Views from the Antipodes: The ‘forest influence’ debate in the Australian and New Zealand press, 1827–1956

Stephen Mark Legg

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During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the newspaper press was the leading public forum in the protracted debate over the supposed climatological effects of forests. Journalists acted as key intermediaries in the dispute between parliament, science and the public. The press was also a powerful pressure group in its own right. Newspaper reports contextualised the forest influence issue by linking it to three interrelated concerns: the cause of climate variability and change, the environmental impact of humans, and the need for forest conservation. This paper examines the role of the Australasian press in the debate along with the changing nature of the arguments and some aspects of its historical geography. Results are summarised from a systematic longitudinal survey that analysed over 1400 articles relevant to the forest influence debate published in 141 Australian and New Zealand newspapers between the years 1827 and 1956. The study concludes that the press was instrumental in politicising all sides of the debate and later in perpetuating it in popular culture long after both governments and institutional science had dismissed the idea that humans could alter climates by manipulating forests.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-60
Number of pages20
JournalAustralian Geographer
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Australia and New Zealand
  • climate change
  • conservation
  • drought
  • Forests
  • role of the press

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