In November 1902 a giant dust cloud hung over much of the recently established Commonwealth of Australia. Red dust storms blew across the parched land as a result of the Federation Drought that lasted from 1895 to 1903. Plants withered, the ground soil cracked, millions of animals died from thirst and starvation, and the Murray and Darling rivers stopped flowing at points from a lack of water. Meteorologists now know that such droughts were a response to a strong El Niño Southern Oscillation, a climatic system determined by the temperature of the water in the Pacific Ocean. When warm Pacific water drifts east towards Peru and South America in an El Niño phase, Australia receives drought, but when warm water moves westward towards Australia, in a La Niña phase, Australia receives rain. Unbeknown to Australians at the time, weather conditions in the Pacific determined whether farmers received rain for their crops.
Throughout the twentieth century white Australians came to recognise that the continent on which they lived had climates and ecologies that were markedly different from those in Eurasia, the Americas and even nearby New Zealand. In a sense, they had to learn what most of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people already knew: that much of Australia is prone to drought, flood and fire. Though most Indigenous people learned about these cycles and processes through oral histories, culture and experience, their knowledge was not incorporated into state environmental management models or popular interpretations of nature until the last decades of the twentieth century. Extreme events helped introduce the Australian public to the climatic factors shaping the continent's weather. The best known include the Federation Drought of 1895–1903, the ‘Black Friday’ forest fires in Victoria in 1939, Cyclone Tracy in Darwin and the Brisbane flood in 1974.
In particular, Australians learned throughout the century that drought was a regular and pronounced feature of the continent's climatic cycle.
Summary: This article argues that because of the perceived and real biological characteristics of the different species of the genus Eucalyptus, imperialists and settlers, and later governments and the elites of developing nations, planted eucalypts widely and created new socio-ecological systems that encouraged and reinforced divergent patterns of economic, social, and ecological development. Planting eucalypts changed local ecologies and encouraged a movement towards market-based capitalism that benefited settlers, large landowners, urban elites and middle classes, and capital-intensive industries at the expense of indigenous groups living in and near forests. This article analyses the globalization of eucalypts in four broad phases: first, an enthusiastic expansion and planting from 1850–1900; secondly, failure in the tropics from 1850–1960; thirdly, increased planting and success rates in the tropics from 1960–2000, and fourthly, a growing criticism of eucalypts that began in the late nineteenth century and blossomed in the 1980s during an intense period of planting in India and Thailand.
The different species of the genus Eucalyptus should be considered the fountain of youth and the El Dorado of forestry: for over 150 years people believed eucalypts could cure tropical diseases while also providing a source of continuously renewable wealth. Eucalypts were planted in a variety of climates in Australia, Asia, Africa, Europe, South America, and North America. Foresters and botanists were impressed by their quick growth, hard wood, and ability to grow quickly where other trees cannot.
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