The Competing Influences of Deluge and Drought in Queensland’s Dry Tropics



During the flooding of Townsville in northern Australia in 2019, around two meters of rain was dumped across the Ross River catchment over fourteen days. The monumental deluge ended a drought and replenished the city’s water supply. Catastrophic flooding, however, caused parts of Townsville to become an urban archipelago and thousands of residents were evacuated from uninhabitable homes by the local government, the defense force, and emergency services. This article explores Townsville’s water history. It argues that human ambivalence to Queensland’s dry tropical environment has compounded the effect of water crises in northern Australia’s largest urban settlement.

Author Biography

Patrick White, James Cook University

Patrick White is a PhD candidate at James Cook University. His research explores the contribution of municipal governments to development in northern Australia. In some respects, the story of development in Australia’s north resembles histories from the north of Canada, Norway, and Sweden, where small populations live among abundant natural resources but challenging environments. Patrick’s research illuminates a northern frontier story from Australia and demonstrates that local initiatives have made a big difference there, despite being overlooked in the nation’s dominant historical narrative. His other research analyses environmental and political themes like flooding, drought, foreign policy, and defense.

Photograph of army trucks clearing flood debris in Townsville, 2019. CC BY 4.0 Patrick White.