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Griffith Taylor, Ernest Andrews et al.: early ideas on the development of the river systems of the Sydney region, eastern Australia, and subsequent ideas on the associated geomorphological problems

David R. Oldroyd
David R. Oldroyd
School of History and Philosophy, The University of New South Wales, Sydney 2052, Australia (e-mail:
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January 01, 2008


Thomas Griffith Taylor was one of Australia's leading geoscientists in the early twentieth century. He also developed ideas on race and environment at Sydney University, supposing that brachycephalic people had greater intellectual capacity than dolichocephalics, so that Chinese settlement in Australia was desirable. In consequence, Taylor's promotion at Sydney University was blocked. He therefore moved to a chair at Chicago, and thence to Toronto. He retired to Sydney in 1951 and in his old age published a classic study of the landforms of the region: Sydneyside Scenery (1958, published by Angus & Robertson, Sydney). This little book, although scientifically somewhat dated even at the time of its publication, summarized Taylor's earlier geomorphological ideas about Sydney and its hinterland. It applied Davisian ideas to the Sydney region, harking back to the work that Taylor and others had done in the early twentieth century. Taylor's ideas about the Sydney region's river patterns are described and their relationship to supposed Earth movements. In particular, Davisian ideas about river capture and antecedent drainage, and the topography of the Blue Mountains, are discussed in relation to the empirical information and theoretical ideas available in the early twentieth century. Taylor's ideas, as described in 1958, seem(ed) plausible, but they were subsequently thrown in doubt or invalidated by consideration of the form of diatremes in the Blue Mountains, by new geological theory, new data about the ages of rocks and minerals and estimates of the timing of Earth movements, closer mapping of structures, etc. The case exemplifies both the explanatory power, and the weaknesses, of Davisian geomorphology. E.C. Andrews preceded Taylor in introducing American geomorphological ideas into Australia and propounded the idea of Late Tertiary–Pleistocene uplift in eastern Australia, which was held responsible for many of the features that Taylor described. Other important contributors were W. G. Woolnough (1876–1958) and T. W. E. David (1858–1934), who taught Woolnough, Andrews and Taylor. A consensual view of the geomorphological and tectonic history of the Sydney region has still not been achieved.

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Geological Society, London, Special Publications

History of Geomorphology and Quaternary Geology

R. H. Grapes
R. H. Grapes
Korea University, South Korea
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D. Oldroyd
D. Oldroyd
The University of New South Wales, Australia
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A. Grigelis
A. Grigelis
Lithuanian Academy of Sciences, Lithuania
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Geological Society of London
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Publication date:
January 01, 2008




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