The Great South Land wild or plenty?

Terra Australis nondum cognitaTypus Orbis Terrarum’ (Spherical Model of the Earth) of 1564 

[Source: ‘World map showing the Great South Land, or ‘Terra Australis nondum cognita’, from Abraham Ortelius’ ‘Theatrum orbis terrarum’, No 41 Autumn 1988, The La Trobe Journal State Library of Victoria, State Government of Victoria Australia, ^http://www3.slv.vic.gov.au/latrobejournal/issue/latrobe-41/fig-latrobe-41P001a.html]
Click image to enlarge
 

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This is one of the earliest walled atlases of the world by Flemish cartographer and geographer, Abraham Ortelius (b.1527).  Ortelius is generally recognized as the creator of the first modern atlas, here adopting the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum or “Theatre of the World” projected interpretation.  Across the south of the world he extrapolated a then yet to be discovered ‘Terra Australis nondum cognita’ or Great South Land not yet known’.

Once known, it became abbreviated to ‘Terra Australis’ and subsequently named by British explorer Matthew Flinders’ simply as ‘Australia’.  Since then Australians have abbreviated everything possible..

Ortelius is also believed to be the first to imagine that the continents were joined together before drifting to their present positions.  So perhaps Ortelius should be a scholar of Gondwana.

 

Discovery of Van Diemens Land.

The following extracts have been taken from the Introduction in a 1987 book by Ian G. Read entitled, ‘The Bush – a Guide to the Vegetated Landscapes of Australia‘.. Images have been added by our Editor.

<< Australia is a vast land of never-ending horizons, broken back ranges, eerily silent forests and golden, blue shores.  It is also a land of vast suburban sprawls, monotonous cropping country, eroded hillsides and long lanes of traffic leading to the beach.  It is a land that has been populated for millennia and a land that has attracted new populations to its more equable southern and eastern fringes.  It is both an old and a new Australia.

The Great Australia BightPerhaps each Australian would gain from pilgrimage to the infinite horizon of The Great Australian Bight,
to grasp its awe and so with it, their own smallness.
[Ed: Note the curvature of the horizon.   The planet is not as unlimited as many babyboomers imagine.]

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To the European man Australia as firstly a mere conception, a conjecture on the earliest world maps, the Great South Land.  With exploration and discovery the land grew in the minds of explorers, the map makers and the ruling classes of Europe.  To Asian man Australia was a reality, particularly its northern shores which were frequently visited by peoples of the islands to the north.  To the Aborigines Australia was home and has been for at least 40,000 years.

Europeans, being the latest of mankind’s races to make contact with Australia are, due to their history and traditions, the least capable of understanding the land.  Having only settled here for seven or eight generations many European types have yet to establish a connection with the land beyond that of viewing the land as a resource.   The last two hundred (and twenty five) years has seen the land undergo significant changes, the changes of occupation.  No longer is the land in a state of balance but a state of change based on economic development.

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Anchor Tin Mine , Lottah Tasmania (Tasmaniana Library, SLT)Anchor Tin Mine , Lottah Tasmania
(Tasmaniana Library, State Library of Tasmania)

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As this development gained momentum during the twentieth century the new arrivals became less dependent on the land for their existence.  There was a shift of values regarding the land; values which alienated the land further from the occupiers.  European man did not see the land as nurturer but as a resource to be exploited. >>

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AGL Coal Seam Gas Drill Rig Spring Mountain Hunter ValleyCoal Seam Gas Mining in the Hunter Valley north of Sydney, 2012
^http://www.huntervalleyprotectionalliance.com/HVPA_brochure_20120109.html

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<<..The history of European occupation of the lands of Australia is not a good one.  Through fear, ignorance, greed or power much of the land has suffered.  It is thought that the earliest settlers wanted to create landscape similar to where they came from so they imported planst and animals and a way of life in order to tame what they thought was a harsh environment.

