Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Water Dreamers

When: Tuesday 10 May 5.15pm tea/coffee; 5.45pm – 6.45pm lecture.

Where: Royal Historical Society of Victoria, 239 A’Beckett Street, Melbourne

Cost: $5.50 non members; free for members

Bookings: t: (03) 9326 9288 e:

Victorians are invited to join writer, university lecturer and broadcaster, Dr Michael Cathcart, as he explores water and its role in how we live and think in Australia.

To be held on Tuesday 10 May at 5.45pm, Dr Cathcart’s talk, “The Water Dreamers”, will concentrate of the dreams of the irrigators and engineers who rose to prominence at the end of the nineteenth-century.

“These irrigators and engineers rejected the melancholy cast of Australian nationalism and advocated a vision of Australia which was optimistic, expansionist and placed its faith in the transformative power of hydro engineering,” said Dr Cathcart.

“This vision was conveyed in the extraordinary books known to scholars as ‘The Lemurian novels’.

“Closely modelled on “King Solomon’ Mines” and “She”, these books told stories about lost civilisations which had survived in the deserts of Australia – thanks to brilliant and ancient hydro-engineering.

“By imagining an irrigated past for the continent, the stories demonstrated the possibility for an even more glorious irrigated future.

“Today, the political and environmental crisis in the Murray Darling Basin turns a spotlight on the role of hydro-engineering.

“The heroic dreams of the Victorian engineers still have their champions, but as we try to develop a productive relationship between engineering and environment, we need to find new paradigms.

“One such paradigm is to treat water as a commercial commodity.

“In our discussion I will argue that this market approach is more likely to compound our problems than to rectify them.”

Dr Michael Cathcart is well-known to historians for his abridgement of Manning Clark’s A History of Australia. He is better known in rural Australia as the host of Bush Telegraph on ABC Radio National. In 2010, his book The Water Dreamers won the Colin Roderick Prize for best Australian book and was short-listed for the Prime Minister’s Prize. Michael is currently working on 3-part documentary series for ABC TV called Australia on Trial.

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