Monthly Archives: March 2010

A National Parks chat

While in Broken Hill earlier this year, as I passed through to Fowlers Gap another 110 kilometres north on the Silver City Highway, I had a chance to speak with Brett Norman, Senior Ranger for the Far West Region (BN) and Ann Marie Smith (AMS) of the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change.

Rangelands landscape. The road to Rowena Sheep and Cattle Station

This is a snippet from our conversation.

What is the community’s knowledge on what’s happening in the rangelands in relation to National Parks like?

BN: Direct neighbours see what’s happening. It’s the one property removed or further afield that can cause a bit of Chinese whispers. Direct neighbours are aware we’re doing good stuff. There are people away who always blame National Parks.

What about knowledge on scientific research?

Fowlers Gap is the odd one out in the group of 20 properties. They are a research station surrounded by cattle and sheep stations. We’re doing goat research too. You can have the best results in the world saying kangaroos only eat half as much as sheep but if your reports are abstracted with scientific stuff then no ones going to read it.

It’s good that Fowler’s also runs stock because you need an ability to talk over the fence to the neighbours. This way, Fowlers Gap can provide information that’s useful to adjoining neighbours. They are on the same level. It’s harder for National Parks. They say we’re so different.

Do you note any tension in the local area around land use issues?

We don’t have the big tensions they have in far western QLD in relation to land clearing because the country is generally clear anyway. There’s a classic confrontation between environment and caring for farming. But in the arid zones large tracks of land are generally clear anyway.

The big thing out here is kangaroos. Studies are important and useful. If you ask landowners what their major issue with government or scientists is, it’s controlling kangaroo numbers.

So scientific research is relevant to land holders… Where is it falling short?

 We tend to do research on our patch and it all tends to be the fury animals or some bizarre plant and at the end of the day there’s no connection made between that and agriculture. It’s making those connections that’s important. Whether it’s something showing that the rats they catch in the Simpson Desert play a part in the seeding of a particular grass a landowner can see value in or something like that…

There is a perception that to call a town meeting and say ‘let’s talk about national parks’ you’re setting yourself up on a target to be everyone’s problem. Everyone will have his or her issues. We are reluctance to put ourselves too much out there. I guess it’s working away at getting information across.

If you can get people in and have a chat about stuff, that’s good. It’s always best over a cup on tea, the newspaper and biscuits.

Once you get into a formal setting of making a meeting you leave yourself wide open.

AMS: I think attitudes are changing towards National Parks and scientific research. As the older graziers are moving and passing their properties on, the newer generation are open to new ideas and what national parks is all about. I know when I joined Parks a long time ago; Sturt national park was brand new. Every cocky and creation wanted our guts for garters. They were not interested in anything we were trying to do. According to them we just pinched all their grazing land. But now attitudes are changing and people are more open minded about what’s actually taking place and happening. As Brett said, if it’s a formal chat you get shot down in flames but if its an informal chat people are happy to talk about all manner of stuff.

Also there’s a lot of this country that’s been in drought for over ten years. People are just so focused on surviving. They want to get rid of any kangaroos, any competition. They’re interested in making what little money they can out of what sheep and cattle they have left. It’s really quite depressing for a lot of them. They’re not interested in research. It’s way down the list.

Broken Hill community engagement with ‘the land’?

BN: I think Broken Hill’s big enough to have a fair percentage of town who are town people and don’t have much of an idea about landscape.

AMS: There’s a fair amount of observation. People like to go to National Parks. I’m just wondering if there is a city country separation.

Even though it’s a mining town the grazing community is very strong. There are a lot of people ho have a wife, son that the land can’t support so they come to town to work. 

Certainly, that’s what’s changed in the last 10 to 20 years. Mining is more transient. 20 years ago there were 6,000 people working at the mine. That was a huge percentage. The landowners and connection with the bush is stronger now.

What do you love about this area?

BN: I certainly like the open spaces. My wife works for school of the air. I probably get more information across about National Parks at her functions with landowners and parents with kids at school of the air. I’ve been here for five years and I still like it a lot. I don’t have to go very far and I’m out of town. You get the remoteness and the outback and the big skies and you’re not far away from family.

AMS: You only have to step out the door to get a dose of red dirt.

See this, this is my jar of red dirt from Tibooburra. When I can’t get home that’s my jar of red dirt from Tibooburra.  This is different red dirt. This is grainier where as the dirt you get here is dusty silt. This is proper good sand. Very nice. You just wet it and it smells like the bush.

The red earth and the smells you get when it rains. The smells of gidgee everywhere… It’s just the smell of the country and its all fresh and it sparkles.

