Recent Developments in Australian Climate History

  • Joëlle Gergis
  • Linden Ashcroft
  • Don Garden


There have been considerable advances in historical climatology in Australia over the past decade. Recent interdisciplinary research using documentary and early instrumental records has identified twenty-four new drought events and seventeen major wet periods for eastern New South Wales over the 1788–1899 period. These results provide the first opportunity to use well-verified historical Australian rainfall data in long-term global drought studies. While considerable progress has been made using material collected from the main population centres of New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, and Queensland, there is still great potential to recover more colonial-era data from many parts of the country.



JG acknowledges funding from Australian Research Council (ARC) Projects LP0990151 and DE130100668. LA received support from ARC project LP0990151 and thanks Claire Fenby for advice that helped to improve the manuscript.


  1. Ashcroft, Linden et al. “Temperature Variations of Southeastern Australia, 1860–2011.” Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Journal 62 (2012): 227–45.Google Scholar
  2. Ashcroft, Linden et al. “A Historical Climate Dataset for Southeastern Australia, 1788–1859.” Geoscience Data Journal 1 (2014a): 158–78.Google Scholar
  3. Ashcroft, Linden et al. “Southeastern Australian Climate Variability 1860–2009: A Multivariate Analysis.” International Journal of Climatology 34 (2014b): 1928–44.Google Scholar
  4. Ashcroft, Linden et al. “Long-Term Stationarity of El Niño–Southern Oscillation Teleconnections in Southeastern Australia.” Climate Dynamics 46 (2016): 2991–3006.Google Scholar
  5. Beattie, James et al. Climate, Science, and Colonization: Histories from Australia and New Zealand. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brázdil, Rudolf et al. “Historical Climatology in Europe—The State of the Art.” Climatic Change 70 (2005): 363–430.Google Scholar
  7. Clarke, William Branwhite, and Ann Mozley Moyal. The Web of Science: The Scientific Correspondence of the Rev. W.B. Clarke, Australia’s Pioneer Geologist. Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publications, 2003.Google Scholar
  8. Day, David. The Weather Watchers: 100 Years of the Bureau of Meteorology. Carlton, VIC: Melbourne University Publishers, 2007.Google Scholar
  9. Fenby, Claire, and Joëlle Gergis. “Rainfall Variations in South-Eastern Australia Part 1: Consolidating Evidence from Pre-Instrumental Documentary Sources, 1788–1860.” International Journal of Climatology 33 (2013): 2956–72.Google Scholar
  10. Foley, James C. “Droughts in Australia: Review of Records from Earliest Years of Settlement to 1955.” Bulletin No. 43. Melbourne: Bureau of Meteorology, 1957.Google Scholar
  11. Garden, Donald S. Droughts, Floods & Cyclones: El Niños That Shaped Our Colonial Past. North Melbourne, VIC: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2009.Google Scholar
  12. Gergis, Joëlle. Sunburnt Country: The History and Future of Climate Change in Australia. Melbourne: Melbourne University Publishing, 2018.Google Scholar
  13. Gergis, Joëlle, and Linden Ashcroft. “Rainfall Variations in South-Eastern Australia Part 2: A Comparison of Documentary, Early Instrumental and Palaeoclimate Records, 1788–2008.” International Journal of Climatology 33 (2013): 2973–87.Google Scholar
  14. Gergis, Joëlle, and Anthony Fowler. “A History of El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Events Since A.D. 1525: Implications for Future Climate Change.” Climatic Change 92 (2009): 343–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gergis, Joëlle, and Benjamin J. Henley. “Southern Hemisphere Rainfall Variability Over the Past 200 Years.” Climate Dynamics 48 (2017): 2087–105.Google Scholar
  16. Gergis, Joëlle et al. “A Climate Reconstruction of Sydney Cove, New South Wales, Using Weather Journal and Documentary Data, 1788–1791.” Australian Meteorological Magazine 58 (2009): 83–98.Google Scholar
  17. Gergis, Joëlle et al. “The Influence of Climate on the First European Settlement of Australia: A Comparison of Weather Journals, Documentary Data and Palaeoclimate Records, 1788–1793.” Environmental History 15 (2010): 485–507.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gergis, Joëlle et al. “On the Long-Term Context of the 1997–2009 ‘Big Dry’ in South-Eastern Australia: Insights from a 206-Year Multi-Proxy Rainfall Reconstruction.” Climatic Change 111 (2012): 923–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Jevons, W.S. “Some Data Concerning the Climate of Australia and New Zealand.” In Waugh’s Australian Almanac for 1859, J.W. Waugh, Sydney, Australia, 47–98.Google Scholar
