|Historymatrix Index||History in Common||PHA(NSW)||Site Map||Blue Cedars Home|
|Hancock, Sir W. Keith (1898-1990)|
a study of man's impact on his environment,
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1972
The right of Bruce Baskerville to be identified as the moral rights author of this work is hereby asserted in accordance with the Copyright Amendment (Moral Rights) Act 2000 of the Commonwealth of Australia.
This review was originally written in 1992 as a student essay in the 'Whither Australian History?' History Honours course, University of Western Australia, semester one essay: textual analysis
203pp, including 194pp of text, 8pp of appendices, 6pp index, plus contents page, list of abbreviations and preface; and 2pp of eight black and white photographic plates, 4 tables and 15 line-drawn and shaded maps. Cloth-cover edition, Reid Library reference number: 574.509947 1972 1c
Book description: 203pp, including 194pp of text, 8pp of appendices, 6pp index, plus contents page, list of abbreviations and preface; and 2pp of eight black and white photographic plates, 4 tables and 15 line-drawn and shaded maps. Cloth-cover edition, Reid Library reference number: 574.509947 1972 1c
From the beginning, I should reveal my own position and my own hopes in reading this book. I have been involved in the popular conservation movement since the early 1980s, although my first piece of 'published' (i.e. in a local, rural, voluntary newspaper) work on the subject is dated 1974. It has always worried me that concerns many people have for the environment have lacked any historical understanding of the 'why' and the 'how' of an issue. All the concentration has been on the 'when' (now), the 'who' (them), and the 'what' (destruction) elements. I have never accepted that mass environmentalism suddenly and spontaneously arose during the 1970s. In reading Discovering Monaro, I had hoped to find some clues to such questions, especially as it had the current acclamation of being "the first truly environmental history in Australia", and the fact of being published in 1972. But, I was strangely disappointed in a way that I could not a first understand. Researching and writing this review, however, has lead me to conclude that if this is environmental history, then environmental history is really just another form of liberal history, rather than a new and exciting field of study.
Simon Dovers and John Dargavel of the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies at the Australian National University (ANU) have claimed Discovering Monaro as the "...first truly environmental history in Australia." . They have defined environmental history as "...not a discreet subject yet, but rather it is a rubric under which many studies are gathered that one way or another attempt to understand the basis of human interactions with the environment." .
Hancock defines his ostensible purpose as inquiring into the question "How has man in Monaro used the land on which he lives" . Having defined the geographical region of southeastern New South Wales that he refers to as Monaro, Hancock goes on to outline the various elements of his inquiry. The region is divided into two broad landscapes - the Alps and the tablelands - based upon the several regional ecosystems determined by ecologists. Ecologists, says Hancock, attempt to understand the whole interplay of the constituent parts of a natural habitat, and historians and ecologists ought to keep in close touch with each other . Into these landscapes came two types of 'discoverers': the 'observers' (scientists and artists, speaking to our intellects and affections) and the 'practical men' (who learnt by trial and error the decisions they had to make in order to survive). Based upon these decisions, they made 'improvements' - improvement being the watchword of the practical men. The observers did not always accept the word at face value, and often accused the settlers of Monaro of being spoilers rather than improvers. The observers posed the question "Is the land doing this to the people, or are the people doing this to then land?".
Thus, says Hancock, we have been warned. Man has all to often spoiled the land on which he lives; but quiet often he has fostered and fortified its life-sustaining powers. Sometimes he has been successively the spoiler, the restorer and the improver.
In looking for answers to the inquiry, a question has been posed that would keep a team of experts at work for a long time. The book is a bid by a historian for a place in the team. According to Hancock's own description of the book, it is indeed an environmental history, attempting to unite ecology and history into a 'holistic' interpretation of change through time in the Monaro landscapes and the human societies built upon them.
Discovering Monaro is organized into four parts reflecting this holistic approach. Each part is made up of several chapters. Each chapter contributes to the part, each part to the whole. The whole, besides being made up of the parts. also includes two appendices, an index and seven pages of prefatory notes. Each of these sections performs a particular function of the whole, without which the whole would be incomplete and its function of providing a study of human impacts upon an environment would be impaired. Such an organization, while not standard 'Hancockese', is nevertheless similar to his organization of Australia in 1930 and Smuts: the sanguine years in 1962.
