Griffith Taylor Presidential Introduction

Presidential Introduction


Geography can fairly be claimed as the mother of many of the departments of natural science today- We find, therefore, no marked line of division between geology, meteorology, astronomy and early geography. There were branches of the Royal Geographical Society and of the local Royal Societies which kept alive geographical interests in Australia from the earliest days. It was, however, many a decade before we come to the time when professional geographers were appointed to advance our discipline. Sir Edgeworth David had a keen appreciation of morphological (or, as he called it, physiographical) work all through his life. His lectures in the subject determined the life-work of a number of students, and the writer gave brief University lecture courses in Sydney for geography teachers as early as 1905.

In 1910 the office of Physiographer in the Commonwealth Weather Service was established, and the writer was appointed. During the period 1910 to 1920 my work dealt much more with research in climate, topography, and economic resources than with meteorology. But in 1916 I was appointed extra-mural lecturer in Economic Geography in the University of Melbourne, and attached to the Geology Department.

Following a bequest from Sir Samuel McCaughey, a chair in Geography was created in Sydney University, largely owing to the enthusiasm of Professor David. I began work in 1921, and the Sydney chair, for most of its life under Macdonald Holmes, remained alone until the appointment of Professor Spate at A.N.U. in 1951. However, lecturers in Geography, usually attached either to Geology or to Commerce departments, were at work before this. The names of Grenfell Price, Fenner, Wilcock, and Gentilli come particularly to mind among these pioneers.

At Sydney I tried to get the public to realise that exploration was not the main purpose of geography, but that to a much more important degree it was the scientific study of man’s distribution upon earth. In a new country such as ours, no study could be more important. The geographer is the synthesiser—to modify Wooldridge’s analogy—who tackled the data acquired by the geologist, meteorologist, biologist, etc., and gives a picture of the way in which these data should be combined to produce a prosperous nation. David called it nation-planning, and I know no more honourable term.

Until the creation of the research department at Canberra (which necessarily did not expand geography so obviously as teaching classes) there was not much progress in University status. In 1948 I had been invited to visit Australia by the National University to give lectures at all the Universities, primarily to try to arouse authorities to increase instruction in this field of science. I stoutly maintained that Geography is definitely more closely allied to the sciences than to the humanities, though it has an enviable position as a liaison subject.

Between 1956 and 1958—about thirty years since I left Australia for America—there was a remarkable flowering of the geographical tree. Perhaps my crusade of 1948 was now bearing a crop. In quick succession new chairs of Geography were instituted and filled: Scott at Hobart, Lawton at Adelaide, Greenwood at Brisbane, Andrews at Melbourne, and Butland at Armidale. All but one of these men has a lengthy knowledge of Australian conditions which is greatly to be desired in the establishment of a new department.

How different now is the field from the rather barren expanse I surveyed in 1920! Every University but Perth and C.U.C. [Canberra University College] has an independent department of Geography. C.S.I.R.O. is carrying on detailed work, such as that directed by Dr. Raggatt and Mr. Christian, which was hardly dreamed of forty years ago. As regards status, perhaps best of all is the encouragement given us by the Academy of Science, which is supporting Geography by enabling Australia to join the International Geographical Union.


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