Water And Settler-Colonialism Beyond Methodological Atlanticism

The role of water in ongoing settler-colonialism is re-emerging as a key issue in colonial and settler-colonial theory. In Australia, the renewed focus on water is linked to discussion of water and colonialism in the public debate.

See my recent essay on this topic.

In a recent article in Australian Geographer, I returned to the archive to trace the historic role of rivers and oceans in colonial land theft in Sydney. My archival analysis followed the colonial ships and Aboriginal nawi (bark canoes) to undertake a history from the water. I didn’t fully comprehend just how intricately knitted together the two stories noted above are until I spent a good block of time in the archive.

What I found was a form of thalassic colonisation, whereby territoriality was a defining feature of settler-colonialism in the first decades of the colonial invasion in Sydney, but wherein claiming and controlling vast bodies of water was necessary to that territoriality.

Understanding the centrality of water, much like the centrality of land, is key to understanding settler-colonialism in Australia.

The early New South Wales (i.e., Sydney) colony was a terrain that is perhaps better understood as a watery space with land at the edges, rather than a landed space surrounded by water. It was within the watery terrain of the Pacific Ocean—the watery ontology of the Crown claim of the New South Wales colony—that the maritime men claimed land in the early colony

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