Imagining paradise, discovering science: tourism and science at the Great Barrier Reef

Pocock, Celmara (2013) Imagining paradise, discovering science: tourism and science at the Great Barrier Reef. In: Australasian and Pacific Travel in the Middlebrow Imagination 1925-1950: Transported Imagination, 28-29 Nov 2013, Cairns, Australia.


The wonders of the Great Barrier Reef described in popular and accessible publications like National Geographic and Walkabout Magazine arguably underpin the significance of the region today.

Holidaymakers in the 1920s and 1930s were inspired by fictional tropical island adventures, and Reef islands promised them the possibility of finding paradise on earth (Pocock 2006). But the Reef also offered visitors the opportunity to engage in scientific discovery. Early expeditions to the Reef were more about learning, and less about luxurious relaxation. While romantic literature drove visitors to imagine a Pacific idyll, writing from and about the islands gave the reading public an understanding of marine life, life sciences and natural history. Early scientific discovery was shared directly with holidaymakers, and brought into homes around Australia (and elsewhere in the world) through the popular writings of holidaymakers, journalists, authors and scientists.

Scientist Maurice Yonge published a popular book 'A Year on the Great Barrier Reef' that provided an account of the British Expedition to Low Isles in 1928-29. His is an account of science, while journalist E.J. Banfield shared his life on Dunk Island with avid readers in 'Confessions of a Beachcomber'. Banfield's writing details the island flora and fauna, and Yonge describes marine life. Together with popular magazine articles, this body of literature contributed to an accessible natural history of the Great Barrier Reef.

In contrast with dry and technical language of scientific publications, such popular accounts brought a scientific knowledge and appreciation of the Reef to the middlebrow. They reflect the state of scientific knowledge at the time, and some outdated knowledge became mythologised. Nevertheless public engagement with this earlier scientific worldview continues to play a significant role in how the region is celebrated in the present.

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Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Commonwealth Reporting Category E) (Paper)
Refereed: No
Item Status: Live Archive
Faculty / Department / School: Current - Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts - School of Arts and Communication
Date Deposited: 04 Jun 2014 23:56
Last Modified: 08 Feb 2017 00:55
Uncontrolled Keywords: Great Barrier Reef; science; middlebrow; tourism; travel; magazines; writing
Fields of Research : 15 Commerce, Management, Tourism and Services > 1506 Tourism > 150606 Tourist Behaviour and Visitor Experience
21 History and Archaeology > 2103 Historical Studies > 210303 Australian History (excl. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History)
21 History and Archaeology > 2103 Historical Studies > 210313 Pacific History (excl. New Zealand and Maori)
Socio-Economic Objective: C Society > 95 Cultural Understanding > 9505 Understanding Past Societies > 950503 Understanding Australia's Past

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