REAL AUSTRALIA

Voice of Real Australia: 'Landcare' on steroids needed for the Australia of the future

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UNWANTED VISITORS: Introduced pests like rabbits have done enormous damage to the Australian landscape since the time of European settlement.

UNWANTED VISITORS: Introduced pests like rabbits have done enormous damage to the Australian landscape since the time of European settlement.

The carpet of mice which has covered wide areas of inland NSW farming districts in recent weeks is a reminder of how quickly pests can get out of control in Australia.

A bumper grain harvest and the end of the drought provided ideal conditions for an explosion in mice numbers.

The mice will vanish and normalcy will return until nature gets out of kilter again and another plague of pests appears on the landscape.

The arrival of Europeans at Sydney Cove in 1788 started the import of exotic animals and plants and unfortunately many of them quickly became invasive pests.

The list of these introduced environmental scourges is long and includes the likes of rabbits, feral pigs, foxes, cats, water buffalo, cane toads, prickly pear, Paterson's curse and dozens more costly weeds.

European settlement also began the unravelling of the way Aborigines had managed the Australian landscape for tens of thousands of years.

The First Fleeters waded ashore and also immediately started chopping down trees and clearing land for crops.

Emancipist settlers (and some runaway convicts) soon arrived on the Hawkesbury river, west of Sydney, but quickly found their crops being ravaged by plagues of caterpillars which suddenly had an enormous new food source.

Many settlers chose to occupy the Hawkesbury's fertile but low-lying areas and soon discovered the climate in eastern Australia is largely controlled by what we now call the El Nino (droughts) and La Nina (heavy rains) cycle.

European farming methods and livestock on a vast and largely fragile landscape, coupled with Australia's "all-or-nothing" climate, have produced a pattern of feasts and famines.

Long periods of "famine" continue to take a toll on the landscape through erosion and the denuding of vegetation while the "feasts" often provide conditions for pests like plague locusts and mice to run rampant.

While it's highly unlikely we can ever prevent mice and grasshopper plagues, we can do much better in coming to grips with the reality of the Australian climate and the survival challenge facing many of our native plants and animals.

For starters, we need to make some real progress in controlling pests like pigs, foxes, cats, camels and donkeys rather than holding more inquiries into their impact or having the people in charge throwing up their hands and declaring nothing much can be done.

Achieving better environmental outcomes during the regular shifts from droughts to floods and back again will require the wide adoption of new ways to protect and repair large parts of our landscape.

Revisiting the way Aborigines managed the land would provide some useful pointers on better meeting this enormous challenge while growing our place as one of the world's best food and fibre producers.

We need "landcare" on steroids.

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