resources, particularly the pervasive and influential mining industry, as well as at environmental challenges of the Anthropocene Era.
While 85% of its population lives near the coast and 90% is urban, Australia’s national identity has been greatly influenced by a prolonged engagement beyond the populated, urban zone in regions known as the ‘bush’ and, further yet, the ‘outback.’ This inter-relationship is reflected in writers and poets like Henry Lawson (1867 – 1922) and Banjo Paterson (1864 – 1941), author of “Waltzing Matilda” (1895) and “The Man from Snowy River” (1890), which became a hit film a century later. The theme is also at the core of the more popular Crocodile Dundee (1986) and, in the same year, is found in the opera Voss by Australian writer David Malouf (b. 1934), based on the 1957 novel by the country’s only Nobel-prize winning author, Patrick White (1912-1990). Voss was inspired by the doomed expedition of Prussian Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig Leichhardt (1813 – 1848), who vanished in the Australian outback. The theme is also present in the cult classic, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), which became a musical a decade later. Our course will use Robyn Davidson’s Tracks (1980) to explore this theme, recounting her 1,700 mile journey from Alice Springs to the western shoreline with four camels and a dog, which also became a movie in 2013. This Australian relationship, forged through continental exploration, settlement and development, and tragic indigenous
displacement, can be compared to a parallel American relationship with wilderness over the same period and its own experience of continental exploration, settlement and development, and tragic indigenous displacement, and will be examined with consideration of issues of race, class, and gender.
Australia contains staggering deposits of natural resources, particularly iron, coal,
and gold, as well as of biodiversity, which, as in the U.S., often pits the economic importance of the former against the existence of latter. The course examines the influence of mining in Australian politics and economy and its environmental impact as well as other urgent environmental issues, including: climate change and mitigation challenges, including denials from the current administration; the management and loss of forest resources, including the cataclysmic bushfires of 2019-2020, which burned ~20 million acres and may have killed up to a billion animals as of January 2020 (by contrast, the recent devastating wildfires in CA consumed less than ~2 million acres in 2018 and 2019); the problem of recurring drought and the management of (fresh) water resources; the cultural, economic, and environmental impact of non-native species, most significantly cattle, sheep, and rabbits in addition to camels, pigs, foxes, cats, dogs, horses, mongooses, donkeys, goats, and various species of birds, such as canaries, quails, sparrows, and pheasants; the status and preservation of Australia’s native flora and fauna, from eucalyptus and banksia to Wollemi pines, from emus and wallabies to koalas and kangaroos, particularly with the current drought (2017 – present), followed by the horrific wildfires of 2019 – 2020; and environmental perspectives and rights of Aboriginal peoples. In light of the latter, Australia’s newest holiday, Reconciliation Day, marks a commemorative turn in the national dialogue on the continent’s original inhabitants. Stan Grant’s Tell it to the World. An Indigenous Memoir (2019) will provide critical and personal insight and contrast the potential of the present with what came before.
The World History class situates Australia in a global context, beginning with the Enlightenment-era expedition of Captain James Cook, arriving in Botany Bay (near Sydney) in 1770 and charting the continent’s eastern coast, and with the region’s establishment as a British colony shortly thereafter. British settlement began in 1788 on January 26 (celebrated annually as “Australia Day”), with the arrival in Sydney harbor of the First Fleet, eleven vessels carrying soldiers, sailors, families, and hundreds of people convicted of criminal acts (generally larceny) and sentenced to seven years or more. The loss of the American colonies after the American Revolution compelled Britain to establish a new destination to offload prisoners and New South Wales (Australia) was chosen. Around 160,000 convicted individuals were settled in Australia between 1788 and 1868, when Britain finally terminated the practice.
Among the tens of thousands transported was the father of Ned Kelly (1854-1880), who
became the most celebrated Australian outlaw and folk hero. This “bushranger” became the subject of popular legends, stories, and films, including the first full-length feature film, The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906), Peter Carey’s award-winning novel, True History of the Kelly Gang (2000), and the star-studded film, Ned Kelly (2003). Ned Kelly’s struggle against the law culminated in his final iconic gun battle (while wearing an iron-clad suit), arrest, and execution by hanging in Melbourne in 1880.
