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Papers & Presentations

Submission to be tabled at the PGA meeting Halls Creek
Friday 03.11.2000

By Chris Henggeler, “Kachana”

As a result of the ongoing fiasco in relation to the “Ord-Bonaparte Program” I feel it is correct for me to notify members at this meeting of where I stand. Our input to the program can be viewed on our web site.

People may be forgiven for thinking I have a death-wish. Publicly challenging departmental policy is never a good idea. However rather than a death-wish, I am publicly expressing thoughts shared by others in the community. I also have a vested interest which I am not going to hide:

I arrived in this country in 1979 with $150.00 in my pocket and worked on stations in Queensland and the Northern Territory. My learning experience in private enterprise began in 1983 with a loan of 200’000.00 Swiss Francs (Aus $ 97 000.00 at the time).

I arrived in the Kimberley in 1985 and was immediately attracted to what I still believe the Kimberley can offer. However it was obvious to me that something was very wrong with the landscapes themselves. I could not put my finger on it. I spent the first ten years watching and listening. Then I began asking questions and attending various courses and catching up on rangeland theory. All the while I was also getting encouraging results out in the field.

I have invested over seventeen years of my life and over a million dollars studying rangelands in Australia while mostly living outdoors. (My family does not live in a house. We still live in a camp exposed to the elements.) I have done all the walking, riding and driving we all do. Throughout the last ten years I have had several hundred hours in the air to view the country at all altitudes below 4’500 feet weather and day-light permitting.

It is an investment that I am not about to write off simply because some senior department people (now: bureaucrats) did not learn about certain things when they earned their degrees twenty odd years ago (then: scientists), or because these persons may feel threatened by new knowledge coming from the grass roots (or the "lunatic fringe" as some would rather have it).

A lot of the people at this meeting and most pastoralists that I know, have more at stake than I have ...

So while I may be talking "peanuts" for many of you, please bear with me for a while…

Some of the ideas and practices I mention may sound new.

I am not attacking or criticizing industry or current industry practice.

My concern is our regional departments… not what is here, or what industry does.

It is about what is not happening out there in the rangelands due to political science and political correctness.

It is apparent that we have a fundamentally flawed understanding of eco-system processes right across the board. (The courses conducted by RCS made that very obvious.) In plain English: What I am seeing happening out there in real life has little to do with what our proclaimed "rangelands experts" are expounding...

A few examples of what piles up on our desks...

DECEMBER 1997: A flawed report by Water and Rivers Commission…

1999: “MANAGING GRAZING IN NORTHERN AUSTRALIA – A GRAZIERS GUIDE” Produced by Ian Partridge in association with Paul Novelly and a few others.

Misc. publication 58/99: “The land is in your hands”: A Practical Guide for Owners of small Rural Landholdings in WA ISSN 1326 – 4168

CALM recently published a leaflet: WHAT IS HEALTHY COUNTRY? Contact: http://savanna.ntu.edu.au

Correspondence I have had with CSIRO, AGWEST and CALM indicate the same lack of understanding at senior levels..

All of them have two things in common:

I am not criticizing individuals for being wrong or having made mistakes, we are all human… (ABC TV showed floods in Mozambique earlier in the year…. It was our land management while we were “building” Rhodesia that helped trigger off those and future floods. I know those catchment areas well. At the time the usual trophies were being handed out for best practice etc..) (Incidentally AusAID wants to help rebuild Mozambique. [in this case = a band-aid with the use of tax earners’ money])

What I am criticizing is the fact that these highly paid, high profile individuals rather than helping correct mistakes are compounding them by not doing anything to find practical solutions. (The sad thing is that they could be pivotal in initiating the badly needed change that would benefit everybody. It is only their vested interest in the past that appears to blind them to the opportunities/obligations they have. Paradigms and egos.)

Public servants only get into trouble if they make the wrong decisions, so “making no decisions” seems to be the safest path. That is fine, but only when things work out. Not when their management of country can be equated to “gross negligence with regard to managing the resource for future generations”. When we actually go out there and take a closer look, this is currently the case in some of the Ord catchment, in many of our national parks and on other crown land. (I’m not accusing individuals of deliberately causing environmental damage. In fact I know that most land management decisions in a country like ours are backed by good intent.)

This may shock some people, but “no management” (= management without a defined landscape goal) does more damage to country than bad pastoral management. Interestingly enough, the proof that scientists are searching for is out there in the paddock. We have little chance of finding it on a library shelf, in a laboratory or in “consensus” at a committee meeting.

We know these things…. Who is going to perform better out there in the paddock?: The tea-totaling, non-smoking, tree-hugging placid city slicker? The comatose burn patient from the intensive care-ward? Or the ringer who has been picked up in town after a wild rodeo weekend? (I know which are easiest to “control”, but I also know who I’m going to send out there to get the job done…)

The paddock itself is no different and that is what modern scientists by and large seem unable to comprehend.

I am seeing more damage being done out there on country supposedly managed by government bodies, or taken out of production and supposedly supporting “traditional life-styles” than on a few poorly managed pastoral properties (Kachana included). (This is why I am so vocal in advocating biological monitoring.)

