Picturesque Farming: The Sound of ‘Happy Britannia’ in Colonial Australia

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Peter Denney


This essay examines the way in which the British landscape tradition influenced perceptions of sound, noise and silence in colonial Australia, focusing on representations of rural soundscape in art and literature. It argues that poets and artists attempted to recreate an image of Australia as a new ‘Happy Britannia’, a noisy society engaged in virtuous agricultural labour. But this image was opposed to the prevailing taste for picturesque landscape, which accorded little value to human activity and placed great emphasis on silent, rural scenery. Accordingly, colonial perceptions of soundscape were ambivalent, as human-produced noise was heard as both a sign of the progress of civilisation and an obstacle to the spread of cultural refinement.

Article Details

On Noise (Peer Reviewed)
Author Biography

Peter Denney, Griffith University

Peter Denney is a lecturer in History at Griffith University, Australia. He has published on various aspects of the history and literature of eighteenth-century Britain, focusing on polite attitudes to plebeian culture. He has a particular interest in sensory history, and is currently completing a monograph on landscape and soundscape in British literature and culture. He gained his PhD from the University of York and was formerly Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Sydney.