It’s a rare occurrence. Whenever it does rain I let my kids outside to run around in it. It doesn’t happen all that often. It’s important to run around in the mud. You get a feel for the different sort of textures when it’s wet. It’s the wide-open spaces, it’s the big skies, it’s the stars in the night. It’s just the bush. It’s a good spot.

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Filed under Interviews, People and the environment, Rangelands (Fowlers Gap)

Bedourie voices

 

  

Road to Bedourie from Windorah

 

2010 marks the 20 year anniversary of the University of Sydney’s Desert Ecology Research group’s first visit to the Simpson Desert. On every trip, Bedourie, the administrative centre of the Diamantina Shire in far Western Queensland, acts as the ‘gateway’ to and from the red dunes, big blue skies and research sites. 

When the locals see the University Hiluxes roll into Bedourie at least three times a year they know the ‘rat catchers’ are back. But when it comes to what the students, volunteers and professors (who pass through town with binoculars around their shoulders and swags piled on the roof racks) actually do out there, most locals are not entirely sure.

This July, the Desert Ecology Research Group, in conjunction with Iconic Landscapes, will be holding a community consultation evening in Bedourie with the intention to shed

Digging out the Hilux at the top of a dune

 

 some light on what the ‘rat catchers’ occupy themselves with for all those weeks spent on the other side of the dunes! It will be a chance for the scientists, locals and Bush Heritage representatives to bridge communication gaps create a dialogue around existing issues.  

When I was in Bedourie last December I had the opportunity to speak to some great local characters and this is brief snippet of what Gary, a carpenter had to say…

Are Bedourie locals interested in what’s happening in the desert, research wise?

We’re always curious when we first go out there to find out what they’re looking at and what they’re doing but after five minutes of talking to each of them it gets a bit much.

They [the researchers] traipse around the desert looking at animals. I can understand making reserves that these animals can all survive in but to stand there and watch them is beyond me.

Everybody’s been out there studying all those things for a long time. There must have been 1000s of people going through there. Surely they can work out what’s going on by now.

Bedourie town centre

 

 The thing I like most about being here [in Bedourie] is the people. It’s about community. It’s not about what’s running around on the ground. It’s a whole different way of life. You know everybody and everybody knows you. When people wave from their cars you know who they are.

Do you recognise a conflict of interests between graziers and organisations like Bush Heritage who have two properties in the area?

Most of the graziers these days are very concerned about their cattle numbers. They are very aware of the treatment to their land. You can’t overgraze or do all that sort of stuff. Here we’re a drought prone area and we rely on good land to survive. They’re very conscious of the amount of animals they’ve got on their land. They want to conserve the land without destroying it. They know what you can and can’t do.

You have to remember that without cattle, we wouldn’t have a town.

There would be no reason for us to be here without cattle. We’ve only got about 12 properties but if you talk about the people that ar

Gary (in the dark blue t-shirt in the middle) at the Simpson Desert Oasis pub

 

e connected to those properties… Properties need to roads, graders to maintain them, council, store to buy supplies and builders – like me. Without the industry, none of these services would be required.

Without grazing we’ve got nothing. What else are we going to do? We can’t manufacture. All we can do is graze. What are we going to do, make the whole lot National Park and all become rangers?!

A Desert Ecology Research Group volunteer at work in the desert

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Who cares about the environment in 2009?

The Department  of Environment, Climate Change and Water’s Who Cares about the Environment? 2009 report was released late last month.

For those who aren’t familiar, Who Cares about the Environment is a social research series that has been conducted every three years since 1994 to measure environmental knowledge, views, attitudes and behaviour of people in NSW. 

Yesterday, I attended a presentation of the results and there were some interesting new developments in comparison to the 2006 report.

Some of the ‘headlines’ were:

  • The environment remains in the top five issues for NSW Government attention, both now and in the future.

 

Environment is a key priority*

 

  • 78% of people said they were concerned to some extent about environmental problems, a decline from 87% in 2006.
  • In 2009, for the first time, initiatives related to energy and greenhouse were the most often mentioned environmental initiatives for the NSW Government to be undertaking (14%).
  • More people were optimistic about changes in the environment over the past three years.
  • Over three-quarters believed climate change is happening (78%) and almost as many (69%) believed the NSW Government should take urgent action on this issue. 
  • Many people frequently take action that benefits the environment. 64% said they do at least five out of 10 environmental behaviours in the survey, but this is less than the 71% in 2006.

 

Everyday environmental behaviours in the past 12 months*

 

In relation to the Iconic Landscapes study, there is interesting data surrounding the three ‘segments’ of people; committeds (committed to, aware of and active in combatting environmental issues), privates (aware of environmental issues but only active in a personal sphere) and reluctants (those not convinced the environment is in trouble who may take action for other reasons).

