Seminar: Weather at a Time of Catastrophe

Chris O’Brien

History (RSSS) Seminar
Thursday, 3 September, at 3.30 pm
in the McDonald Room, Menzies Library, ANU.

In 1897 Darwin was destroyed for the first time. Well over a century later, with the view back cluttered by three subsequent destructions, the 1897 cyclone is all but forgotten. Having discussed this forgetting, this seminar will recount the furies of that calamitous night. Compelled by the issue of how people understand events in their environment, it then places this event in the context of then contemporary knowledge of weather. Outlining what was known about storms and cyclones, along with the origins of this knowledge, it is clear that long before the advent of radar and satellite technology people could read the skies with considerable aptitude. In Darwin, newspaper reporting of events such as the 1897 cyclone transmitted technical and local weather knowledge to a readership far beyond scientific elites. This paper will argue that these narratives supplied readers with visual cues that enabled them to connect with their environment in a way that more recent reporting, emphasising abstract metrics such as temperature and barometric pressure, does not.

All welcome.