Outback landscapes, also known as the rangelands, or simply remote Australia, cover around 70% of Australia. This includes the savannas of Northern Australia and the semi-arid and arid zones. Recent global analyses show that the Outback is one of the few vast natural landscapes remaining on Earth. For some, the Outback is not seen as a singular whole, as its ecosystems are diverse, ranging from deserts to rainforests. Viewing it as an integrated whole, however, is vital for its future.
Most importantly, the issues facing communities and individual landholders are the same right across remote Australia. There are similar land tenures, resource industries, social issues and environmental threats, in districts as diverse as the Great Western Woodlands near Kalgoorlie, the Gibson Desert, and Cape York Peninsula.
Changed fire regimes and issues of ferals and weeds pose major threats to nature conservation and for the long term viability of enterprises such as pastoralism and tourism. Industrialisation, often for short term projects with fly-in, fly-out work forces, pose some threats to nature in parts of the Outback. From a conservation viewpoint, it is fundamental to maintain and reinstate active land management across Outback landscapes, many of which now have fewer people on them and managing the country, than at any time in the last 50,000 years.
While the threats occur over vast areas there are existing successful programs and approaches for Outback lands which can be improved and expanded to deliver social and economic development while supporting its ecological health. Examples are the highly successful Indigenous land management programs, and the diversification into new enterprises on pastoral leasehold lands that are no longer commercially viable for grazing.
However, isolation from the main populations of Australia means that the issues that remote Australians face in caring for their country are rarely on the minds of the general public or political leaders. If we are to maintain the long term success of such approaches we need a much heartier and longer-term engagement by the Australian public and decision-makers than currently exists.
More than 96% of Australians live outside the Outback and most are largely ignorant of the issues of remote Australia. Simply putting forward solutions to little-known problems of remote Australia will fail to deliver major outcomes. Solutions won’t be supported if the problems of the Outback aren’t understood, and the country valued and loved.
To establish long-term support for improvements and solutions, a better engagement of the Australian public is needed with the heart of our nation, the Outback. There is now a growing alliance of natural resource management, conservation, Indigenous organisations and others to accelerate that journey.
‘The Modern Outback’ is a campaign being run by Pew Charitable Trusts that aims to (re-)engage the Australian public with the ‘Outback’ such that its issues (and their solutions) can be discussed and supported. Pew are incorporating the support of Indigenous owners, natural resource management and conservation agencies, government, media, universities and the general public.
Pew’s ‘Modern Outback’ campaign closely aligns with several CBA’s activities, such as CBA Director Craig Moritz’s research on reptile diversity and evolution in northern Australia on IPA lands, and the CBA co-funded Atlas of Australia Two-way Indigenous Engagement Case Study.
The CBA have also had discussions with Pew’s partnerships manager Patrick O’Leary about providing “good news” case studies for ‘Country Needs People’, their campaign to support land and sea country management by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.