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‘Droughts and Flooding Rains’: Ecology and Australian Theatre in the 1950s

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 October 2022

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This article uses historical-ecological insights for a re-reading of two little-known mid-twentieth-century Australian plays, Oriel Gray’s The Torrents and Eunice Hanger’s Flood, which highlight developments relevant to the environmental disasters of today. In particular, the article focuses on the significance of key cultural assumptions embedded in the texts – and a revival of The Torrents in 2019 – including those to do with land use in a period of accelerating development. This approach offers new insights into the dominance of mining, irrigation, and dam-building activities within the Australian ethos, landscape, and economy. One of these insights is the framing of development as progressive. The article thus also examines how development projected as progressive takes place amid the continuing denial of prior occupation of the land by First Nations peoples and of knowledge systems developed over thousands of years. The intersectional settler-colonialist-ecocritical approach here seeks to capture the compounding ecosystem that is modern Australian theatre and its critique. The intention is not to apply revisionist critiques of 1950s plays but to explore the historical relationship between humans, colonialism, and the physical environment over time. Denise Varney is Professor of Theatre Studies in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne. Her research is in modern and contemporary theatre and performance, with published work in the areas of ecocriticism, feminism, and Australian theatre. Her most recent book is Patrick White’s Theatre: Australian Modernism on Stage 1960–2018 (Sydney University Press, 2021).

Research Article
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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press