The four parts of Discovering Monaro are roughly chronological in order. Part 1 'Perspective View' describes the shifting geographical boundaries of Monaro, and the possible impacts of Aboriginal activities such as regular burning which created the landscape into which white explorers first came in 1823. Part 2 'New Arrivals' covers in its first chapter Squatting the arrival of the pastoralists and their flocks with a series of cameo portraits of several squatters. The next chapter, entitled Spoiling, covers the various explorations and discoveries of surveyors, botanists and other scientific observers, and the subsequent debates about the reasons for the changing face of the Monaro landscape and the disappearance of the Monaro Aboriginies. The final chapter, Improving, describes the consolidation of pastoral tenure and improvements, the decisions to make sheep and to a lesser extent cattle, rather then wheat, the mainstay of the regional economy, and the effects of centralising transport and communication routes through Sydney rather than developing regional ports and roads. Part 3 'Possessing the Land' begins with a chapter entitled The Battles for Possession - the battles being fought between squatters and selectors. In a long drawn out war of attrition, the selectors win a victory of sorts for 'living area'. The second chapter, Spoiling, gives a description of the incursions of stock diseases, noxious weeds and verminous animals into the region before, in chapter 3, Improving, this is countered by the arrival of newly developed pasture grasses and grains which help make the 'living areas' of both selectors and squatters viable. Chapter 4 White men in the high country, offers an overview of the effects of white settlement in Monaro, and the changing forms that settlement has taken in response to both natural and manufactured forces in the environment. The final part, entitled 'The Two Landscapes', provides contemporary (i.e. late 1960s) observations by Hancock on his two original divisions of the region - Alps and tableland - divisions little refered to in the main body of the text. They cover the growth of alpine tourism, especially in the Kosciusko National Park, the apparent growth of rural small holdings in the tablelands, the conflict then underway between grazing, tourism and scientific interests in the Alps, and the encroachment of urbanisation. The final chapter, Looking forward, attempts some prophesaying about the future of the region, with competition between wool and synthetic fibres, beef and synthetic meats, the spread or urbanisation, multiple uses of Kosciusko National Park, the further development of forestry, and the aesthetic appeal of wilderness being the issues covered.
A glance at a listing of Hancocks published works would seem to suggest that Discovering Monaro was published at a time in his career when he was changing course away from large-scale institutional and biographical histories towards the more intimate scale of regional history, and into an apparently new field of 'environmental history', while at the same time reviewing his role as an academic historian. A textual or literary context of works for Discovering Monaro runs as follows:
(4 years to previous book: Smuts, Volume 1, 1962)
In a social context, Hancock spent three years between 1968 and 1971 researching Discovering Monaro. These were the years of a declining Liberal-Country Party ascendancy in federal politics, during the Prime Ministerships of John Gorton and William McMahon. The ALP, under the leadership of Gough Whitlam, had slashed the coalition majority in the House of Representatives from 40 to 7 in the 1969 elections, and was developing a renewed sense of mission after the debacle of the split with the DLP during the later 1950s. Economically, air transport was controlled by the two airlines policy; rural production by orderly marketing policies; and the banking and financial systems by complex legislation and treasury policies. Conflict and change, however, were apparent in many areas. Immigration had helped double the population in twenty years to 1969, and changed its ethnic make-up, while the White Australia policy was coming under challenge. Aboriginies were accorded legal citizenship in 1967, but many old discriminations remained. Britain had begun withdrawing its forces east of Suez in 1968, while increasing numbers of conscripted young Australian men were being sent to fight in Vietnam as the USA replaced Britain as Australia's military and foreign policy mentor. The televised horror of the war produced a groundswell of opposition that resulted in 1970 in the biggest mass demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience seen in Australian cities. The cities were sprawling, and by 1970, over two-thirds of all Australians lived in the Sydney and Melbourne conurbations. Industrialisation had also grown during the previous two decades, when the manufacturing share of total exports rose from 5% in 1948 to 20% in 1968. The value of mine and quarry products almost doubled in value between 1967 and 1970, by which time they constituted 20% of exports. Wool and wheat, however, were facing a paradoxical situation. Improved technology and continued land clearance for expansion had lead to a near-doubling of wool production between 1950 and 1970, while wheat production almost trebled in the same period. Oversupplied world markets, however, were leading to serious marketing problems for these and other primary products, although this had been disguised to some extent by the impact of mining and industrial developments .
