Escaping water: living against floods in Townsville, North Queensland, from settlement to 2019

Lloyd, Rohan, White, Patrick, and Brennan, Claire (2020) Escaping water: living against floods in Townsville, North Queensland, from settlement to 2019. In: McKinnon, Scott, and Cook, Margaret, (eds.) Disasters in Australia and New Zealand: Historical Approaches to Understanding Catastrophe. Palgrave McMillan, Singapore, pp. 99-117.

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Scholarly attention to flood in northern Queensland has generally focused on the region’s potential to irrigate Australia’s drier regions or stimulate its northern development. These concerns emphasise infrastructure and rural issues and neglect the experiences of the northern cities. Established in 1864–65 on the Ross River plain, Townsville is located within Queensland’s drought-prone, dry tropics. Despite the damage which accompanies them, the city has come to rely upon extreme rain events brought by cyclones and monsoons for its urban water supply. Repetitive but unpredictable cycles of below-average rain followed by extreme wet weather have informed locally unique ways of processing, memorialising and rebuilding from these disasters.

This chapter explores Townsville’s history of flooding and flood responses. It compares the civic responses to major flooding disasters in Townsville since 1860 and argues that the city’s ambivalent position as a “suburban frontier” plays out in media coverage and local responses to its disasters. For the media, images of crocodiles wading through flooded streets, and interviews with straight-talking locals, portray Townsville as a frontier settlement. For residents of the city, water management schemes and disaster responses are expected to sustain a standard of living familiar to the suburbs of Australia’s major cities. Yet, acceptance of the monsoonal deluges and big-wet sits awkwardly with a lack of acknowledgement of the long dry season and the destruction brought by extreme weather events. The residents of Townsville, and their reactions to flooding, offer interesting lessons in both accepting and ignoring the local environment while constructing an urban settlement.

Item ID: 62897
Item Type: Book Chapter (Research - B1)
ISBN: 978-981-15-4382-1
Keywords: Townsville Flood; Australian environmental history; flood history; flood memory; disaster history; history of northern Australia
Copyright Information: © The Author(s) 2020
Funders: Commonwealth of Australia, James Cook University
Projects and Grants: Australian Postgraduate research fund
Date Deposited: 21 Jul 2020 00:23
FoR Codes: 43 HISTORY, HERITAGE AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 4303 Historical studies > 430302 Australian history @ 85%
45 INDIGENOUS STUDIES > 4501 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, language and history > 450107 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history @ 15%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970121 Expanding Knowledge in History and Archaeology @ 100%
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