Category Archives: Australian landscape's 'character'

Broken Hill press – Fowlers Gap community event

See the full Barrier Truth coverage of the July 18 ‘Iconic Landscapes’ community event held at the Fowlers Gap Arid-Zone Research Station. 

Monday, 12 July

PDF version

Monday, 2 August

Pages from JulMon12


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Filed under Australian landscape's 'character', Presentation methods, Rangelands (Fowlers Gap), Relevant articles

Iconic Landscapes and 20 years of desert research exhibitions

Both the ‘Iconic Landscapes’ and ’20 years of desert research’ exhibitions opened last Thursday (12 August) at the University of Sydney’s Scitech library.

See a short walk through both displays below. (A more detailed video of desert exhibition coming soon)

ICONIC LANDSCAPES – exhibition introduction…

In August 2009, a team of Arts and Science scholars from the University of Sydney commenced a year-long study of how scientific researchers can make better connections with the people who live in the environments that the scientists investigate. The project was called ‘Iconic Landscapes’, because of the special regions that were examined: 1) Sydney Harbour, 2) the Simpson Desert in the arid dry-zone and, 3) the rangelands in Western NSW.  The ‘Iconic landscapes’ team examined how fresh knowledge can be made available to the local people and how local knowledge can be accessed while research is under way.   The team started with a hunch that more ‘down-to-earth’ explanations about the objectives of the scientists could be combined with better understanding of the values of the people living in the study regions.  Perhaps this dual approach could produce richer knowledge and experiences for everyone involved?  

The project needed to test this hunch or hypothesis. So the team looked at how scientists were investigating and communicating their knowledge of: 

1) wildfire and predators in the Simpson Desert 

2) engineered habitats for seawalls in North Sydney 

3) the grazing behaviour of sheep and kangaroos in the rangelands.  

Most importantly, the team paid close attention to how and why the community members engaged (or did not engage) with the scientists.The team staged special events in each location, bringing the communities and scientists together to explore not only scientific research but also the emotions and desires of various people involved with the particular regions. These exchanges were important, as they helped scientists reconsider how to make inquiries and deliver results that meet the challenges and the deep feelings that are most important to the communities.Unlike conventional ecological studies, ‘Iconic Landscapes’ sought to combine scientific and cultural observations by supplementing empirical data collection with humanities methods of analysing why people do what they do and how communities form bonds and act together.  Using cross-disciplinary techniques, the study sought a better understanding of the relationship between biological events, ecological and social value and human practices of place-making.  In addition to scientific data-gathering, ‘Iconic Landscapes’ also pursued ‘softer’ or more qualitative investigations involving storytelling, memory-gathering and playful word-associations in response to questions about the emotions attached to particular places. At the end of the project, when we gather up all the different ‘data-sets’ generated by ‘Iconic Landscapes’, we can see a little more clearly how particular communities experience nature, how they perceive their immediate surroundings, and what they want and need from the people who come into their territories.    So, this collection of videos, stories, word-patterns and images gives some fresh and refreshing insights into the scientific and cultural perceptions that tangle together in each of the three landscapes. 

20 YEARS OF DESERT RESEARCH – exhibition introduction…

There’s something about arid Australia that is incredibly magnetic… Once you get red sand under your skin, it pulls you back irresistibly. You don’t have much say about it. 

– Professor Chris Dickman 

20 years ago, Ecology Professor Chris Dickman arrived in the Simpson Desert. He planned to spend five or six years researching the patterns, distributions and abundances of small mammals and reptiles in the area before moving onto another site. After two decades, the University of Sydney’s Desert Ecology Research Group (DERG), of which Dickman is director, shows no sign of slowing down, or moving on. The 2000 kilometre journey north, through NSW and Queensland, is made three to four times a year. Each of these trips involves the participation of professors, students carrying out Honours and PhD projects and volunteers. To date, over 500 volunteers have been out on roughly 150 trips. Many have returned again and again. 

The desert itself is made up of a parallel dune system running southeast to northwest, extended for up to 200kms. While the Simpson Desert is only one part of the continent’s vast arid zone, it covers more than 17 million hectares of central Australia. DERG works mainly within Queensland’s Diamantina Shire channel country area of Bush Heritage Australia’s Ethabuka and Cravens Peak reserves as well as Carlo cattle station and Tobermorey station in the Northern Territory. 

The DERG is driven by a fascination with the richness of animal life, the systems that sustain them and by the imperative to conserve and manage the land. It is among the longest and most comprehensive arid zone research projects in Australia.

