Fathoming the reef: a history of European perspectives on the Great Barrier Reef from Cook to GBRMPA

Lloyd, Rohan James (2016) Fathoming the reef: a history of European perspectives on the Great Barrier Reef from Cook to GBRMPA. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

PDF (Thesis)
Download (6MB) | Preview
View at Publisher Website: https://doi.org/10.25903/fhe0-3g11


The contest between economic development and the preservation of the natural world has had important implications for the way the Great Barrier Reef has been treated, both physically and imaginative, by European Australians. Most recently well circulated imagery of coral from the Reef's north, bleached as a result of higher than normal ocean temperatures caused by climate change, provided a vivid sense of the conflict between industrial development and the maintenance of global environments. In Australia the bleaching event has invited a frank ultimatum from Reef scientists who research the collage of life it sustains: you can have coal mining or the Reef, not both. Embedded in the choice is an understanding that Australians have a complicated appreciation of the Reef. While most Australians appreciate the Reef's natural beauty and romantic appeal, they hold conflicting valuations of coal mining and the jobs it provides. This thesis explores the tension between exploitation of the Reef and its preservation throughout the history of European and European Australian engagement with it. Specifically, it examines the history of perceptions of the Reef by considering how explorers, scientists, politicians, tourist company operators, nature and travel writers, and conservationists discussed the Reef, and how imaginations of its economic and natural attributes fuelled their valuations. This history begins with Captain Cook's encounter with the Reef in 1770 and ends with the establishment of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) in 1975.

Use and management of the Reef today is premised on the notion that it is exposed to a range of competing values and uses. GBRMPA was introduced to ensure that these values and uses, while seemingly contradictory, could co-exist alongside the Reef environment. Importantly, appreciation of the natural values of the Reef, while encouraging a sympathetic view of the environment, has not always restrained the urge to appraise its potential for exploitation. Rather, valuations of the Reef's social, cultural and economic virtues have been complicated by the interaction of both perspectives leading to the creation of a composite attitude towards the Reef.

Consequently, the Reef has been simultaneously perceived, often by the same people, and by those historically characterised as its custodians, as valuable for economic reasons and the natural beauty with which it abounds. This thesis argues that European perceptions of the Reef have been informed by an entanglement of its imagined economic and natural values since Cook's arrival in 1770. While the Reef's variety has inspired diverse reactions, this thesis concludes that appreciation of its exploitable and natural qualities have interacted to produce a range of complex perceptions of its value to European Australia.

Item ID: 49776
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: coal mining and the Great Barrier Reef, Edmund Banfield, Embury expedition, environmental attitudes, European perspectives, exploitation, Great Barrier Reef Committee, Great Barrier Reef history, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Low Isles expedition, North Queensland history, Pollock expedition, public opinion, the beachcomber
Related URLs:
Additional Information:

Publications arising from this thesis are available from the Related URLs field. The publications are:

Chapter 4: Lloyd, Rohan (2015) Wealth of the reef: the entanglement of economic and environmental values in early twentieth century representations of the Great Barrier Reef. Melbourne Historical Journal, 43 (1). pp. 40-62.

Date Deposited: 04 Aug 2017 04:09
FoR Codes: 21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2103 Historical Studies > 210303 Australian History (excl Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9505 Understanding Past Societies > 950503 Understanding Australias Past @ 100%
Downloads: Total: 912
Last 12 Months: 36
More Statistics

Actions (Repository Staff Only)

Item Control Page Item Control Page