Only a small number of vast natural landscapes remain on Earth – wild regions where ecological processes function normally and movements of wildlife remain largely unfettered by the fragmentation of habitats. These few places include the Amazon basin, the boreal forests of Canada, tundra of Siberia, the Sahara Desert, and the Australian Outback.
It has become increasingly apparent to modern science what Indigenous people have understood for centuries: that even in these large, natural ecosystems, the fate and condition of nature lies in the hands of the people who live on, know, respect and manage that land.
After five years of peer-reviewed studies about the issues and challenges and opportunities facing the 70% of the Australian continent the outback covers, it’s clear that there is a seemingly counter-intuitive relationship here: not only do people need nature, but nature also needs people.
The outback has been the home of Indigenous Australians for about 50,000 years. Over this period, traditional owners have tended, shaped and nurtured the landscape. Reciprocally, the landscape has helped to forge Indigenous identity and culture.
In Pew Charitable Trust’s latest study – My Country, Our Outback: Voices from the Land on Hope and Change in Australia’s Heartland – 12 personal stories are included to explore that relationship, its modern manifestations, and to recognise that there are new elements in this landscape, and new people and enterprises are now responsible for caring for this magical country.
There are especially mysterious and spectacular places in the outback – Kakadu, Uluru, the Kimberley – icons that draw visitors from the nation and beyond. These are parts of a whole, places embedded within a vast natural landscape and dependent upon the greater area for their ecological health.
Importantly, the outback is now a modern landscape. Many graziers and Indigenous rangers use helicopters to traverse their country. They use laptops and satellites to check for fires and the state of water tanks in distant paddocks. Some outback stations now engage in carbon farming and tourism businesses as well as grazing cattle and sheep.
Today, however, the long-term health of the outback is under threat. Across vast areas, there are fewer land managers now than at any time in the past 50,000 years. This is causing problems – such as the uncontrolled spread of feral animals, noxious weeds and wildfires – that, unless addressed, will result in a continued decline in the health of the heart of Australia.
With little understanding of the potential consequences to nature or future inhabitants, successive generations of settlers introduced a cavalcade of non-Australian plants and animals to the outback. Many of these species, such as foxes and cane toads, have spread across vast areas and taken a substantial toll on native species. That toll will continue to rise unless these feral animals and weeds are controlled, which cannot happen without people.
Image, source and more: https://www.theguardian.com/