Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Australian life - diving into Australia's past

Tasmania TOURISM 1940S

In a comment on, Preliminary muse - fires & the urban cocoon, Evan wrote:

I think white Australians are still acting like they live in England. I lived in Cairns briefly. Housing estates were being built with the houses not having any eaves!

The rates of skin cancer and lack of hats speak for themselves. And not taking account of bushfires is another example.

I responded that I didn't think that that, white Australians acting like they still lived in England, was true. I also said that there was a fascinating story about adaptation to the climate.  

Certainly it's true that Australia's new settlers carried with them the styles and culture of their homelands. However, they also went through an adaptation process. As a simple example, temperatures once seen as almost unbearably hot, something to be escaped from, came to be seen as normal. 

Most recently, aspects of the process have gone into reverse; inappropriate housing styles of the type cited by Evan are an example. Air conditioning in particular has a lot to answer for!

In looking at these changes, I find that I lack the basic knowledge to properly understand them, let alone explain them. tourism 4Sure I have a general picture in my mind, but I know from experience that that is likely to be wrong.

I have chosen two travel posters to illustrate this story because they themselves are part of the story, aspects of Australia at a point. Both would be instantly recognisable to modern Australians despite the changes that have taken place.

The story of adaptation is a complicated one because it covers all aspects of life, including Australian leisure activities. 

Take a simple example. Deaths from drowning were common in the first periods of Australian history. Why? The heat attracted people to water, but settlers came from cooler climates where very few could swim.

This is true today for some of our new migrants, as well as visitors. Deaths when rock fishing or swimming are not uncommon among people who sometimes cannot swim or are simply unfamiliar with the water conditions.

The need to and desire for swimming led, among other things, to learn to swim campaigns and to the creation of bodies such as the life saving movement. It also made swimming very popular as a sport.

The mass popularity of swimming was, I suspect, a very Australian thing. I don't have hard evidence for this at this point, just anecdotal evidence, but it is intuitively plausible because of the country's climate. I also suspect that swimming, a bit like tennis before it and for similar reasons, has been in decline as a mass Australian sport. There are just so many more things to do. The pool in particular is no longer the centre of local life in the way it once was.


Evan said...

Hi Jim, yes the story of adaptation would be fascinating.

I suspect that there may have been a wave of asserting the value of Australia then a cultural cringe setting in (shame about the convict stain and such).

Have you read Humphrey McQueen's A New Brittania? It is pretty much a diatribe about how much some Australians wanted to ape the British.

It gets complicated I think. Sohail Inayatullah talks about a layered self. We can be nationalists while preferring Sydney to Melbourne and being loyal citizens of empire.

Australia Business News said...

That is a great analysis!

Jim Belshaw said...

I think that your last comment is pretty right, Evan.

The adaptations that I am interested in are not so much values or political based, but link more to the way in which we adapt to our environment. For example, the meaning of the word hot.Was this just a matter of acclimatization? Then there are the changes in Australian building.

I probably need to take a few examples and trace them through properly.