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El Questro Station KimberleysEl Questro Station, The Kimberleys
Some things don’t change.  The cattle station was initially established in 1903. 
In 1991, an English aristocrat bought the cattle station and developed into a tourist park, and continues to run 8,000 head of cattle.
[Source: ^http://www.broomeandthekimberley.com.au/gibb-river-road-and-gorges/]

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The discovery of gold brought (considerably) more people who came to exploit the land without returning anything to it; needless to say many remained on the goldfields though most returned to coastal cities or to whence they came.  Then followed a period of pastoral expansion whereby over ten per cent of the land  was cleared of trees and another sixty per cent was grazed, browsed and trampled by sheep and cattle.  Even today vast tracts of country are being cleared of vegetation.

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Queensland Vegetation Management Framework Amendment BillQueensland Premier Campbell Newman’s government this week passed the Vegetation Management Framework Amendment Bill, which effectively removes protection of two million hectares of mature and recovering bushland. 
[Source:  ‘Newman takes axe to Abbott’s Direct Action, and Qld bush’, 20130524, by Giles Parkinson, Australian and New Guinea Fishes Association – QLD Inc. ^http://www.angfaqld.org.au/aqp/blog/2013/05/24/newman-takes-axe-to-abbotts-direct-action-and-qld-bush/]

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Much of the Brigalow country of Queensland is disappearing; plans have been put forward to clear parts of the Western Division of New South Wales for crops while the conservative elements in Western Australia had plans to clear the Yilgarn and Dundas wilderness so that the sons of farmers could work their own properties.  All this was (and is?) to occur in the face of unreliable rainfall, rising salt in the soil (which makes the land useless in less than three generations), and a loss of countless habitats.

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Brigalow Ecological CommunityBrigalow Ecological Community   (Acacia harpophylla)
Listed as Endangered in 2001 due to two centuries of continuing mass deforestation for cropping and pasture.
^http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/sprat/public/publicshowcommunity.pl?id=28&status=Endangered

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Though fear of the land may have been reduced  over the last two hundred (and twenty five) years ignorance, greed or power are still potent masters, and each still operates to alienate the European from his or her new landscapes.

The landscape does not evoke fear or alienation, the mind does.  The landscape can trigger those feelings but it is the perception of that landscape through ignorance or a lack of understanding that induces a negative reaction.

Changing one’s perception requires more than changing one’s mind but it may be that understanding and interpreting what is being seen is all that is required.   Interpretation need not be involved because all it requires is a knowledge of its components.  It’s how these components fit together that is complicated.  To be able to put a name to something greatly assists in interpreting what is being seen while to actually discover that named ‘something’ is an experience in itself.  >>

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~ Extracts from the Introduction, in The Bush – a Guide to the Vegetated Landscapes of Australia, by Ian G. Read, 1987, Reed Books, pp. 9-10.

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Perceived character of natural areas (1978):

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  • Less than 4% see natural areas as bad, ugly, noisy, dirty, repulsive, evil, wasteful, boring, dead, uninviting, dull, useless or depressing
  • Between 4% and 25% see natural areas as bleak, dangerous or fragile
  • Between 25% and 50% see natural areas as happy, friendly, sacred, huge, roadless or pure
  • More than 50% see natural areas as good, remote, alive, exciting, unique, wild, challenging, inspiring, valuable, restful, unspoiled, free, beautiful or natural. >>

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~ Based upon research for a doctoral thesis by Keith McKenry, contained in Mosley, 1978.

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“Too far South for spices and too close to the rim of the earth to be inhabited by anything but freaks and monsters.”

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~ Abel Tasman upon sighting the West Coast of Tasmania in November 1642.

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South West Coastline of TasmaniaPhotograph of Cape Point Raoul, South West Wilderness, Tasmania.
[Source: Jane Stadler, ^http://www.australian-cultural-atlas.info/CAA/listing.php?id=72]

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<< Australia’s most important environmental case, ‘the Franklin Dams Case’, a successful High Court challenge, influenced the outcome of a federal election and resulted in World Heritage nomination for south-west Tasmania in 1982.