As a ‘convict’ addendum, Port Arthur on the island of Tasmania (then called Van Diemen’s Land) was established as a penal colony for those convicted in Australia itself. In 1834, the brutal Port Arthur experience inspired prisoners to hijack a vessel and sail across the Pacific Ocean to Chile, where they lived free for two years, until their recapture and return. Decades earlier, in 1791, ‘convicts’ Mary Bryant with her husband and two children, along with a group of peers, seized a cutter from Port Jackson (Sydney) and sailed more than 3,000 miles, making their way around the Great Barrier Reef (where even Captain Cook had struggled), taking shelter in Dutch-controlled Timor. There, they too were eventually arrested, apprehended by a British contingent tracking down mutineers of Captain Bligh’s Bounty, and taken back to England, via Cape Town. There, Mary’s case was defended by none other than James Boswell and she was eventually pardoned. Having lost her entire family on the homeward voyage, she returned to her native Cornwall and, as a most modest consolation, received a stipend from Boswell for the rest of his life. Unfortunately, there would be no such mechanism for escape or relief, no such silver lining for Australia’s indigenous peoples, who faced relentless discrimination, displacement, and persecution under colonial rule, and were virtually eliminated from Tasmania after a presence of some 40,000 years.
The discovery of gold in Australia in the 1850s led to a dramatic increase in immigration, similar to the effect that a contemporaneous discovery had, across the Pacific, on California. These gold rushes accelerated both region’s global connections and the expansion of the non-indigenous population, which was disastrous for the indigenous inhabitants as well as on non-white immigrants, particularly the Chinese, who also aimed at the search for gold and opportunity.
Bolstered by economic growth in its agricultural and livestock industry and by gold mining, Australia’s immigrant population exceeded 1.6 million by 1870 and reached 3.7 million by 1901, when Australia became an independent nation. Today, the population is approximately 24.6 million. The settler population was overwhelmingly of British or Irish descent by the time of federation in 1901, and became more diversified only after World War II, though this diversity was mostly restricted to other regions of Europe. The changing post-war immigration pattern is reflected in the Australian comedy, They’re a Weird Mob (1966), portrayed through the experience of an Italian immigrant. This immigration pattern further diversified with the termination of Australia’s “whites only” immigration policy in the 1970s. Such changes provoked a racial backlash, as explored in the 1992 movie, Romper Stomper, and in its 2018 TV-series successor by the same name. At present, most of the nation’s population still traces its ancestry back to Europe, with approximately 10% from China and India, which exceeds the indigenous population which is approximately 3% of the total. Immigration continues to fuel Australia’s growth and global connections and today, one in four Australian residents was born outside the continent.
The World History course addresses such topics as imperial and economic inter-connections; scientific discovery, and it is noteworthy that Charles Darwin’s Beagle visited the continent on its homeward journey, and the scientist is the namesake of the most populous city on Australia’s northern coast; environmental challenges and human-influenced change, from the impact of invasive species to agricultural and industrial activity; disease, from the viruses that devastated the Aboriginal population at the start of the course to the global influenza epidemic at the end; technological innovation, like steam ships that accelerated the speed of ocean voyages and refrigerated cargo holds that made Australian meat available to English dinner tables; issues of race and identity, notably European-Aboriginal and Australian-immigrant interactions; and finally, matters of labor and migration.
The continent’s federation in 1901 marked the colony’s transformation into a sovereign nation, though retaining close ties to Britain. Yet, in some ways, Australia charted a bolder course, as in its recognition that women should have the right to vote (1902), before any European nation recognized this right. In other ways, the imperial legacy remained a guiding principle. And so, Australia’s soldiers participated in the First World War in the ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) forces, with more than 400,000 Australians serving, out of a population less than five million. Among their heralded actions was the Gallipoli campaign (February 1915 – January 1916), a costly, unsuccessful amphibious assault aimed at advancing on Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire. This experience is commemorated annually as the most celebrated national holiday, ANZAC Day, on April 25 (the day ANZAC forces arrived), and inspired the 1981 film, Gallipoli, which highlights the bravery of the Australians despite the futility of the cause, and the more recent Russell Crowe film, The Water Diviner (2014).
After the First World War, Australia became a member of the League of Nations and, later, in the post-World War II period, where our World History course concludes, its political orientation swung away from Britain and toward the United States, which had enormous cultural and economic implications still evident today.
Excursions: These directly connect with the program’s historical, cultural, and environmental themes. Proposed excursions are listed below.
Natural Sites in and around Sydney
Museums, Living History, and the Arts
Meetings with Australian experts on environmental, educational, and Aboriginal issues.
Robyn Davidson. Tracks. A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback. New York: Vintage Books, 1980.
Joelle Gergis. Sunburnt Country: The History and Future of Climate Change in Australia. Carlton, Victoria: Melbourne UP, 2018.
