Reconstructing changes in the Great Barrier Reef
Few scientific studies of the Great Barrier Reef cover the period 1860-1960, the one covered in this book. In contrast, qualitative sources can provide information about environmental changes in the Great Barrier Reef for that period; useful sources include both documentary (especially archival) and oral history sources, which have been little used in environmental histories of the Great Barrier Reef. My study used an array of qualitative methods and sources to reconstruct changes in the coral reefs, islands and marine wildlife of the Great Barrier Reef for that period. However, the use of qualitative methods and sources requires a systematic approach, and raises specific methodological and philosophical issues. This chapter provides an outline and explanation of the sources and methods used in my research. Two main types of qualitative source were used – documentary and oral sources – including historical books, maps, photographs, official records and reports of Queensland Government departments, newspapers and oral history interviews. However, among those sources, I emphasise the particular importance of archival and oral history evidence in my research. Some of the limitations of qualitative sources – including their subjectivity, bias and partial coverage – are also considered below, and some responses to those limitations, including cross-referencing and the use of expert, scientific advice, are described. This chapter also contains a discussion of the particular issues associated with using oral histories.