Segments and environmental concern*

 

Those who were reluctant were most likely to feel criticized and ostracized for their lifestyle. Interestingly, this what graziers, or people who draw on the land to make a living, might relate to. While, on a personal level, I don’t think anyone should be made to feel this way (given that they are providing the rest of the country, and those living in towns and cities, with much needed resources), it’s interesting to see that this does happen.

But it is an ironic situation. Those in rural communities, while actually (as shown by the survey) highly active in environmentally friendly behaviours, put it down to being ‘good citizens’ rather than ‘environmental’. 

In terms of the reliability of sources, and the weight of scientific research, there is good news. The survey found that:

  • Environmental and conservation groups, scientists and schools were regarded as reliable by more than 80% (although all at lower levels than in 2003)

The survey also found that the reasons people adopt environmentally friendly behaviour varies depending on the activity. Cost factors were the most common driver for reducing energy consumption, reducing fuel use, reducing the amount of food the household throws out and buying fewer unneeded items. 

Other common reasons were:

  • Environmental awareness/knowledge (for avoiding products with excess packaging)
  • Upbringing/habit (re-using something)
  • Education through media/advertisements (choosing environmentally friendly household products)
  • It’s good for the garden (composting/worm farming)
  • Concern about dam level/drought/water shortage (reducing water consumption)

Lastly, why are people concerned?

People are concerned about environmental problems*

 

*All graphs are taken from the Who Cares about the Environment 2009 report.

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Filed under Putting it in context, Relevant articles

Agricultural research – the growth of industry ‘knowledge sharing’

A recent article in The Land underlines the growing importance of private consultants and farmer groups in positions abandoned by the traditional extension or ‘educative’ roles of government agriculture departments. These groups are now taking on the responsibility of communicating important scientific based information to farmers. 

Chairman of the Birchip Cropping Group (BCG) in northern Victoria, Ian McClelland, says, “the benefits are the researchers get recognition and feedback on the key issues, the consultants have a laboratory in the field, industry sees their products being demonstrated and farmers get interaction between these people.”

Click here to read the March 18 article.

This issue also flashes back to a conversation I had with Nicole Payne, Assistant Director and North West Manager of NSW’s Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water’s Kangaroo Management Program. 

You have found the communication of scientific knowledge to be lacking. Why is this so?

Scientists are very good at going along to conferences and workshops frequented by the scientific community. They all talk together and all understand each other and that’s very nice but those are not he people making policy decisions with respect to natural resource management and they’re also not the people who own and run the properties and who need to better manage those properties, whether it’s cropping, livestock production or natural resource management. So there’s this big yawning gap about what the scientists know, and talk to each other about, and what filters down to the level of the people who are making on ground decisions and actually getting things done that effect environmental management. 

I think part of the reason for that has been the way funding arrangements are made. It forces scientists to publish in peer reviewed scientific journals which is not accessible to managers and people who really need to know what has been discovered.

So we’re missing an ‘information bridge’?

Yes, I think the government has also made a mistake from moving away from extension services in Departments like the Department of Agriculture and even our own because extension people bridged the gap a bit. They had sufficient scientific knowledge to understand the journals and track down research that was being done and then to translate it into something that could be usable for workshops where the more progressive and innovative landholders can come along and learn about what’s happening in the research world and how that might be applicable on their own farms. For many years now the government has moved away from those services because they’re very expensive. They used to be on a user pay basis, which makes them less accessible. Extension staffs are expensive to run.

They’re kind of like schoolteachers. Go out to help verbalise. The only ones that still remain are district agronomers. That may be because the intensive cropping industry is such high value. I don’t know who funds those positions anymore. The point of them was to let people on the ground know what research had found and how that might be applied in their own circumstances. 15 years ago I worked for the Department of Agriculture and there were livestock officers and they did some group work at workshops but once upon a time they literally went out to individual land holders properties to talk to them about the production systems they were employing and how the research might help them get better value of produce a better product. All of that’s gone now. The staff don’t have the resources to visit individual landholders. The best that is still achieved, where it’s still achieved at all, is group workshops. 

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Filed under Arid dry-zone (Simpson Desert), Interviews, People and the environment, Rangelands (Fowlers Gap), Relevant articles

Western Queensland flood footage… and the predicted onset of a ‘boom’ in the desert

Ecologists Adam Kerezsy and Max Tischler survey Bush Heritage’s Cravens Peak and Ethabuka properties, both inundated by the recent floods, from the air.

They envisage the Simpson Desert ‘becoming a land of plenty’.