Such developments, of course, were having an impact on human environments. The publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in 1962 was followed by So Human and Animal by the biologist René Dubos in 1970, Jay Forresters' World Dynamics in 1971, The Limits to Growth project of the Club of Rome in 1971, and the Blueprint for Survival charter of 1972. These various biological and economic analyses and forecasts marked an intellectually articulate component of a much wider popular movement that had arisen out of concern for the complex problems that appeared to be facing humanity - environmental degradation, poverty, war, endless urbanisation, alienation and insecurity - which the Club of Rome had grouped together in 1968 under the heading of the 'World Problematique'.
One manifestation in Australia of this concern was the foundation in 1965 of the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) with Sir Garfield Barwick, Chief Justice of Australia and former liberal Commonwealth Attorney-General, as inaugural president, a position he held until 1970 when he took up the post of Vice-President. For many years previously, Barwick had been a trustee of the Kosciusko State Park. The formation of the ACF was followed by the organisation of local voluntary conservation groups under the umbrella of state-based Conservation Councils affiliated to the ACF.
Thus, the apparent context for Discovering Monaro is a time of uncertainty and change, both globally and in the person of Hancock. Pollution and waste of resources through greed and war were everywhere undermining the old post-war beliefs in progress through development. The need for change was become increasingly manifested in Australia by a federal government fumbling for direction and riven by internal discontent. Hancock had retired from full-time academic work in 1965, and was created the first University Fellow at ANU . In June 1968, he marked his 70th birthday, and a retrospective issue of Historical Studies commemorated his long career. The question arises: why did Hancock choose then to re-commence his career - this time concerned with the role and function of the historian, and with a desire to understand the history of human use of the environment?
The public affairs of the time, I would suggest, demanded some sort of historical explanation, which included some sort of examination of the place of the historian in such affairs. Hancock felt that he was the man to do the job. But was it a question of a New History for New Times?, or an attempt to incorporate Ecology within the Province of History? Broadening the boundaries of historical study would show that environmental problems are resolvable through human ingenuity now as they have been in the past - man the spoiler, the restorer and the improver also remains the master.
According to Shapiro, liberalism contains the premise that humanity is born ignorant, rather than wicked, and is conditioned throughout life by a social environment that in many ways has been a product of the errors and injustices of the past. Such 'environmental problems' can be overcome by increasing knowledge and striving for enlightenment. Liberalism blends idealism with practical considerations - ideals serving as guides to an ultimate end of creating a society that promotes peace, prosperity and goodwill. Time, place and history determine the pace and method of progress towards such an end. The "inevitablity of gradualness" in the progress of humanity is the liberal way .
Tim Rowse, in his 1976 Marxist critique of Hancock's 1930 edition of Australia argues that it is essentially an argument about the application of liberalism to the management of Australian capitalism since federation . Hancock lifts his gaze above the 'mere politics' of the day in a work of synthesis which creates a new question in an attempt to express the needs of a class in crisis, within a language and framework of universal historical necessity. Such an approach implicitly supported pro-imperial and anti-working class responses to the crisis of the Depression. Social justice is the theme and ethos of the book, but the means to that end are not queried, and he adopts the persona of the champion of the ethical state, petit bourgeois reformism, and the 'practical side' of the ALP. The use of characterological explanations allows Hancock to move easily from personality to national policy; the national or social level is reducible to the personal. Hancock's sympathy lies with the ideal of social justice rather than its realization. The 'civilizing potential' released by the break with old world tyrannies is corrupted by the new form of democratic tyranny which it instituted.
