Pastoral land management

Brendan Lay

South Australian milestones in the management and understanding of the State's Arid Lands (the "Outback")

1894 – The State's first Pastoral Act

This early Act established the Pastoral Board, a statutory body charged with Administering the State's Pastoral Leasehold lands. This Board came into existence as a three-member Unit drawn from prominent members of the Public Service. Early in its life it had to deal with the effects of a serious northern drought leading to a Royal Commission in 1902. However its main task was to oversee the establishment and development of pastoral leases throughout the State. At that time the Pastoral lease was the preferred tenure for any lands not deemed suitable for closer settlement and included large tracts of land east of the Coorong and on Eyre peninsula, including some of the offshore islands.

The Pastoral Board continued more-or-less unchanged for about 95 years, with members appointed to it by the relevant Minister, drawn in later years from the ranks of the two Pastoral inspectors in the then Dept of Lands, and/or Public Service administrators.

1925 – The Koonamore Experiment

The birth of rangeland science in South Australia.

The lessees of Koonamore Station in the Northeast of SA agreed in that year to donate a corner of an eaten-out sheep paddock on the station to the Botany Dept of the University of Adelaide. This degraded plot of land, comprising some 1000 acres or 150 ha approx) was fenced against stock and rabbits, and a modest outstation building, "Bindyi cottage" established next to it in the following few years. The University managed what was for its day an ambitious scientific programme of monitoring of the initial recovery processes, using quadrats and photopoints.

These monitoring sites have been more-or-less continuously monitored since then, mainly using the data gathered for undergraduate student field exercises. It is now one of the longest-running scientific experiments in the Arid Lands anywhere in the world.

1936 – A new Pastoral Act

With provision for inspection of leases.

The 1936 Act brought in provisions for inspection of leases to check on overstocking and land degradation. Although Board members had for many years undertaken trips to outback areas, these trips were just goodwill gestures and no serious regulatory role was involved. However once the first dedicated pastoral inspectors were appointed, a programme of systematic lease inspection was begun which has continued to this day. The first inspector who introduced a degree of rigor in these inspections was Cecil Goode, and his early photo collection (PDF 1.5 MB) included photos of land condition annotated with exact descriptions of where they were taken. These photos have been kept in our photo-archives, and the astounding changes in the landscape since then have been recently revealed from re-location of some of these old photo-sites, and a book is in preparation showing the more interesting of the changes shown in these photopairs, some of which show a period exceeding 100 years. Some of these photopairs are included on this site (PDF 5.2 MB).

With this Act there was a subtle change in emphasis from what was purely a regulation of development ethos towards the concept of sustainable use, though these words were not used as such. However the Act still required holders of a pastoral lease to stock the land with a minimum number of sheep or cattle per square mile.

1948 – Broadscale monitoring of arid-land condition

The Jessup bush density survey (part 1) (PDF 3.7 MB), (part 2) (PDF 5.0 MB), and trends revealed by a follow-up survey by Lay in 1970 and Maconochie in 1994.

The first arid-lands scientist appointed by the government was R.W. (Fred) Jessup, who in 1948 joined the Dept of Agriculture to investigate soil and land degradation in the Northwest pastoral district (now called the Kingoonya district). His appointment followed an extensive investigation by a UK based CSIR scientific consultant Francis Ratcliffe, who wrote a popular book about the problems in the inland desert areas, as well as experiences undertaking a study of fruit bats for the Qld govt. This book, entitled "Flying fox and drifting sand" (PDF 767.8 KB) was published in 1938, and vividly portrays the rigors of working in the outback at that time. (see epilogue section of the book reproduced on this site)

Fred Jessup surveyed arid land soils and studied their formation, but is probably best known for his "bush-density survey" which was described in his publication "The Soils, Geology and Vegetation of North Western SA" (part 1) (PDF 3.7 MB), (part 2) (PDF 5.0 MB), published as a monograph in vol 74 (2) of the Transactions of the Royal Society of SA (pp 189–273 plus photos). His survey was repeated by Brendan Lay in 1970–71 using his original log books and comparative results were published in the CSIRO series "Studies of the Australian Arid Zone IV - The Chenopod Shrublands", (1979) (PDF 26.9 KB), In the process Lay established the first permanent sites in a photopoint system which was later to be extended throughout the outback areas as part of the lease assessment programme.

The following papers published in the 1970s included:

Lay, Brendan, 1975, Fire in the Pastoral Country (PDF 2.0 MB), Leaflet No. 4049, Journal of Agriculture, South Australia, Volume 79, No. 1, Autumn 1976, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, South Australia.

French, R.J & Potter, J.S, 1975, Observations on the Re-establishment of Native Shrubs in Northern Marginal Lands of South Australia (PDF 754.6 KB), Agricultural Record, Volume 2, Department of Agriculture, South Australia, Adelaide.

The Pastoral Zone Reprieved? (PDF 1.1 MB) 1976, Leaflet No. 4053, Journal of Agriculture, South Australia, Volume 79, No. 2, Winter 1976, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, South Australia.

A third survey was carried out by John Maconochie and Brendan Lay in 1994–5, and the comparative data from the three surveys has been analysed and presented in a report for the International Wool Secretariat entitled Long-term Management of Chenopod Shrublands: a 46 year perspective (1996) (PDF 26.9 KB). These studies revealed how a significant degradation trend from Jessup's study to that undertaken by Lay in 1970 had been partially reversed in the next 20 year period, as shown on at least 4 large properties by Maconochie in 1994.

1989 – The new Pastoral Land Management and Conservation Act

A long review process, was initiated, principally orchestrated by H.P.C. Trumble of the Department of Agriculture from the late 1970s, and later in the early 1980s by the then Minister for Environment and Conservation Don Hopgood, to address increasingly evident deficiencies of the old Act.

After several failed attempts to get a Bill through parliament, a new Pastoral Act came into force in March 1990. This new Act set up an expanded 6-member Pastoral Board with Landholder and Conservation interests represented.

It also required a scientific assessment process before the term of any pastoral lease could be extended. This process then occupied most of the resources of the new Pastoral or Outback Management Unit set up initially within the Dept of Lands to service the new Board and to implement this new Act.

Lange, Robert, Lay, Brendan & Tynan, Roger, 1994, Evaluation of Extensive Rangelands: Land Condition Index (PDF 656.5 KB), pp 125–130 Royal Society of South Australia, Adelaide.

2000 – Completion of the assessment

Of land condition on every pastoral lease in SA

After 10 years,and the expenditure of more than $6m of public money, all pastoral leases had been scientifically assessed and a monitoring system established. Monitoring was based on the photopoint concept with data on all plant species present being captured on a now-obsolete Access 2 platform (Pastoral Management Information System - PMIS). Jessup's name has been immortalised in this process as the belt transect used is referred to as a "Jessup Transect"

2004 – NRM and The Arid Lands Information System (ALIS)

Data Management via the internet, and recognition of Multiple-use management of the rangelands comes of age.

The final chapter in the current history of arid-lands management is an ambitious project, still in development, to build a data management system which will enable all users of the arid areas to access databases as appropriate, via the internet or via dedicated data-links.

It will have password security and appropriate firewalls to protect the confidentiality of the data shared between the Pastoral Board, regional Natural Resources Management Boards and the on-ground managers of Pastoral Leases, National Parks, and the extensive lands under Aboriginal Freehold tenure. Partners in this project include the SA Arid Lands and Alinytjara Wilurara Natural Resources Management Boards, and government agencies such as Department for Environment and Natural Resources.

Pastoral board now

Pastoral Board website
Rangelands website

Page Last Reviewed: 20 Nov 2017
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