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Filed under Arid dry-zone (Simpson Desert), Putting it in context, Visuals

Kangaroos on the fly

 

Rowena gate

 

The following footage was taken from the dashboard and out the window as I drove through Rowena Station, a sheep and cattle property off the Silver City Highway in the Northern NSW rangelands. 

I was on my way to visit Matt and Sara Jackson.

Matt and Sara Jackson outside at Rowena Station

 

They moved into the station after they were married in 2000. Matt is a local, having grown up on the next property and Sara is originally from Adelaide. 

Their two young boys, Archie and Sam are home schooled through the School of the Air in Broken Hill. They were having a great time demonstrating their honed motor biking skills.

On top of the very warm welcome I received, we talked about…

rain…

Usually it’s not too bad but the last 10 years have been really bad. It’s the same all over the country. 

Rowena's windmill

 

grazing…

We try not to overstock the place. That grey bush, it’s woody weed, not much eats that unless it’s really dry, they’ll have a nibble. We try to maintain the green because that’s what gets you through the hard times.

When it buggers off they’ll go to the salt bush and start eating it as their sole diet. That’s what gets them through. If you flog it right from the start then you can’t keep them on as long in a dry time. It’s a bit of a balance.

Rowena sheep

 

KANGAROOS…

As soon as there’s one thunder storm all the roos and neighbours, even ours, they all go to that paddock. It would be nothing to have 2000 roos just in one spot. The grass just doesn’t get a chance to grow. It will stay at ground level. They’ll just mow it down… leave it like a carpet. It tries to grow but the roos just sit on it and flog it. It never grows so it doesn’t set seed properly so they are a threat.

You’ll never get rid of the bloody roos, unless there’s a massive ice age that freezes them all.

A harsh landscape

 

and the general attitudes to these bouncers…

Don’t get me wrong – all the station people love to see the odd kangaroo around… just not at uncontrollable levels. We get plagues every now and then. If we get a good season now we’ll have a plague again. They’ll just go berserk. Because it’s been dry for so long, numbers have died down a bit. But there are still plenty of kangaroos around.

They still issue plenty of tags for professionals to go and hunt them for meat. They give you a quota. On that same token, you’ll never get rid of them because it’s so regulated. The National Parks knows how many are shot. The only way they don’t actually know how many are shot is when a grazier goes and gets the shoot and let lie. That’s when you’ve got thousands of roos. You might have been the only place to get storms on your property and all the roos coming from everywhere to your place. They’ll go and get the let lie tags and they’re allowed to go and shoot as many roos as tags are given but it’s not actually regulated to the point where you’ve got to tell the parks whether you’ve lost all those tags, shot a heap or shot more than tags were given.

People aren’t going to get tags to shoot 100 roos. It’s only when there’s high levels that they say they have to do something about it and get out there a shoot a few. 

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Filed under Interviews, People and the environment, Rangelands (Fowlers Gap), Visuals

“Our Land” by Gerald P. Blore

This poem, by Gerald P. Blore, highlights the strong agricultural connection to the land. He talks about the characters, community and environment that make the Corner Country of NSW home and his feelings about National Parks. It was published in Christine Adams’ book, Way Out West.

A snippet: 

“And now, up there, in our home town, if you should venture in, and expect to meet your old mates, with a hand-shake and a grin.

Instead of sunburnt bushmen, all talking around the bars, there’s Park Rangers driving everywhere, with badges on their cars.”

I’d been away down south for years, and I could hardly wait, to get back to my homeland; in the corner of the state.

I’d hear many stories; it was hard to understand, National Parks had moved in, and now owned all the land.

I just sat thinking of that land, with its cattle and its sheep, and while I sat there thinking, I must have gone to sleep.

With the thoughts that I was thinking, I must have had a dream, because I saw Jack Maynard, with his wagon and his team.

I saw Mrs. Bonnett as Milparinka, then somewhere up the track, I met Mad Ross with his old blue dog, and his swag upon his back.

Then I was at Waratta, and of course I was a kid, with brothers, sister, Mum and Dad, and all the things we did.

I went to get the milking cows, I could clearly hear the bell, when I met Edgar Jackson, who came up from Sandy Well.

And then I met Claude Kidman, as I rode down Mokley Creek; with a mob of fats from Nary; he’d been on the road a week.

I sat astride mu horse awhile, and watched them slowly pass; broad hipped beauties, quietly feeding, on knee-high Mitchell Grass.

It was somewhere near to Stubberfields, that I met Schneider Brown. He was mustering the station sheep, to shear at Olive Downs.

Five thousand ewes with lambs at foot, they had a drover’s spread, and were heading for the station yards, down at the shearing shed.

