Aquariums and Human–Animal Relations at the Great Barrier Reef


  • Ann Elias University of Sydney



The Great Barrier Reef, commercial development, modern tourist advertising images, coloured advertising lithographs, split-level visualisations


In the early twentieth century, great delight in the unique tropical beauty of the Great Barrier Reef, coupled with an opportunistic spirit for commercial development, inspired the commission of eye-catching posters and advertisements by Australian tourist organisations. The aim of this article is to discuss a pictorial device that developed alongside the rise of modern tourist advertising images of Great Barrier Reef – a split-level viewpoint that approximates the effect of looking at the Reef through the glass sides of an aquarium. Building on my earlier research published in 2019 on wildlife photography and the construction of the Great Barrier Reef as a modern visual spectacle, and combining art history with environmental history, this article also turns to coloured advertising lithographs. It argues that split-level visualisations separate human from non-human and elevate the idea of human superiority. With the Great Barrier Reef facing unprecedented ecological pressures, the historical images at the centre of this article are instructive for understanding the deleterious effects of anthropogenic impact, as well as early twentieth-century attitudes towards human–non-human relations.

Author Biography

Ann Elias, University of Sydney

Ann Elias is Professor of Art History and Visual Culture at the University of Sydney. Research interests include camouflage as a military, social and aesthetic phenomenon; flowers and their cultural history; and coral reef imagery of the underwater realm. Books include Camouflage Australia: Art, Nature, Science and War (2011), Useless Beauty: Flowers and Australian Art (2015) and Coral Empire (2019). She is a Research Affiliate with the Sydney Environment Institute. Research in progress asks how the underwater of Sydney Harbour relates to Australian, Pacific and world social histories.


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How to Cite

Elias, A. (2021). Aquariums and Human–Animal Relations at the Great Barrier Reef. Queensland Review, 28(2), 98–113.