Is there something wrong with asking for some accountability from the people who spend our tax money? - I do not think so.

If what I am doing out there with less than 100 head of cattle to over 50 sq km is wrong, why does nobody come out and tell me.

If what I am doing is good for the land, then why can we not have the local scientists have a look at it. We are getting people from overseas and the eastern states coming, but our locals find it more important to spray Round-Up in the Ord catchment and print nonsensical publications than to monitor what is going on in an area where we have been actively building biodiversity for over seven years.

We have political correctness and “school ties” clouding rangeland science. And as a result we have flawed legislation, which is forcing us to divorce “primary production” from “landscape management”. The net out-come seems to be achieving at least three things:

Apart from existing and ongoing flat-earth projects the Ord-Bonaparte Program wishes to spend $ 2’000’000 (rangelands section only) of tax payer earned dollars on what looks like reinventing a wheel known to fall off. I would bet that any land manager in this room could with $500 000 (within the appropriate frame of reference) produce more valuable management information, than an army of scientists rocketing off into cyberspace, trying to create a virtual rangeland (, so they can then dream up more legislation and forms to print).

Ben and John have been doing things with mobs between two and ten thousand head. Nobody from our departments even has a look at what these people are achieving let alone the implications it may have to further our knowledge of animal maintained landscapes. On the contrary: here we are sitting on a continent whose carrying capacity has been shaped (as in “vastly reduced”) by human lit fires and we are spending another three million dollars of taxpayers' money looking at more fire.

(I’m not saying “fire is bad” and I’m not saying “a chainsaw is bad”; just like anything in real life; if you need it, you learn to use it and it is best learned from people with experience in real life situations. Mistakes also enable people to learn, but if that is how you wish to learn, it is more efficient to learn by the mistakes of others (history). If office people wish to learn about fire, let them do so in their own free time and not at the expense of the tax-payer. Even then, I think they will learn more about fire and chainsaws if they watch and question the people using them on a day to day basis, rather than designing their own experiments. The same applies to landscape management: why not look at what effective land managers are doing right and what can be done, rather than waste everybody’s time deliberating over what went wrong. I guess I am saying “let us prioritize”; or as Terry says in the case of the person with cancer who got hit by a truck: “First stop the bleeding, then consider chemo-therapy.”)

In fact at industry levels, fire may become an increasingly important tool in the interim. At the last LCDC meeting at Carlton Hills station, Jeff showed us how with the planned use of fire he was both producing more feed and running more animals. Some locals who knew the area gave first hand accounts of how bare the area used to be. Everybody there was impressed by Jeff’s results in such a short time. (Another aspect to fire was reported in The Bulletin November 99 although Jeff was misquoted in places.)

However I would like to keep the focus on areas that are not contributing to any industry: I’ll bet that if the electorate knew what the hell was going on out there, they would be quite happy to see tax money going towards paying pastoralists to use their cull animals to revitalize degraded country and to make fire breaks.

With her attendance apology for the last meeting of the management group of the Ord- Bonaparte Program, Ruth raised her concerns with regard to the "program".

Hugh is my witness that every one of the concerns Ruth addressed (and a few more such as the isolation of Aboriginal issues) were raised at the original meeting in Kununurra in April when ordinary citizens were first notified about the "program". We are now six months down the track in a “five year program”. Why have these issues not been dealt with effectively?

Irrigation farmers in the valley appear to be content with their deal as they had the political structure already in place to effectively deal with the CSIRO or whoever...

Let us not forget that it is in the rangelands where most of the water drops out of the sky, regardless of whether the country is contributing to any industry or not. Why then has the rangelands sub-program not managed to come up with a single project that is going to provide practical management information? (… some may argue that GIS info could be useful, probably is.... for those who prefer to manage the land from an office…)

In view of the way the rangelands sub-program has been managed to date I would like to express my lack of confidence in the whole "program".

In view of all the dissatisfaction that I have heard expressed from a number of parties at the grass-roots level so far, I suggest the PGA look at pulling out of the "program" until such time as at least four things happen.

  1. That the "program" adopts a format that does not discriminate. (There is no valid reason why Aboriginals should be given paternalistic “sub-species treatment". Certainly in a “rangelands” context this divisiveness is counterproductive. If the "program" were ever to embrace a practical out-come orientated attitude, the same argument would probably apply right across the board. So there is an immediate $2’300’000.00 of taxpayer earnings that could be put to more effective use…)
  2. That "useful practical and user-friendly management information for the hands-on land manager" be one of the defined objectives.
  3. That scientific research be aimed at "animal maintained landscapes" and that land managers drive those projects and get compensated at realistic commercial rates for the time they invest as well as for the costs they incur.
  4. That all decision makers involved in the "program" learn, or at least make the effort to inform themselves about some of the new knowledge we see working out there in the paddock. (Having read a book ten years ago, but not having a handle on what was in it, can hardly be called “up to date on new knowledge”.)

Furthermore, regardless of what the PGA’s future involvement will be in this "program", I propose that:

Chris Henggeler October, 2000 (It is hard not to be cynical at times…)