  20. Jones, D.A. et al. “High-Quality Spatial Climate Data-Sets for Australia.” Australian Meteorological Magazine 58 (2009): 233–48.Google Scholar
  21. Kingston, George Strickland. Register of the Rainfall Kept in Grote-Street, Adelaide by Sir George Strickland Kingston from January 1, 1839, to December 16, 1879, Both Inclusive. Adelaide, SA: Government Printer, 1879.Google Scholar
  22. Macintyre, Stuart. A Concise History of Australia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.Google Scholar
  23. McBride, John L., and Neville Nicholls. “Seasonal Relationships Between Australian Rainfall and the Southern Oscillation.” Monthly Weather Review 111 (1983): 1998–2004.Google Scholar
  24. Morgan, Ruth A. “Histories for an Uncertain Future: Environmental History and Climate Change.” Australian Historical Studies 44 (2013): 350–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Murphy, Bradley F., and Bertrand Timbal. “A Review of Recent Climate Variability and Climate Change in Southeastern Australia.” International Journal of Climatology 28 (2008): 859–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Nash, David J., and Georgina H. Endfield. “‘Splendid Rains Have Fallen’: Links Between El Niño and Rainfall Variability in the Kalahari, 1840–1900.” Climatic Change 86 (2008): 257–90.Google Scholar
  27. Nash, David J., and Stefan W. Grab. “‘A Sky of Brass and Burning Winds’: Documentary Evidence of Rainfall Variability in the Kingdom of Lesotho, Southern Africa, 1824–1900.” Climatic Change 101 (2010): 617–53.Google Scholar
  28. Neukom, R. et al. “An Extended Network of Documentary Data from South America and Its Potential for Quantitative Precipitation Reconstructions Back to the 16th Century.” Geophysical Research Letters 36 (2009): L12703.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Nicholls, Neville. “More on Early ENSOs: Evidence from Australian Documentary Sources.” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 69 (1988): 4–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Nicholls, Neville. “William Stanley Jevons and the Climate of Australia.” Australian Meteorological Magazine 47 (1998): 285–93.Google Scholar
  31. Risbey, James S. et al. “On the Remote Drivers of Rainfall Variability in Australia.” Monthly Weather Review 137 (2009): 3233–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Russell, Henry Chamberlaine. Climate of New South Wales: Descriptive, Historical, and Tabular. New York: Potter, 1877.Google Scholar
  33. Sherratt, Tim et al., eds. A Change in the Weather: Climate and Culture in Australia. Canberra: National Museum of Australia Press, 2005.Google Scholar
  34. Strzelecki, Sir Paul Edmund. Physical Description of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land: Accompanied by a Geological Map, Sections and Diagrams, and Figures of the Organic Remains. London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1845.Google Scholar
  35. Timbal, Bertrand, and Robert Fawcett. “A Historical Perspective on Southeastern Australian Rainfall Since 1865 Using the Instrumental Record.” Journal of Climate 26 (2013): 1112–29.Google Scholar
  36. Ummenhofer, Caroline C. et al. “What Causes Southeast Australia’s Worst Droughts?” Geophysical Research Letters 36 (2009): L04706.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Verdon-Kidd, Danielle C., and Anthony S. Kiem. “Nature and Causes of Protracted Droughts in Southeast Australia: Comparison Between the Federation, WWII, and Big Dry Droughts.” Geophysical Research Letters 36 (2009): L22707.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Webb, Eric K. Windows on Meteorology: Australian Perspective. Collingwood, VIC: CSIRO Publications, 1997.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joëlle Gergis
    • 1
  • Linden Ashcroft
    • 2
  • Don Garden
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Earth SciencesUniversity of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Climate ChangeUniversity Rovira i VirgiliTortosaSpain
  3. 3.School of GeographyUniversity of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia

Personalised recommendations