In the name of agriculture, urban growth, and disease control, humans have drained, filled, or otherwise destroyed nearly 87 percent of the world’s wetlands over the past three centuries. Unintended consequences include biodiversity loss, poor water quality, and the erosion of cultural sites, and only in the past few decades have wetlands been widely recognized as worth preserving. Emily O’Gorman asks, What has counted as a wetland, for whom, and with what consequences?
Using the Murray-Darling Basin—a massive river system in eastern Australia that includes over 30,000 wetland areas—as a case study and drawing on archival research and original interviews, O’Gorman examines how people and animals have shaped wetlands from the late nineteenth century to today. She illuminates deeper dynamics by relating how Aboriginal peoples acted then and now as custodians of the landscape, despite the policies of the Australian government; how the movements of water birds affected farmers; and how mosquitoes have defied efforts to fully understand, let alone control, them. Situating the region’s history within global environmental humanities conversations, O’Gorman argues that we need to understand wetlands as socioecological landscapes in order to create new kinds of relationships with and futures for these places.
Emily O’Gorman is senior lecturer at Macquarie University.
Paul Sutter is series editor for the Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books series. He is professor of history at the University of Colorado Boulder. He has published five books, including Driven Wild: How the Fight against Automobiles Launched the Modern Wilderness Movement (University of Washington Press, 2005) and Let Us Now Praise Famous Gullies: Providence Canyon and the Soils of the South (University of Georgia Press, 2015).
"By focusing in on those key wetlands as case studies, O’Gorman plots a rather more open-ended story-map that draws out the Basin’s water-management, from Deep Time to the present day. It enlarges the scale of its history to include the more-than-human world; it registers the aspirations as well as the inconsistencies of ‘progress’ and ‘sustainability’ and it gives rich, place-based readings that help us understand how we got here."
"While focused on a single region, this globallyrelevant work makes a good contribution to the literature concerning wetland ecosystems."
"[T]his book mounts a new kind of multi-directional critique of modern conservation science that expands our understandings of ecological agency and colonial biopolitics. It depicts a world of nature and culture in relationship, offering a sensitive environmental history of the Murray-Darling Basin and of the diverse socioecological relationships grounded therein."
~Australian Historical Studies
"Engangingly written and ambitious in its scope, Wetlands in a Dry Land adds complexity and nuance to our understanding of wetlands."
~Bulletin of the Pacific Circle
"[A] phenomenal study from a master river historian that can help redefine the historiography of rivers."
"Wetlands in a Dry Land is one of multiple books to be released about the Murray Darling Basin in recent years. What sets this text apart is O’Gorman’s impeccably detailed and considered research, her capacity to weave together contemporary place-based research with archival gems, the deep sensitivity and specificity through which she approaches First Nations’ culture and knowledge, and her capacity to articulate the more-than-human lives that shape these watery worlds."
~Historical Records of Australian Science
"Emily O’Gorman beautifully weaves a tale of human and more-than-human existence in her book detailing the histories of Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin. The basin consists of thirty thousand wetland areas, and she lays out an easy-to-follow history of how different stakeholders (of the human and nonhuman variety) have developed in conjunction with one another and with the land…One of the book’s greatest strengths comes in the form of its masterful storytelling."
"I see Wetlands in a Dry Land as one of the most sensitive pieces of research relating to political ecologies of water in Australia, and indeed even globally…This is an important book which highlights the significance of drawing on multiple framings and multiple forms of enquiries to address the multiple issues which are exposed in this book’s multiple cases. Indeed, thinking with ‘the multiple’ will be crucial to remedying the long history of mismanagement that the MDB region has experienced under settler-colonial occupation."
~Taylor Coyne, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Journal of Australian, Canadian, and Aotearoa New Zealand Studies
Nautilus Book Award
Australia and Ateoroa New Zealand Environmental History Network Book Prize