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Rivers Too Cross: River Beautification and Settlement in Perth, Western Australia

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In chronicles of the settlement of Western Australia the conflict between hopes for a bountiful interior and the reality of an often harsh, unforgiving country accounts for the depiction of landscape features as strange or uncanny. In towns, streets lost their decisiveness, laid out as they often were on shifting sands. Forests, having been observed with curiosity early in the nineteenth century in many parts of Australia for their park-like appearance, became a hindrance to development in the west by the end of the century. Frequently dry in Summer, prone to flooding in Winter, frustratingly sluggish and perennially salty, rivers systems such as the Swan and its tributary the Avon suffered various attempts beginning in the late nineteenth century to dam them, drain them or turn their shores into something other than miserable rubbish heaps.

This article will consider 'the river' as a topographical feature evoking ideas of autonomy and freedom within the English pastoral tradition. It will examine the Swan River system as an object of governance and site of successive transformations in the decades immediately before and after the federation of Australia. Playing an important role in the imaginative construction of place, the desire for waterfronts to define the edges of Western Australia's capital city and towns or for watercourses to provide orientation in the bush was coupled with an imperative that native rivers be properly 'trained' as instances of national enterprise.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Western Australia

Publication date: 2003-03-01

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