"Nature, left to the tender mercies of the economists, might have produced in Australia a landed oligarchy lording it over a large urban proletariat. But democracy took a hand - the urban masses called upon the state to do the right thing." .In Discovering Monaro, Hancock discusses the first session of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly elected under male suffrage in 1861, which legislated to break up the squatters estates to make room for a yeomanry. The squatters could agree if there was a clear-cut demarcation of pastoral lease and selectors freehold zones.
"This proposal was compatible with social justice [says Hancock] and economic common sense; but a large staff of competent surveyors would have been required...That condition was not met".The result was a long period of conflict until 1904, when the state began the compulsory acquisition and break up of stations for intensive settlement and land-use.
Is Discovering Monaro essentially an argument about the success of liberalism in the management of natural resources by Australian capitalism, or is it the first truly environmental history produced in Australia? In his 1974 Edward Shann Memorial Lecture in Economics at the University of Western Australia, Hancock provided some clues to an answer. He states that:
"I kept alive my interest in the problems of land-tenure and land-use throughout the long years when the political issues of imperial rule and national revolt, of international order and disorder, of peace and war, were absorbing the greater part of the time available to me for historical research. Yet even then the buried stream of my love for the land sometimes came to the surface in specialist articles or in chapters of books I was writing...And now, at long last, in my old age and in my own country, the stream of this compelling interest rushes exuberantly through mountain valleys, or flows sedately through pastureland and ploughland.His interest, then, lies in the way humans have used their environment, and particularly in the ways that they have creatively responded to external forces.
Thus, the squatters of Monaro began with the challenge of feeding their stock. At first, this was on indigenous grasses growing in the valleys they settled. As flocks increased in size, they expanded their range of operations - there was always more grass over the hill. The arrival of selectors from the 1860s onwards placed limits on the space that could be taken up in this way, and the squatters creative response was to begin moving stock into alpine pastures during the summer, and return them to the tablelands in the winter, thus ensuring an orderly supply of feed. At the same time, improved breeding practises meant that relatively stable flock populations could be maintained with a reasonably guaranteed quality of wool for the market. The next problem arose with the invasion of pastures by grasses that sheep could not eat. Despite the annual moving of flocks, this posed a problem to which the creative response came from science in the form of exotic pasture grasses that grew quicker, self-seeded easier and out-competed many of the weeds. The next problem to arise came from science and tourism, two forces which gradually but surely lead to the exclusion of grazing from the alpine country. The creative response came in the form of increasingly productive pasture grasses and sheep breeds. Less and less space was required to produce more and more wool - thanks to scientific responses to the continued political pressures to subdivide and alienate the remaining pastoral leases.
The central factor here is not the adaptability of pastoralism or science, or the externalities of climate, vegetation change, or increasing population pressures; but the creative responses of 'man' (as Hancock would say) to changing environmental factors - physical or social. As knowledge increased, so did understanding of the environment. The ideals behind, for example, the Sale of Waste Lands Act 1847, the Closer Settlement Acts of 1901 and 1904, and the Kosciusko State Park Act 1944 were all signposts along the road to a better society. Inevitably, this progress brought forth creative responses to help overcome the injustices of ineffective land tenure and mis-use of land brought about by ignorance of a better way of doing things. Land hungry squatters became responsible pastoralists, and colonial botanists became the scientists of CSIRO. This partnership of landowners and science developed itself as a creative response to the need to maintain production while land tenure changed. This alliance of observers and practical men has determined a gradual improvement in Monaro society as it progresses towards stability and social justice.
But what happened to the selectors, especially those who 'failed'? What happened to the station and farm workers? What about the towns? Where are the women? Did the Aboriginies really just disappear? And what of the environment - what role did sharp-hooved sheep and cattle play in destroying river banks and creating the erosion blamed on frequent burning? Why have the Bogong moths remained while all about them the indigenous landscape has been converted to something European? Kangaroos, emus and other wildlife barely rate a mention - did they also just disappear? What are the links between changing land tenure and changing regional demographics?
