This Global Seminar in Australia offers two UCSD courses: MMW14 World History 18th – 20th century (4 units) and ENVR142 Wilderness & Human Values Abroad (4 units). These courses provide a symbiotic historical and cultural exploration for which Sydney, the nation’s oldest and most populous city, provides an ideal location. Australia has both ancient and modern historical roots, with an indigenous presence that stretches back 50,000 years and a colonial presence that emerged only in the 18th century with the establishment of Australia as a British Colony. For a student perspective on the 2019 program, see this brief video.
ENVR142 Wilderness and Human Values Abroad explores historical and cultural perspectives on the human relationship with the natural world, from prehistory to the present. The course investigates how humans have interacted with the natural world and how this interaction has been influenced by such factors as class, race, and gender. The course considers the cultural, political, and economic ramifications of this interaction and even explores ideas about the future of wilderness. Australia is an ideal place to explore this topic, from the perspectives on the natural environment of Australia’s indigenous peoples to the creation of Royal National Park, near Sydney, Australia’s first National Park, on April 26, 1879, following the establishment of the world’s first national park at Yellowstone in the United States in 1872, to pressing environmental challenges in the era of climate change.
Today, Australia contains hundreds of parks, with a higher percentage of protected land than exists in the United States. While 85% of the Australian population lives near the coast and 90% is urban, its national identity has been forged, in part, by its relationship with the “bush” and, further yet, the “outback.” This inter-relationship is reflected in the work of writers and poets like Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson, author of “Waltzing Matilda” and “The Man from Snowy River” (1890), which became a popular film a century later (1982). 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 David Malouf, based on the 1957 novel by Australia’s Nobel-prize winning author, Patrick White, which draws on Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig Leichhardt’s doomed desert exploration. It is also present in the cult classic, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), which became a musical a decade later. The course will explore this theme through Robyn Davidson’s Tracks (1980), recounting her 1,700 mile journey through the outback with four camels and a dog, which too became a movie in 2013. This Australian relationship can be compared with that of the American relationship with “wilderness” over the same period, and must be explored with careful consideration of issues related to race, class, and gender.
Australia is also the source of staggering natural resources, including iron, coal, and gold, as well as biodiversity, which, at times, as in the U.S., pits the economic importance of the former against the existence of latter. The course examines urgent and complicated environmental issues, including climate change and mitigation efforts, the economic influence and environmental impact of mining, the use and management of forest resources, indigenous vs. invasive species, agricultural and water issues, and Aboriginal perspectives and rights. In light of the latter, Australia’s newest holiday, Reconciliation Day, marks a commemorative turn in the national perspective on the continent’s original inhabitants.
The world history course situates Australia in a global context, beginning with the continent’s coastal exploration by Captain James Cook in 1770 and its establishment as a colony of the British Empire shortly thereafter. Colonial settlement began in 1788 on January 26 (celebrated annually as “Australia Day”), with the arrival in Sydney harbor of eleven vessels carrying soldiers, sailors, families, and hundreds of people convicted of criminal acts (generally larceny) and sentenced to seven (and sometimes fourteen) years. The loss of the American colonies after the American Revolution forced Britain to establish a new destination for such purposes and New South Wales (Australia) was chosen. Approximately 160,000 convicted individuals were settled in Australia between 1788 and 1868, when the practice was finally put to an end.
One of those transported was the father of Ned Kelly (1854-1880), Australia’s most celebrated outlaw and folk hero. This “bushranger” became the subject of legends, stories, and films, including the first full-length feature film, The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906), Peter Carey’s novel, True History of the Kelly Gang (2000), and the star-studded film, Ned Kelly (2003). As an addendum, the island of Tasmania (then called Van Diemen’s Land) became a site for those later convicted in Australia itself. It was from there that a remarkable incident occurred in 1834, when prisoners hijacked a ship, the Frederick, and sailed it to Chile, where they lived for two years, before their recapture and return.