They were fully woolled and healthy; the grass was green and tall. There were lots of chaps with Schnider, whose names I can’t recall.

And then I met Bill Robinson; he was making his way down, with tons of wool he’d picked up, as he came past Olive Downs.

Then I was back at Mt. Wood, T’was a fascinating thing. My old mates were there to greet me, with shearing in full swing.

I met Lol Spinks with a mob of sheep, down near the Gidgee Gate. Jack Angell was the teamster; Roy Toohey was his mate.

Colin Caldwell was there with us; I could see him plain and clear. Paddy Winkles was the cow-boy; Berney Crouch was over-seer.

Jack Dorwood was the manager; he was held in high regards. And Mrs Dorwood spoke to me, as I walked down to the yard.

As we rode from Two Mile, there was dust-clouds up the road. T’was George Betts for a load of wool, we gave him a hand to load.

When we were in the drifting yards, neighbours came from all around, Vic Nicholls from Pindera; Walt Cope from Clifton Downs.

There was Peter from Connulpie. I know him by his foot; Jim O’Conner from Narriearra, out on the Twelve Mile Creek.

I walked along the shearing board; there were many men about the shed, I picked out Percy Smith and Tiger Harris and Percey’s brother, Ted. 

Then I walked along some more, and had another look. I recognised Tom Gaiter, Con Forster and Jack Cook.

Then that night in the station hut, as we sat playing cards, the long day’s work had ended, and the sheep were in the yards.

I listened for a moment, and could Clearly hear the bleat; there was a night horse in the stable; there were horse bulls in the creek.

Then I was at Whittabrinnah; that was the family home. I helped Spence Amos build it; I handled every stone.

I saw my mother in the kitchen; everything there seemed so real, as we all sat around the table, to enjoy our evening meal.

I was there in Tobooburra; all seemed so bright and gay, for folks had come from miles around; it was Country Women’s Day.

I saw Archie Thompson and Neil Wheeler, and Grant Caldwell too I think; as they walked towards Bert Davies, no doubt to have a drink.

Barney Tucker and Dick Barlow, said ‘Good Day’ and then walked on, as I stood talking to Jim Huxley, and my brother, John.

Harry Blore and Teddy Kuerschner, sat on the hotel seat, I saw Herb Davies and my father, as they walked along the street.

Mrs Wheeler and Mrs Nicholls, with Mrs. Newland neat and small, spoke to me and then walked on, to the Country Women’s Hall.

There was many an old-timer there; they came from near and far; Walter Kennewell from Waka; Alf Redpath and Jack Carr.

The town was full of bushmen; I mention but a few; there were fencers and tank-sinkers, and drovers passing through. 

I’m not sure just where I was, when someone really spoke. My dream came to a sudden end. It was then that I awoke.

I made a trip back back to my home. The tales I heard were true. The National Parks own all the land. There’s none left for me or you.

They’ve pulled down all the station huts. There’s no sheep around to bleat. There’s no horse in the stable. There’s no horse bells down the creek.

There’s no cattle on the run today; no sheep or lambing ewes. The saltbush and Mitchell Grass, is left for kangaroos.

There’s no one works the run today; there’s not one station-hand. The National Parks have made it, an empty, silent land.

And now, up there, in our home town, if you should venture in, and expect to meet your old mates, with a hand-shake and a grin.

Instead of sunburnt bushmen, all talking around the bars, there’s Park Rangers driving everywhere, with badges on their cars.

They’ve got badges on their shirtsleeves, and badges on their hats. They tell us with authority, that you can’t do this or that.

It’s pretty tough when they tell us Blokes, who were brought up on this Land, that they now own the country, and that they are in command.

My thoughts then turned to our home Run, and the life that we all made. The trees that my family planted, are now someone else’s shade.

That land had been in our name, for sixty years or so. My wish was to be buried there, when my time came to go.

My grave will not be there now; I’ve been told and understand, National Parks now own it; I’m not wanted in that land.

The folks I mentioned in my dream, I’m sad to say are gone. I fancy it’s a blessing, that they have all passed on.

If they came back, they’d do stone mad. They would never understand, how the National Parks acquired it all; Our dear beloved land.

Note (by Christine Adams):

Graziers’ attitude towards National parks softened in latter years. Gerald Blore developed a congenial relationship with National Park management and rangers; he appreciated their effort to retain the history of the Corner Country.

Ken Thompson appointed National Parks the custodian of his entire Mt Stuart collection, thus displaying his confidence in the Service. 

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Filed under Australian landscape's 'character', People and the environment, Rangelands (Fowlers Gap)