While numerous studies have been undertaken in the past, the DERG’s current two Australian Research Council projects are investigating the effects of predators on small mammals and reptiles and a follow up to the broad scale wild fire that went through the desert in 2001 and 2002 looking at the recovery of mammals, reptiles and plants.In this exhibition you will see a snapshot of life, fieldwork and the great diversity of plants and animals in the desert. 

It is hoped the DERG’s research will contribute vital information on how common and threatened species respond to fire, exotic species and grazing in the arid zone. It will also define the resources required for population and community recovery. 

Advances in ecological understanding are crucial for protecting, restoring the arid biome of Australia, which is experiencing pressure from changed land management regimes and uncertainty with respect to climate change in the future. 

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Filed under Arid dry-zone (Simpson Desert), Australian landscape's 'character', Bringing the project to life, People and the environment, Presentation methods, Rangelands (Fowlers Gap), Sydney Harbour (seawalls), Visuals

ABC Radio National’s Big Ideas program: Reith Lecture Series – Scientific Citizens

Part One: Scientific Citizens. In the first of this year’s Reith Lectures, Lord Martin Rees explores the challenges facing science in the 21st century.

We are increasingly turning to government and the media to explain the risks we face. But in the wake of public confusion over issues like climate change, the swine ‘flu vaccine and, more recently, Iceland’s volcanic ash cloud, Martin Rees calls on scientists to come forward and play a greater role in helping us understand the science that affects us all.

…Today, science has transformed our lives. Our horizons have hugely expanded; no new continents remain to be discovered. Our Earth no longer offers an open frontier, but seems constricted and crowded – a ‘pale blue dot’ in the immense cosmos.

My theme in these lectures is that the Royal Society’s old values should endure. Today’s scientists, like their forbears, probe nature and nature’s laws by observation and experiment. But they should also engage broadly with society and with public affairs.

Indeed, their engagement is needed now more than ever. Science isn’t just for scientists. All should have a voice in ensuring that it’s applied optimally – and to the benefit of both the developing and developed world. We must confront widely-held anxieties that genetics, brain science and artificial intelligence may ‘run away’ too fast. As citizens, we all need a feel for how much confidence can be placed in science’s claims. And these are themes I’ll explore in all four lectures.

And, as I’ll discuss, this is a crucial century. The Earth has existed for 45 million centuries. But this is the first when one species, ours, can determine – for good or ill – the future of the entire biosphere…

Full transcript


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Filed under Australian landscape's 'character', Bringing the project to life, Interviews, People and the environment, Putting it in context, Relevant articles

The start of something new…

On Sunday July 19 Adam Munn, a scientist looking at the grazing patterns of different animals in the NSW Rangelands, gave a talk on his findings. It was the first of what is now hoped will be regular annual presentations and or open days, to share important information with the surrounding public and graziers, at Fowlers Gap Research Station.

Menindee Lakes


Rippled river bed, Fowlers Gap Research Station


Water trail




Empty bed




Leaves and sky






Adam presenting his findings




Post talk discussion

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Filed under Australian landscape's 'character', Bringing the project to life, People and the environment, Rangelands (Fowlers Gap), Visuals

Seawalls’ Dr MARK BROWNE on ABC’s Catalyst

On June 24, Dr Mark Browne, ecologist working on the Iconic Landscape’s seawalls case study, was on ABC’s Catalyst.

Man-made sea walls are a familiar, and increasingly essential feature on the urbanised coast, but they come at a cost to marine creatures and intertidal habitats. Surfing scientist Ruben Meerman meets Dr Mark Browne, a scientist who has come up with a simple yet effective solution to the problem.

You can view the piece here.


Ruben Meerman
The picture perfect spot, but building parks and homes right on the water comes at a price, sea walls are necessary to protect our property, but spare a thought for the marine life evicted from their natural homes.

Dr Mark Browne
Places like Australia, Asia, America and Europe, more than 50 per cent of the actual shoreline’s actually been replaced by these artificial sea walls.

Dr Mark Browne has been studying the impact of humans on marine animals and their habitats for the last 10 years.

Dr Mark Browne
Replacing natural shorelines with these artificial sea walls has huge ecological impacts. You’re replacing the natural area which is about 10 to 100 metres long with a sea wall, which is basically vertical. It’s very featureless, and because of its vertical surface, it actually restricts the amount of area that’s available, and critical habitats such as these sort of rock pools here, which have specialist fauna in them, aren’t actually present on the sea walls. Therefore there are huge impacts associated with the seawalls themselves. We’re looking in these types of habitats and were finding important species of snails, anthropods, limpets.