Without attempting to answer such questions, it should be noted that the evidence gathered by Hancock would not lead him to consider such issues. The annoying lack of a bibliography in the book had to be overcome by constructing one from the footnotes. An analysis of this shows that 35% of the printed and manuscript sources were personal memoirs and journals, and another 26.5% were technical publications. 40% of the journals consulted were scientific, 22% historical and 18% agricultural. The use of official records was limited to Votes & Proceedings of the New South Wales Parliament, and correspondence between the Commissioner of Crown Lands for Monaro and the Colonial Secretary's Office in Sydney.
It is sufficient to say that the use of Police Station Occurence Books (for example) would probably have revealed evidence about the 'disappearance' of the Monaro Aboriginies, and about the displacement of station workers, such as shepherds, by technological changes such as fencing. This is not meant as an indictment of Hancock's approach. Rather, it suggests a primarily liberal, rather then environmental, approach - there appears to be no evidence of either Aboriginies or ex-shepherds 'responding creatively' to the ideal of selection. In fact, their silence in the book suggests passive reaction of some sort, such as resorting to alcohol and drifting into the towns, rather then the supposedly biological characteristic of 'active, unexpected, creative responses'.
Hancocks use of many personal memoirs and family histories leads us to Rowse's assertions about characterology. This cumbersome word was invented in 1867 by the German psychologist Bohnsen, and first appeared in English in a 1903 edition of the American Journal of Psychology. Its dictionary definition of "the science of character, especially its development, types and individual differences" differed from the cant meaning applied to it by Rowse of 'the level of public policy being reducible to personal qualities - in Hancocks use, to a characterology of the practical, optimistic, innovatory, casual, improvisatory, slapdash, empirical and idealistic'.
In Discovering Monaro, Hancock asks "What was [the squatters] character as a social class?", and from there states that "It seems a sensible idea to make personal aquaintance with some of the squatters". Thus, in this gallery of pioneer portraits, David Waugh says that "Naturally, a man has to work hard and he may run into bad luck, but there can be no doubt at all of his getting rich". Farquhar McKenzie described a neighbouring squatters son as "...a fair specimen of a country born (currency) lad - of fair complexion, tall and raw boned - rather reserved and silent [but] sober and steady, good tempered and hospitable". Hancock says that "McKenzie recognized the same Australian stamp of character...at a different level of pastoral society in the 'Wandering Stockmen (as Cowherds are called in this country)'". Although "the race of sturdy pioneers is variously constituted", they share similar characteristics. "William Whittakers...has zest for action", and his wife Louisa, who "never wanted to be a settlers' wife" was taken to Burnima Station where she "had the first of her eleven children and served her hard apprenticeship in bush housekeeping". In later life, when told one of her sons was thinking of leaving Monaro, she said "it would have broken my heart". The surveyor Stewart Ryrie "possessed no training in any science and was not more than an amateur surveyor...[but] his report...tells us what a practical man saw on the surface of the land 130 years ago". W.A. Brodribb, "Like a South African trekker...survived drought...[and] gathered experience which he later turned to good account as an innovatory practitioner and evangelist of water storage...". From this inquiry emerges "...a broader view of squatting society.".
That 'broader view' is of a society characterised by hard work, steadiness, sturdiness, hospitality, zest, action, experience rather than education, practicality, survival and innovation. Both the literate squatter and his wife could leave such records of 'their character' in which the development of a 'new breed of men', a 'race of sturdy pioneers' became characteristic not only of a social class, but the people of a whole region . But, any definition of such a 'people' leaves out those who did not write journals and memoirs; it ignores those for whom the written record is of arrests and court appearances; of failure to meet the conditions of selection; or of receiving blankets on the Queen's birthday. They also used the land, but they had no legal tenure for camping in the bush, or using stream water in their illegal stills, for feeding their nags on the road verges, or collecting firewood from the forest floor. Characteristics such as law-breaking, alcoholism, stealing, miscegenation and aimlessness are not features of those who keep diaries, and so do not become incorpirated by Hancock in the characteristics of the 'Monaro Man' or, by implication, of the 'Australian'.
Discovering Monaro, then, seems to be both liberal and environmental. Human society has progressed through the mechanism of the 'creative response', and the creative response has arisen from the changing relationships between human society and its physical and social environments in the region.
