Droughts, Prayers and Communities: The Problem of Collective Action During Environmental Crisis in Nineteenth-century Australia

How can communities of environmental concern be formed in large territories and among diverse peoples? This paper finds one answer to this critical question in the unlikely surroundings of Britain’s nineteenth-century empire, and in the collective acts of penitence and thanksgiving that the governments of settler colonies regularly appointed in times of environmental crisis from the 1820s to the twentieth century. A prominent reaction to drought in nineteenth-century Australia was the appointment of days of prayer, whether of ‘humiliation’ or ‘thanksgiving’. Governments ordered these occasions so that communities could implore God’s intervention and assistance in making it rain. Business stopped, diverse populations gathered for worship and individuals reflected on how their actions had provoked God’s anger or pleasure. But there was a growing number of Christian clergymen who thought these acts of ‘special worship’ had more than just a rainmaking function; collective ritual, in their mind, could encourage individuals to take collective responsibility for the changing state of their environment. Analysis of these occasions of collective reflection will frame the timely provocation: is it possible or desirable to create such communities again?


Joseph Hardwick is Senior Lecturer at the University of Northumbria, UK.

Date & time

Tue 10 Sep 2019, 4.30–5.30pm


Theatrette (2.02), Sir Roland Wilson Building, Building #120, McCoy Circuit, ANU


Dr Joseph Hardwick (Northumbria University)

Event series


Penny Brew
+61 2 6125 4357


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