The discovery of gold in Australia in the 1850s led to a dramatic increase in immigration, similar to the effect that such a discovery had on California around the same time. This accelerated the region’s global connections and the growth of Australia’s non-indigenous population, which, as in California, was negatively affected its indigenous inhabitants as well as non-white immigrants who participated in the search for gold.
Bolstered by economic growth through its agricultural and livestock industry as well as gold (which it continues to export, along with more plentiful coal and iron), 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 stands at more than 24 million. The settler population was overwhelmingly of British or Irish descent by the time of federation in 1901, and became much more diversified after World War II. This changing post-war immigration pattern is reflected in the Australian comedy, They’re a Weird Mob (1966), shown through the experience of an Italian immigrant. Such changes, including the termination of Australia’s “whites only” immigration policy, also provoked a racial backlash, as explored in the 1992 drama, Romper Stomper, and in its 2018 TV-series successor by the same name. Today, 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. Today, one in four Australian residents was born outside the continent.
MMW14 addresses such major topics as imperial and economic inter-connections; scientific discovery, and it is noteworthy that Charles Darwin’s Beagle stopped on the continent on its homeward journey (and the scientist is the namesake of the most populous city on Australia’s northern coast); the environment, including 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 vastly increased the speed of ocean voyages and refrigerated cargo holds that made Australian meat available to English dinner tables by the turn of the century; issues of race and identity, notably European-Aboriginal interactions 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, impacted by European liberal principles, as in its recognition that women should have the right to vote (1902), before any European nation, including England, 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. Their most heralded action was in the Gallipoli campaign, half a world away, and its failed attempt to advance toward Constantinople, capital of the Ottoman Empire. This experience is commemorated annually as a national holiday, ANZAC Day, on April 25, and inspired the 1981 film, Gallipoli, which highlights the bravery of the Australians, despite the futility of the cause. After the First World War, at the conclusion of the world history course, Australia became a member of the League of Nations and in the following decades, in the post-World War II period, its political orientation shifted away from Britain and toward the United States, which had significant cultural and economic implications.
Excursions: These directly connect with the program’s historical, cultural, and environmental themes. Proposed excursions include:
- Parks and Natural Sites
- The Arts
- Neighborhood Walks
- Meetings with Australian experts on environmental, human rights, and educational 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. 3rd Edition. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.
Kenneth Morgan. Australia. A Very Short Introduction. Oxford UP, 2012.
Digital Course Reader. Selections, including:
Donald Hughes. An Environmental History of the World. Humankind’s Changing Role in the Community of Life. 2nd NY: Routledge, 2009.
Henry Lawson (1867-1922). Poems and Short Stories. One of the most famous poets and storytellers of the Australian Bush.
Libby Robin. “Australia in Global Environmental History,” chapter 11 in A Companion to Global Environmental History. Ed. by J.R. McNeill and Erin Steward Mauldin. Blackwell, 2012.
To learn more about Australian culture and history:
Jared Diamond. Upheaval. Turning Points for Nations in Crisis. New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2019.
Billy Griffiths. Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia. Carlton, Victory: Black, Inc., 2018.
Tim Flannery. The Future Eaters. An Ecological History of the Australasian Lands and People. New York: Grove Press, 1994.
David Hill. The Making of Australia. William Heinemann Australia, 2015.
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.
Murray Bail. Eucalyptus. A Novel. 1998.
Peter Carey. True History of the Ned Kelly Gang. 2000.
Kate Grenville. The Secret River. 2005.
Kate Grenville. The Lieutenant. 2008.
Patrick White. Voss. 1957.
Tim Winton. Cloudstreet. 1991.
Alexis Wright. Carpentaria. A Novel. 2006.
Behrouz Boochani. No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison. Tr. Omid Tofighian. 2019,
Bill Bryson. In a Sunburned Country. New York: Broadway Books, 2000.
Bruce Chatwin. Songlines. New York: Penguin, 1987.
Sweet Country (2017)
Animal Kingdom (2010)
The Proposition (2005)
Ned Kelly (2003)
Rabbit Proof Fence (2002)
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
Crocodile Dundee (1986)
The Man from Snowy River (1982)
They’re a Weird Mob (1966)