Optimism Unlimited: Prospects for the Pearl-Shell, Bêche-de-Mer and Trochus Industries on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, 1860-1940

Lloyd, Rohan (2018) Optimism Unlimited: Prospects for the Pearl-Shell, Bêche-de-Mer and Trochus Industries on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, 1860-1940. In: Cushing, Nancy, and Frawley, Jodi, (eds.) Animals Count: How population size matters in animal-human relations. Environmental Humanities Series . Routledge, Abingdon, UK, pp. 73-84.

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A great deal of scholarship has sought to explain the complexities and problems of Australia’s pearl-shell, bêche-de-mer and trochus fisheries. Despite historically existing as distinct maritime enterprises, often with different bases, grounds and leaders, in histories of the Great Barrier Reef they are collated together and discussed as salient examples of settler Australia’s misuse of the Reef. Often overlooked, however, are the ways the fisheries were promoted to foster a perception of the Reef as a place of abundance. This chapter considers how known histories of resource issues became marginalised within the romanticisation of the Reef’s economic wealth. It does so by briefly addressing the pioneering period when ideas and rumours of the fisheries’ potential to generate wealth drew government interest and regulation. It then considers a turbulent period wherein government concern for the fisheries resulted in three inquiries between 1890 and 1920. Finally, it examines the period from World War I to the 1940s, when the idea of ‘abundance’ became particularly resilient, as writers recast the fisheries’ histories and praised them as concrete examples of the Reef’s potential abundance. By the 1950s, however, optimism about the future of the fishery had been sapped, and tourism replaced it as the Reef’s primary economic activity. Nonetheless, this chapter shows that optimism remained despite legacies of resource depletion, labour issues and market difficulties. It argues that belief in the fisheries’ abundance, expressed by fishermen, scientists, politicians and travel writers, embodied a confidence which was informed by a desire to ascribe a form of tangible value to the Reef.

Item ID: 68483
Item Type: Book Chapter (Research - B1)
ISBN: 9781351210645
Keywords: Australian environmental history; Great Barrier Reef; fisheries; boom and bust; pearl-shell; beche-de-mer; trochus
Copyright Information: © 2018 selection and editorial matter, Nancy Cushing and Jodi Frawley; individual chapters, the contributors. All rights reserved.
Date Deposited: 06 Jul 2021 04:50
FoR Codes: 43 HISTORY, HERITAGE AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 4303 Historical studies > 430307 Environmental history @ 100%
SEO Codes: 13 CULTURE AND SOCIETY > 1307 Understanding past societies > 130703 Understanding Australia’s past @ 100%
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