History and Development of Australian Agriculture

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Historic and Social Aspects Report

• Agriculture and History
In the past 200 years, European farming practices have caused more deterioration of the environment than the Aboriginal people did in 40 thousand. Aboriginals had a strong spiritual bond with the land and considered themselves as the custodians of the land and that they belonged to it. The Aborigines relied on excellent knowledge of the area, resulting in sustainable management of the land. They ensured there would be resources for future generations and that the environment would not be degraded, with methods such as nomadic behavior. The Aborigines constantly moved from one place to another, never over-exhausting one area for resources and food. They took only what they needed and made sure as little harm was made to the environment; for example young animals were not usually killed and sufficient seeds were left to grow.

Aborigines also had a very deep understanding of season change, which affects all land use activities such as food collection, mobility and ceremonial practices. Aboriginals practiced “fire stick farming”, a technique involving burning off the native flora to promote grasslands. Fire stick farming enabled access for hunting and gathering of food and promoted regeneration of plant life.

Completely opposite of Aboriginal beliefs, the Europeans believed they owned the land and exploited it for personal gain. Nearly all European farming methods were unsustainable. They were used to maximize production, not maximizing sustainability. Australia has been using European farming practices for over 200 years, bringing wealth to the economy, by introducing animals such as cattle, sheep and rabbits - which were completely alien to Australia’s climate and topography. By 1870, “the land and vegetation resource was devastated over a large percentage of the area by the combination of rabbit plagues, high stock numbers, severe economic depression and prolonged drought” (Wickman, see bibliography).

Overgrazing commonly occurred and the land was cleared to make way for agriculture. The removal of deep rooted native trees and grasses destroyed soil structure, leading to other issues like soil erosion and degradation of soil health/fertility. Soil erosion is the removal of soil by wind or water and about 80% of the cultivated land in Queensland is affected by water erosion. Erosion affects crop yields and grazing lands by reducing the ability to store ware and nutrients and by exposing subsoil with poor physical properties. Erosion also results in silting of water catchments, affecting aquatic life. Over fertilization with organic or inorganic fertilizers can lead to soil acidification, due to excess nitrogen in the soil. Soil structure is also degraded through compaction of soil by introduced farm machinery and the hard hooves of cattle and sheep.

Other problems which arise due to unsustainable practices include water logging, increased salinity, declining water quality and loss of biodiversity. European farming practices also promote deforestation, rather than the Aboriginal way of fire stick farming. Rather than burning off small amounts of vegetation at a time, a mass is removed and the area is often used as pasture. The removal of trees without sufficient reforestation results in damage to habitat, biodiversity loss and aridity. Deforested regions often degrade into wasteland. Eutrophication also occurs as a result of agricultural run-off depositing plant nutrients in water catchments. The environment is affected by use of pesticides and herbicides. In modern agriculture, more sustainable practices are used, such as rotating paddocks to allow the soil to recover. This is similar to the Aborigines’ nomadic behavior. In the past, European practices did not take into account the long-term effects on the environment, while Aboriginal practices were sustainable for the future.

• Social Aspects
Most of Australia’s farms - 95% - are...
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