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SA Memory. South Australia past and present, for the future

Water, Land, Sky



South Australia, including islands, covers an area of 983,482 square kilometres with a coastline, including islands, of 5067 kilometres (Geoscience Australia). The diverse landscape, from the cool climate of the south-east and islands off the coast,  to the deserts of the north and west and vast salt lakes north of the Flinders Ranges, has been shaped over hundreds of millions of years both by the forces of nature and, more recently, the impact of humans.

The impact of Aboriginal people on the land was limited by their relatively small numbers and by their attitude to the environment, but they had an impact nonetheless. For example Aboriginal people would regularly start fires to flush out game and to promote regrowth of plants that would, in turn, attract the animals on which they relied for food. This cycle of burning and regrowth  "...changed the appearance of Australia, substantially affected its ecology and further reduced the already dwindling forest cover. Such fires encouraged erosion and reduced the nitrogen content of the soil, aiding the spread of deserts in some areas." (Whitelock, p. 29).

European settlement had a far greater impact on the natural environment of South Australia. Whales and seals were hunted in South Australian waters before and after the establishment of the colony, with a devastating effect on their numbers. Forests were cleared with some, such as Black Forest, remaining in name only. Marginal land was used for farming leading to further degradation. Waterways were controlled. Introduced animals and plants were to have a devastating effect on the land and native species. The aim of the settlers of 1836 and later was to develop a prosperous colony and the environment was to be bent to their will to achieve that aim.

Over the years however the attitude to our natural environment has changed and we now understand the importance of the conservation of flora, fauna, soil, water and air. Sustainability and biodiversity are concepts we now embrace.

Whitelock, Derek. Conquest to conservation : history of human impact on the South Australian environment,Cowandilla, S. Aust. : Wakefield Press, 1985



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