Ruben Meerman
They’re packed, there’s so many little creatures here and is that a starfish?

Dr Mark Browne
It is.

Dr Mark Browne
We want to try and conserve this species and have them living on the sea walls themselves.

Ruben Meerman
These sea walls will always be here and more will be built so how can we make them more marine friendly? The answer is flower pots but not the garden variety these are built to mimic natural rock pools.

Dr Mark Browne
The aim of our project is really to add an important microhabitat that is not normally found on a sea wall, I think we can use flowerpots.

Ruben Meerman
Here they are, and what’s holding them on?

Dr Mark Browne
The flower pots are held onto the wall using a galvanised metal bracket, which is then held on with four bolts

Ruben Meerman
Simple… and they’re two different heights, is there a reason for that?

Dr Mark Browne
They are two different heights so that we can get organisms that normally grow on the bottom of the wall that don’t normally grow on the top of the wall growing there.

Ruben Meerman
Right, so you’re extending the range in a way.

Dr Mark Browne
We are, we’re trying to make these walls more habitable and get more organisms on them. When the tide retreats, water’s left inside the pots that then forms a rock pool, the organisms then like to live in that rock pool and therefore during the emergent time when, when the tide’s out, we have a nice home for the organisms, for plants and animals to live in. In six months they actually improved the levels of biodiversity on the sea walls by up to five times.

Ruben Meerman
And what have we got in here?

Dr Mark Browne
So we’ve got unique species of red, green and brown algae, we’ve got very species of snails, limpets, anthropods, crabs and starfish. These are things that we don’t normally find on sea walls but we’re finding in these pots.

Mark’s happy with the results so far and if you’d like to help out our marine neighbours take on board Mark’s advice…

Dr Mark Browne
There are two approaches to improving biodiversity, one is to, when you’re actually building new sea walls, to have artificial rock pools built in, but if you’ve got existing sea walls, we’re saying to people that you are able to do something practical about biodiversity by just attaching these flowerpots onto existing walls.

Ruben Meerman
It might take a little while for these creatures to adapt to their new penthouse apartments by the sea but it’s home.

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Filed under Australian landscape's 'character', Interviews, People and the environment, Sydney Harbour (seawalls), Visuals

Marnpi the Bronzewing Pigeon

The following expert was taken from a text panel at Broken Hill’s GeoCentre museum. It shares with us the story, as told by an Adnyathanda Elder, of the area’s gold and silver collections.

The Bronzewing Pigeon or Marnpi came from Baratta,

This boy had a net there and he caught the Marnpi and wounded it,

But it got away.

It flew to Waukaringa and then to Teetupia near Yunta.

From there the quartz outcrops all the way to Broken Hill, show the way he flew.

At the Pinnacles the Marnpi sat down three times there.

The three hills or peaks are the neck and head of the Marnpi as he sat down and reseted.

He then flew on and sat down on top of the Broken Hill, there was a big rock there which was the wounded Marnpi, but this has gone now. 

From Broken Hill the Marnpi followed the Barrier Ranges north through Poolamacca, Eurowie, Mt.Browne and Tibooburra and then into Queensland.

The track of the Marnpi is marked by quartz, which was the white leaking from the wounded bird as he flew along.

Hills shaped like the Marnpi mark the places the wounded bird had to stop and rest.

At these places he dropped feathers which formed the gold, silver and shiny rocks (gneisses and schists) and blood rusty-looking rocks like a the Broken Hill (the ore).

This is why the Marnpi’s track is now marked by gold and silver mines. 

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Filed under Australian landscape's 'character', Rangelands (Fowlers Gap)

‘Desert Channels’ book due out in September

A new book on the desert co-edited by Libby Robin, Mandy Martin and Iconic Landscape’s very own Chris Dickman is set for release in September this year.

The book combines visual appreciation of the region with accessible text about its intriguing natural history, its people and their histories and the various ways that people are working to conserve the land, the rivers and the creatures. It is a celebration of what people in the region value about their place, and what visitors might find when they visit.


Mandy Martin artworks


See below for further information about the book and contributors and how to register your interest.

Desert Channels information

You can also visit the website.

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Filed under Arid dry-zone (Simpson Desert), Australian landscape's 'character', People and the environment, Putting it in context