University Of Tasmania
Sublime appearance final draft pre-print.pdf (2.89 MB)

‘A truly sublime appearance’: using GIS to find the traces of pre-colonial landscapes and land use

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-20, 11:09 authored by Imogen WegmanImogen Wegman
When the British landed on the island of Van Diemen’s Land in 1803, they found lands seemingly prepared for them. Abundant open plains drew the newcomers further inland, attracted by the prospects of further pastoral and agricultural success. What they neither understood nor acknowledged was the thousands of years of cultivation prior to their arrival. As the custodians of the island, the Tasmanian Aboriginal people used fire to manage and maintain a landscape that nourished them. This article proposes that analysis of land-use continuities can reveal new understandings of pre-colonial landscapes. This article uses two case studies to demonstrate two complementary approaches for uncovering this story. The first study follows a traditional approach that relies on historic sources such as maps, artwork and journals. The second methodology incorporates modern resources to build a Geographic Information System (GIS) from environmental and historic spatial data. The GIS compensates for an absence of traditional sources, thus enabling researchers to investigate areas of colonial expansion that have previously been undervalued. Using GIS to understand this continuity of land use gives historians another tool for researching landscapes that have been obscured by subsequent occupiers.


Publication title

History Australia








School of Humanities


Taylor & Francis Australasia

Place of publication


Rights statement

Copyright 2020 Australian Historical Association. This article has been accepted for publication in History Australia, published by Taylor & Francis.

Repository Status

  • Open

Socio-economic Objectives

Expanding knowledge in history, heritage and archaeology