The Oxford Changing World Series

Deserts

Oxford University Press asked me to write this rather adventurous book for senior schools, the idea of the series being to show that geography was more than  merely knowing where places are in a changing world. It was published in 1967. I included a lot of ‘sample studies’ showing how different desert communities coped with perpetual water shortage. There were paragraphs about the problem of salinity in farmland. I included diagrams showing how saline water could be desalinated, but did not know then about methods of reverse osmosis. There were a few sentences about the relationship between climate change and the arid lands. I included a short chapter about mankind setting out to modify the climate, which was a ‘way out’ idea at that time! I did not mention the likelihood that mankind was already affecting the climate unintentionally

A few days after I arrived in Adelaide and had just sat down in my new room in the University, a small dark man came in. He was from the State Department of Education and told me my book on deserts had been formally adopted as a school textbook. I was rather astonished because, as a newly arrived Pom, I had never imagined that school administrators could dictate to teachers which books they were allowed to use. It was an idea I greatly disliked. I did meet some students who had used it in their Year 12 classes.

Despite the enthusiasm of the SA Dept, the book did not sell particularly well and was never reprinted. Perhaps it was too visionary! (There were no ISBN numbers in those days.)

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