Local knowledge and the state: the 1990 floods in Cunnamulla, Queensland, Australia



Publication Details

O'Gorman, E. (2012). Local knowledge and the state: the 1990 floods in Cunnamulla, Queensland, Australia. Environmental History, 17 (3), 512-546.


In April 1990, record-breaking floods in the Warrego River threatened the rural town of Cunnamulla, located in Queensland, Australia. The floods had already inundated the upstream town of Charleville causing significant damage to property and the mass evacuation of residents. This article explores the 1990 floods in Cunnamulla in the context of two key elements of Australian history: first, several decades of rural decline in southwestern Queensland, and second, state responses to floods that had become increasingly centralized over the preceding two decades. I first examine the wider historical contexts of colonial settlement, environmental changes, and past floods in Cunnamulla and the Warrego catchment. I then analyze the 1990 floods, focusing on the interactions between Allan Tannock, a longtime resident of Cunnamulla, and Police Superintendent Harry Edwards, a state government official sent from Queensland's state capital of Brisbane to take charge of the town's flood response. I argue that these events have ongoing relevance in Australia because barriers to the inclusion of local knowledge persist, even as new climate change concerns have emerged. This history of floods in the Warrego River suggests that better flood management can be achieved when state government responses to floods adopt a pragmatic management approach that includes formal avenues through which different kinds of knowledge can be included.

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