Australia was claimed by England in 1770 with the so-called discovery of the Great Southern Land by Captain James Cook. The land was said to be uninhabited even though fires were recorded as being seen right up the east coast. The environment was being managed by the people who had lived on the land for many thousands of years, and knew how, probably after many mistakes, how to live in this fragile environment.
Australia was set up as a penal colony in 1788, so to begin with only the 1000 people, between 700 and 800 convicts a retired naval officer in command and 160 mariners for defence. Free settlers, a few, began arriving in 1793.
The first land grants were made in New South Wales in1787. The Governor was authorised to make grants only to liberated prisoners and to each unmarried man was not to exceed 30 acres. In 1798 this was extended to free migrants and to marines serving in NSW, the maximum grant was not to exceed 100acres. In many cases these grants were made conditional upon a proportion of the land being cultivated.
In 1834 much of the land in NSW had been surveyed. A rush of people began settling these areas, they were known as squatters. The person I called my father descended from a squatter family. Huge areas of forest and scrub were cleared for pasture and crops along the coast and inland. By 1860, after 70 years, there were 1.2 million acres under crop and 25 million head of livestock.
Clearing along river banks was forbidden but ignored, the same as it is being ignored to-day along the rivers emptying into the Great Barrier Reef. In 1948 because of clearing along river banks and over grazing in the Hunter Valley it was estimated soil loss from erosion was765,000 cubic meters annually.
With the Soldier Settler Farming schemes, because of caveat and lease requirements, in NSW, Queensland and Victoria, hundreds and thousands of hectares of trees were ring-barked and burnt. These areas then lost the bird and wild life. It is estimated that because of the loss of biodiversity 45% of woodland birds were lost.
Bush Heritage Australia says about 90% of native vegetation in the eastern temperate zone has been removed for agriculture, industry, transport and human habitation. About 50% of the rainforest have been cleared. Up to 2001 around 5% of Australia’s higher plants, 7% of reptiles, 9% of birds, 9% of freshwater fish, 16% of amphibians and 23% of Mammals are listed as Extinct, Endangered or Vulnerable.
The Bush written by Don Watson talks about the first settlers in the Gippsland area of Victoria and how the gigantic trees were fallen and burnt. And how after a paper mill came to the area the destruction caused along the creeks and water ways. Goannas, lizards, wombats, koalas, potoroos, pademelons, tiger cats, quolls, platypuses, gliders, ringtails, echidnas, and how many other species vanished with these remnants of the forest.
In the New England area of NSW where I spent the majority of my life on grazing properties [ I am one of the people who has contributed to the destruction of Australia] I remember the stories told of earlier times how in one area 50,000 koalas were taken for their pelts. These were sent, most likely to England, and if anything like, other skins or pelts sent to England, were not cured properly so were destroyed. The property they came from was open country with trees in nice proportion, this was because the koalas ate many of the small germinated trees that grew. What then occurred was all the small trees grew. In the late 70’s early 80’s these and many large trees were removed by two tractors with a chain between them taking all in its path. We discovered that the rain fall amount had diminished on our property and we estimated our totals had moved 10 miles closer to the east.
I remember my early childhood wandering around the property alone, my favourite place along a small creek with lots of tee tree, wattles, gums and some black berries. It was cool along the creek and I was fascinated by the diversity of life, I discovered how tadpoles grew into frogs, how dragon flies could touch the water and then fly off again, how many different spiders there where and could not understand why people were afraid of them. I saw my first snake and ells and didn’t know the difference and was not game to ask in case I was prevented from my wanderings.
A few years ago, I was talking to people who now own the property where I grew up and talked about my early exploits. She asked me what creek it was and when I told her, she said that creek only runs now just after rain.
The property where I spent my adult life was the homestead block of one of the first stations squatted on in the area. There were, on most of the country, very old trees the other trees had all been cut down or rung barked many years before. You could see by the sheering shed, the old blacksmith shop and other buildings, how large the trees must have been, as these were all built out of wooden slabs cut from trees on the property. Not many of the old remaining trees seeded and if they did stock ate them so none grew to maturity.
In the year1980 I took over the day to day running of the property and slowly began planting trees and fencing off any remnant vegetation. But I still sprayed paddocks with round-up, killing all the native vegetation, and planting introduced species, thus destroying diversity of the vegetation. Fertiliser was also applied and I discovered it was being looked up in the soil so the soil remained acidic. I still ran beef cattle, I cried when I sent steers, male cattle, to the abattoirs. It took me awhile to realise I was killing God’s creation and sold all the cattle. I didn’t want to cry again and feel what I was doing. I also grew merino sheep for their wool and because it was desired for the type of wool it was there was no trouble selling cull sheep to re-stockers, this I thought was ok, but every animal that does not die on a farm is sent to an abattoir. Exception horses.
It is 13 years since I sold the property and am just really feeling all the harmful destruction I have caused both to the animals and the land and also myself. Why did it take so long? Why didn’t I see earlier the damage and destruction I was causing? How much am I still suppressing my childhood and not feeling? How much am I still not seeing the other things I have done to harm all of God’s creation? How much am I suppressing what others have done to me?
I would just like to say, in my opinion, the reason we are destroying the world, that God created for us to live in, is greed. We want to eat meat, sea food and dairy products. If we didn’t eat these things think of the amount of land that would be left to the environment, for trees to grow, for wildlife to thrive and multiply, for river and creeks to stop silting up and run clear and fresh, for seas and lakes to be filled with life. We can live very well eating vegan. We would need far less land for agriculture, far less doctors, pills and portions. What about the size of the houses we live in, and what they are made of, how much energy are we using to run them?
We need to sit quietly see what we are doing, what we have done in the past, and see if we want to change anything. If we do wish to change, what is it we want to change, how will we do it, and what do we do instead?
If you would like to read any more about land clearing in Australia here are some links:
The Wildness Society Website
Uni NSW Newsroom Website
Bush Heritage Australia Website