Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Outback Needs More People

The Outback Needs More People

By Patrick O’Leary

Fewer people now live in the outback than before European settlement, so conservation efforts are aiming to attract more people who can actively manage the landscape.

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Australia’s vast outback landscapes have been actively managed since shortly after the first humans crossed into the continent. Our diverse native wildlife and plants evolved over tens of thousands of years in response.

Yet fewer people now manage the outback environment than before Europeans landed, and ecosystems are in decline. To ensure the survival of native plants and animals, we will need more people in the outback.

Early Indigenous Land Management Practices Supported Biodiversity

Crews on the first European ships that sailed around the mainland commonly reported seeing smoke from fires on the Australian continent. Some of these fires would have been the small campfires of Aboriginal people, while others undoubtedly started naturally by lightning. Many, however, were the product of customary burning of the landscape that had been practiced for tens of thousands of years according to traditional Aboriginal law.

Australia’s population size before European colonisation is unknown, but estimates range from 300,000 to one million people, with hundreds of language groups across the continent. Almost all of these groups were in constant motion, travelling over their traditional lands to utilise the natural resources available according to season and traditional law. Despite different languages and territories, fire was the common tool used...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.