Stan Grant. Tell it to the World. An Indigenous Memoir. 2019.
Robert B. Marks. The Origins of the Modern World. A Global and Environmental Narrative from the 15th to the 21st Century. 4th Ed. NY: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.
Kenneth Morgan. Australia. A Very Short Introduction. Oxford UP, 2012.
Selections from: Donald Hughes. An Environmental History of the World. Humankind’s Changing Role in the Community of Life. 2nd Ed. NY: Routledge, 2009.
To learn more about Australian culture and history:
Recommended Australian Fiction
Murray Bail. Eucalyptus. 1998.
Peter Carey. True History of the Ned Kelly Gang. 2000.
Kate Grenville. The Secret River. 2005.
Kate Grenville. The Lieutenant. 2008.
Henry Lawson (d. 1922). Poems and Short Stories.
Patrick White. Voss. 1957.
Tim Winton. Cloudstreet. 1991.
Alexis Wright. Carpentaria. 2006.
Of Interest (view from the outside): Arthur Conan Doyle. “The Boscombe Valley Mystery” in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. 1892.
Selection of Australian Film
Emu Runner (2018) * Sweet Country (2017) * The Water Diviner (2014) * Animal Kingdom (2010) * Kenny (2006) * The Proposition (2005) * Ned Kelly (2003) * Rabbit Proof Fence (2002) * Chopper (2000) * Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) * Crocodile Dundee (1986) * The Man from Snowy River (1982) * Gallipoli (1981) * Mad Max (1979) * They’re a Weird Mob (1966)
Nigel Walk Brown (Director). “Australia,” Episode 4 of First Peoples [Video file]. PBS. 2015.
Tim Flannery. The Future Eaters. An Ecological History of the Australasian Lands and People. New York: Grove Press, 1994.
Billy Griffiths. Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia. Carlton, Victory: Black, Inc., 2018.
Yuval Noah Harari. Sapiens. A Brief History of Humankind. New York: Harper, 2015. Ch. 4 “The Flood,” pp. 63-74.
David Hill. The Making of Australia. William Heinemann Australia, 2015.
Peter Hiscock. Archaeology of Ancient Australia. New York: Routledge, 2008.
David Igler. The Great Ocean: Pacific Worlds from Captain Cook to the Gold Rush. Oxford UP, 2013.
Thomas Kenneally. Australians. A Short History. Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2016.
Matt Mattsuda. Pacific Worlds: A History of Seas, Peoples, and Cultures. Cambridge UP, 2012.
Stuart Macintyre. A Concise History of Australia. 4th Ed. Melbourne: Cambridge UP, 2016.
Maria Nugent. Captain Cook Was Here. Melbourne: Cambridge UP, 2009.
Mark Peel and Christina Twomey. A History of Australia. 2nd Ed. Palgrave: London, 2018.
Bill Bryson. In a Sunburned Country. New York: Broadway Books, 2000.
Bruce Chatwin. Songlines. New York: Penguin, 1987.
Barry Lopez. Horizon. New York: Alfred A. Knoff, 2019: pp. 345-424.
Bentley Dean, Martin Butler (Directors). First Footprints. The Original Pioneers of All Humankind. (2013).
Barrie Dowdall, Gregory Miller (Directors). Besieged. The Ned Kelly Story. (2004).
John Pilger (Director). Utopia. (2013).
First Peoples. Episode 4. Australia. PBS Series. (2015)
Select Contemporary Issues
John Blay. Wild Nature: Walking Australia’s South East Forests. Sydney: NewSouth, 2020.
Behrouz Boochani. No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison. Tr. Omid Tofighian. Sydney: Picador Australia, 2019.
Tom Frame. Gun Control: What Australia Got Right (and Wrong). Sydney: U of New South Wales, 2019.
Sarah E. Holcombe. Remote Freedoms. Politics, Personhood and Human Rights in Aboriginal Central Australia. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2018.
Francesa Merlan. Dynamics of Difference in Australia: Indigenous Past and Present in a Settler Country. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2018.
Timothy Neale. Wild Articulations. Environmentalism and Indigeneity in Northern Australia. Honolulu: U of Hawaii P, 2017.
Jon Piccini. Human Rights in Twentieth-Century Australia. Cambridge UP, 2019.
Libby Robin. “Australia in Global Environmental History,” chapter 11 in A Companion to Global Environmental History. Ed. by J.R. McNeill and E.S. Mauldin. Blackwell, 2012.