In considering the question of context, a number of issues arise - particularly that of what is the context? Is it all the works of Hancock?, or is it those works classed as environmental history?, or is it a temporal context, such as 1968-1971?, or is it works on land use and land tenure in Australia (or New South Wales, or southeastern Australia, or some other region)?, or is it liberal history?, or is it something else again? I do not mean to isolate the text from a context, but just what an objectively defined context could be eludes me. Rowse read Australia as a coda of liberalism in Australian historiography. Hancock himself places Discovering Monaro in the context of historical geography and ecological science, with a teleology that begins with Plato's Critias, and continues through Colbert's Forest Ordinances in seventeenth century France, John Evelyn's seventeenth century, von Humboldt's early nineteenth century and G.P. Marsh's mid nineteenth century writings on nature and humanity, to the foundation in 1913 of the British Ecological Society, and in 1949 of the (English) Nature Conservancy . The American ecologist Rachel Carson combined the roles of Charles Darwin and Jeremiah to produce Silent Spring in 1962, and Hancock clearly sees Discovering Monaro as a progression from this seminal work, with the track taken by, for example, the Club of Rome, being fatally flawed. It is this track that seems to have lead to the development of environmental history as practised by a number of American historians; while Hancock prefers to return "...to 'the old alliance' between geography and history, which needs to be maintained.". Although he does not place Discovering Monaro within the context of his previous works, it nevertheless seems clear that there is a great deal of continuity in Hancocks approaches in 1930 and 1972, and thus Discovering Monaro can be read as a Hancock coda as much as Australia.
I previously posed a question of why was Hancock moving into an apparently new field of environmental history and reviewing his role as a academic historian. and I later asked 'why then'? From the preceeding discussion, some responses to these questions can now be drawn.
Hancock talked in 1974 of his 'love for the land'. From such a characteristic of his self came an 'interest in the problems of land tenure and land use', as could be expected from a liberal-oriented person seeking to increase knowledge and so enlightenment of contemporary public affairs in his social environment. Those public affairs included widespread concern over the destruction of the environment being wrought as a result of past errors and injustices that had brought humanity to its present predicament. While some 'laudable gentlemen' called for rapid, even revolutionary changes in the social environment to prevent further destruction, "What they have forgotten to do is provide signposts and milestones along the road...[and made it more difficult to] see the trees for the wood.". Hancock the liberal historian sought to understand the natural gradualness of change in the relationship between humanity and its environment. The explanation for this he found in the philosophy of biology as propounded by Dubos: the individual is not a passive reagent to environmental change, rather he seeks to creatively respond to its challenges, and so increase his 'human-ness' (and, the centrality of Homo sapiens amidst the 'passively reactive' species in the environment). Thus, rather than revolutionary reaction to the supposed World Problematique, it needed to be understood that evolutionary, creative responses would maintain the primacy of the human role within nature, and allow it to survive environmental change. While Hancock was not denying the existence of environmental problems, he was trying to counter the idea of a 'crisis' by saying that the times were simply awaiting the development of creative responses to the environmental problems of the various regions occupied by humanity. The history of land use in Monaro 'showed' that this had been the case in the past, and while he was careful to note the regional subtleties of land use and environmental change, he could nevertheless impose a universal response to such changes .
Given factors such as the dissipation of the Liberal-Country Party ascendancy, the hopelessness of the war in Vietnam, and the declining importance of rural production in earning export income in Australia at that time; and the stridency of some Doomsayers and their increasing numbers of followers, it is to be expected that a liberal reaction (a creative response?) would be developed. Discovering Monaro is such a creative response, using the theme of human interaction with the environment to construct a liberal history of optimistic progress through the metaphor of the gradual development of the 'Monaro Man'. The collection of evidence by Hancock was guided by his liberal philosophy, and his conclusions support the liberal way.
Discovering Monaro may be the 'first truly environmental history in Australia', but it is also a continuation of a long line of liberal historiography. The environmental history of Discovering Monaro is a form a liberal history, and Sir Keith Hancock has shown himself to be a master of both.