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.
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.