Monday, January 9

Old Land, New Landscapes.

The title of my posting is Chris Williams'book about Australian Farmers,Conservation and the Land care movement in Australia, which are creating a new green wedge of improved bio diversity through private farmland of our immense continent.

Chris is also currently the Bush Protection Director for Trust for Nature in Victoria, an organisation whose objective is to preserve “Nature in Perpetuity” for all future generations. Trust for Nature assists private landholders set up legally binding covenants on private land by setting aside areas to be held in trust for nature. Larger acquisitions of entire properties are similarly covenanted.

His publication is of particular interest, representing the “cutting edge” into the parenial problem of mankind’s uneasy relationship with nature and how we might dream a new sustainable life on a fragile earth. A country boy at heart his infectious enthusiasm has him immersed at the “grass roots” level of research alongside the farmers and communities.

Before commenting more specifically on his findings I thought it would be helpful to provide some brief agricultural aspects about Australia.


Australia is one of the most urbanised countries in the world with dense populations on the eastern seaboard. The country is fragile, dry and one without the rich volcanic soil seen in many other parts of the globe, except for a few isolated pockets. This is the legacy of 4 billion years under the sea which washed out most of the soils nutrients. The aboriginals occupied the land prior to colonisation for 45,000 years but the early settlers shaped the landscape in the shadow of English and British farming practices, with extensive tree felling and overgrazing with sheep and cattle. The combination of tree felling and irrigation raised the water levels causing salination problems in many parts of the countryside.

Australia has not subsidised farming as occurs in Europe and North America, so farmers have become more experimental and adaptive than there counterpart’s overseas. Hence they are considered the most efficient and environmentally conscious in the world to day.

Old Land New Landscapes

Chris Williams introduces us to farming communities linked through a common vision. Their local Land Care groups ensure farms are not only sustainable, but set aside corridors of up to 12% of the land as sanctuaries for nature. Land Care was introduced in 1989 as a government funded imitative which enable groups to receive grants and technical advice to help better maintain the native landscape and set up the vital corridor sanctuaries which interlink the properties within each respective land care group. There are 4,000 community Land Care Groups currently engaged at many different levels.

One of the more exciting projects was the reintroduction of an endangered species, the “Bettong’, into a specifically designated sanctuary on one of the properties where their population quickly increased from 10 to 100. Land Care Groups continue to learn about nature and how to maintain their ecological system within their farm whilst making a farming living. The prospect of serving two masters might seem as if it would be adversarial but the long term benefits point to a much greater overall production if less of the land is used.

Naturally enough there will not always be general agreement between farmers as to the best way to farm alongside nature. There is the large scale technologically based farming that is more reliont on chemicals versus those in favour of a more bio diversified approach that relies more on nature for its sustainability.

The conclusion that Chris Williams reaches is for the communities and Nation to accept there is no common panacea or methodology going foreword. Rather what’s needed is a partnership approach with nature itself. We need to make a covenant with nature, to respect and learn at both the grass roots areas on the farm, in the communities and at the highest levels of society. The old landscapes will never reappear fully, but we can,in our dreaming, create a new landscape, one that will last for ever, but we will need to respect our partner, Mother Nature.

I would like to end on a positive note with the remarks by Jarred Diamond last year when he talked about Australia and what had changed from 40 years ago when he was last here. It was all about the Land, he said, the new spirit within the country that acknowledges it is not here for us to do with it whatever we please.

We have a responsibility to preserve it for ever. He saw grounds for cautious optimism.

I also see the same conclusions in Chris Williams inspiring Book “Old Land, New Landscapes”.

I think Old Land, New Landscapes is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the preservation of our natural environment. I recommend you read the book, which can be purchased on amazon


Sylvana said...

So many people think of nature as something that needs to be owned an conquered, but they don't realize that a beaten nature will most likely die and so will we eventually die along with it. OR nature will rebel, and we will not be able to defend ourselves against her wrath.

madcapmum said...

This is a very timely post for me, and I love that the covenants are made by private individuals rather than by government, which can always be swayed by the highest bidder. (At least, it can in these parts.) Interesting about the effects of no subsidy.

Gary said...

(I posted this in response to your comment at my blog, but thought I'd put it here too - I'm still thinking about this interesting post of yours...)

Lindsay, in case my winter mania gives the wrong impression - this is an incredibly beautiful part of earth and yes, Nelson is a really interesting town, with people from all over the world, a thriving art, drama and music scene and a focus on education. It has over 300 Victorian era historic houses etc. also. I like it!

Come visit - I'd be honoured to show you around...

Rachael Byrnes said...

Great Review! Very well put. I've read this book too it's fantastic! If anyone would like to buy Chris' book it's available on AMAZON here is the link

Silvana, I agree that we shouldn't try to own and conquer nature, but if we care for the survival of the human species or the wellbeing of human and animal species then the ideas in this book offer good pathway forward.

DA said...

Good post o sage one,

In fact I believe it is mother nature that is tolerating human beings until now (Gaia theory). We do not know the earth at all. It's core; plate tectonics, and so on. We haven't got the faintest clue. We just have to make the best of our ignorance in partnership with nature.

As we have agreed earlier; aren't we all part of the same thing?

Granny said...

I like reading about places I'll probably never see. Thanks.

Actually, just de-lurking to say hello.

Lindsay Lobe said...

Thanks for all your comments

Sylvania. Days of conquest are over, the spoils ate that which is unsustainable to wither and as you say.

Madcap. Local Land care Groups (even I industrial estates) are natures friends.)

Gary, Likewise to Melbourne

DA- Yes -Star Dust

Gran you never know

Rach,I expect you enjoyed the book as much as I did.

Wendy A said...

Glad the author sounds optomistic. So many of the views on preservation of enviroments spend countless hours telling us all what we can't do instead of what we can do.

Lindsay Lobe said...

Hi Wendy

Thanks for visting.

I think farming and looking after the environment go hand in hand. Both can co exist as an expression of long term sustainability.

It's often the case Farmers are the ones most interested in preserving their enviromment and to farm in a sustainable way.