I’m glad for books like Michael Cathcart’s The Water Dreamers. In recent years, history has been reinvigorated by taking new slants on old narratives. Here, Cathcart traces the familiar narrative of Australian history by concentrating on water, namely a lack of it, in a dry ‘silent’ continent. What this approach allows is a kind of environmental, as well as economic, history to unfold as the new colony rapaciously moves outward, subsuming indigenous communities in search of scarce water resources. This is contrasted with the indigenous husbanding of the land and its water, and the deep knowledge and often ingenious systems devised to use water in concert with the land, rather than against it. Overlaying this is the larger cultural picture of Australia as a hostile place, with an enormous silence at its heart. In the European mind, the land is under-utilised, waiting for the civilising touch of resource exploitation and development. The question that constantly came to mind while reading was ‘How far have we come?’. As recent history has shown and Cathcart suggests, the answer is not far. This is a fascinating history that fits nicely into the larger picture of Australia, while exploring some of the things we take for granted in our national psyche.
Clayton is the founder and managing director of Boomerang Books. In a past life, Clayton worked for 12 years as an intelligence officer in the Australian Army and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He is a graduate of the Australian Defence Force Academy and the Royal Military College Duntroon and holds a BA (Hons) in Political Science and a Master of Management Studies (Human Resource Management) from the UNSW. He is also a trained Indonesian linguist and served with the United Nations in East Timor as an interpreter/translator. View all posts by Clayton Wehner