Enlarged in 1989 to cover 20 per cent of Tasmania’s land area, the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (1.38 million hectares) failed to protect the tall eucalypt forests excluded by a convoluted eastern boundary. These ancient forests are being progressively decimated by industrial forestry, despite an international outcry. The south-west is recognised as one of the earth’s few remaining extensive temperate wilderness areas, a significant tourist drawcard posing fresh challenges as increasing visitor numbers impact on its outstanding natural values. >>

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[Source:  South West, by Helen Gee, 2006, in Companion to Tasmanian History, Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies, University of Tasmania,^http://www.utas.edu.au/library/companion_to_tasmanian_history/S/South%20west.htm]

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<< Overall, Australia has lost nearly 40% of its forests, but much of the remaining native vegetation is highly fragmented. As European colonists expanded in the late 18th and the early 19th centuries, deforestation occurred mainly on the most fertile soils nearest to the coast.

In the 1950s, south-western Western Australia was largely cleared for wheat production, subsequently leading to its designation as a Global Biodiversity Hotspot given its high number of endemic plant species and rapid clearing rates. Since the 1970s, the greatest rates of forest clearance have been in south-eastern Queensland and northern New South Wales, although Victoria is the most cleared state.

Today, degradation is occurring in the largely forested tropical north due to rapidly expanding invasive weed species and altered fire regimes. Without clear policies to regenerate degraded forests and protect existing tracts at a massive scale, Australia stands to lose a large proportion of its remaining endemic biodiversity. The most important implications of the degree to which Australian forests have disappeared or been degraded are that management must emphasize the maintenance of existing primary forest patches, as well as focus on the regeneration of matrix areas between fragments to increase native habitat area, connectivity and ecosystem functions. >>

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[Source:  ‘Little left to lose: deforestation and forest degradation in Australia since European colonization’, by Corey J. A. Bradshaw, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Adelaide, article in Journal of Plant Ecology,  Vol. 5, Issue 1, pp. 109-120, ^http://jpe.oxfordjournals.org/content/5/1/109.full]

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Further Reading:

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[1]  A Terrible Beauty‘, by Richard Flanagan, , Melbourne, 1985, Greenhouse Publications

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[2]  The South West Book’, by Helen Gee & Janet Fenton,1978, Melbourne, William Collins and the Australian Conservation Foundation

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[3]   ‘Trampled Wilderness’, by R & K Gowlland, Devonport, 1975, C.L. Richmond and Sons Pty Ltd

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[4]    ‘History of West and South-West Tasmania’, by T Jetson & R Ely, Hobart, 1995, Tasmanian Historical Research Association

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[5]    ‘Patriots: Defending Australia’s Natural Heritage‘, by William J. Lines, 2006, University of Queensland Press

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[6]    ‘The Biggest Estate on Earth:  How Aborigines Made Australia‘, by Bill Gammage, 2012, Allen & Unwin

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[7]    ‘Woodland to Weeds – Southern Queensland Brigalow Belt‘, by Nita C. Lester, 2008, 2 ed, Brisbane: Copyright Publishing

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[8]   ‘ The Discovery of Tasmania: Journal Extracts from the Expeditions of Abel Janszoon Tasman and Marc-Joseph Marion Dufresne, 1642 & 1772‘, rare book by Abel Tasman.

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One Response to “The Great South Land wild or plenty?”

  1. Barbara Pelczynska says:

    This is an excellent article. Its message is very alarming as unless we change our colonial tradition of conquest and exploitation of land (1) for economic gain while ignoring its intrinsic value as our nurturer, we will continue on the path to our own destruction (2).

    Personally I do agree with the Aborigines that as we are part of and dependent on the natural environment, caring for “country” is the most important function of our lives (3).

    1. Rose, D. B. 2004 – “Reports from a Wild Country, Ethics for Decolonisation”; UNSW
    2. Catton, W. R. 1982 – “Overshoot, the Ecological Basis of revolutionary Change”; Univ. of Illinois Press
    3. Rose, D. B. 1996 – “Nourishing Terrain, Australian Aboriginal Vies of Landscape and Wilderness”; Australian Heritage Commission, (available on the net).

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