Eras Journal – Bellanta, M. Abstract

Abstract of Bellanta, M., “Irrigation Millennium: Science, Religion and the New Garden of Eden”

Irrigation has long occupied an important place in dreams of Australian development. It has also frequently been promoted in evangelical terms. Between the 1880s and 1930s, for example, irrigation was pushed with the zeal of a religious crusade, presented as part of a Biblical tradition tracing back to the Garden of Eden. In this paper, I explore this extraordinary rhetoric within the irrigation movement. I argue that the main reason for irrigation’s incendiary appeal was the desire to reconcile two contradictory desires: on the one hand the desire for a ‘God-given’ world of agrarian community, and on the other the desire for a ‘man-made’ industrial society. In attempting to harmonise these divergent desires, the notion of the millennium was highly significant, as it suggested that a wonderful new earth could be created in continuity with the old. Throughout this exploration of irrigation rhetoric, I take issue with Ian Tyrrell’s True Gardens of the Gods(1999). Tyrrell suggests that irrigationists were primarily concerned with a movement to ‘renovate’ the Australian environment, expounding the merits of small-scale agriculture and economic organisation. In so doing, however, he overlooks the role played by dreams of environmental mastery in irrigation promotion. Ultimately, irrigationists were concerned with the creation of a new society based on rationality and science, not on the restoration of an ‘old world’ agrarian environment.