Australian Rangeland Society

We draw to end of another year, and I invite us all to pause for a moment and reflect on what we love about the rangelands; the people, communities, landscapes, ecosystems, flora and fauna, industries, and more—and the difference we are all striving to make. The Australian Rangeland Society has a diverse membership, from students to retirees, from academics to practitioners. Our relationship with—and love for—the rangelands is a personal affair and I suspect that it is different for each of us. Some of us will be frustrated and appalled at the seeming fait accompli of Queensland’s Galilee basin coal development, whilst others will welcome the prospect of jobs and development for small communities like Alpha and Jericho. Some of us will have felt immense excitement at the discovery of night parrots in increasing numbers of locations, whilst others may be wondering what all the fuss is about for a bird they have seen in their pastoral or traditional lands since childhood. What binds us together is our desire for the rangelands to continue to hold the same fascination, adventure, excitement, discovery, productivity, diversity and connection with nature for future generations.

We will all have the opportunity to place Australia’s rangelands back on the political agenda at the 2019 conference in Canberra. The ARS Council and the NSW/ACT conference committee wanted to create an opportunity for us to showcase the rangelands to our nation’s policy makers, and to impress on them the importance of improving investment into RD&E, socioeconomic services and development, the environment, agriculture, technology and more. It also seemed timely, given that the ARS was formed at a meeting held in Canberra on 19th January 1975.

There are indicators of a political desire to look towards the rangelands, even if different terms such as ‘The Outback’ or ‘remote Australia’ are being used. Elements of rangeland management and socioeconomic systems are represented within current and emerging policy, such as the Morrison Government’s announcement of a $5 billion drought future fund or the renewed focus on rural and regional development. A strong presence at the Canberra conference will send a clear message that there are many people and organisations that care about the rangelands. A strong scientific program delivered through passionate professional presentations will make it clear that the solutions can come from within the rangelands; that there is good evidence to inform policy and intelligent considered approaches being applied locally. I would especially like to see us clearly articulate the issues and showcase solutions within each of our fields of expertise at the Canberra conference. The issues, industries, land uses, ownership, management, livelihoods, communities and scientific disciplines within our rangelands are incredibly diverse and potentially overwhelming for those who have not engaged with rangelands before. It would be wonderful to leave a lasting impression that we are professionals with clear goals and solutions for an area of Australia that is worthy—and in urgent need of—greater investment.

In 1976, founding President David Wilcox wrote in the first Range Management Newsletter of the ‘need for communication between operators, administrators, researchers and extension workers.’ In the complex globalised world of today, this need is ever stronger. We face a rapidly increasing pace of change through disruptive technologies, socioeconomic systems, changing climates, global migration patterns, urbanisation of Australia’s east coast, declining rangeland populations, arguably widening of the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous services and outcomes and more. Yet there are also many examples of success, such as the emergence of the Outback Alliance to improve connection to country, environmental outcomes, health services, land-based livelihoods, economic development and digital inclusion. We need to keep the conversations going within the ARS, across all of our rangeland networks and establish an on-going and bipartisan dialogue with state and Australian government policy makers so that we are as well informed as possible. From David’s quote, it has largely been the administrators missing from our communication in recent decades.

The Canberra conference will be our opportunity to bring the administrators back into the rangelands conversation. It is our opportunity to showcase our ability to manage the rangelands well, to remind our national policy makers that the rangelands are worth investing in and—perhaps most importantly—that the development and delivery of these polices must include the locals rather than assuming polices that suit urban situations also suit our rangelands. It will be crucial to impress the need for greater funding, support and collaboration across the rangelands.

Let us strive to create on-going communication and dialogue between policy and the ‘science and art of rangeland management’. If we can achieve this, then we will collectively leave the rangelands with a secure future. The key to future success rests with all of us.

Merry Christmas to you all, travel safely on our dusty rangeland roads, and I hope you can spend time with the people and rangelands that matter the most to you.