A legacy of competing imperatives: environment and development in Australia since 1788

J. M. Powell

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4 Citations (Scopus)


Australia's environments have been dramatically transformed by immigrant communities who were impelled by a simple utilitarian dream and obliged by geographical and historical circumstance to contend with accumulating uncertainties, including those connected with the operation of Nature's own independent dynamic. With the exception of a few critical junctures and significant but highly localized settings which are reasonably well supplied with primary material, the historical records are scarcely satisfactory for fine‐textured reconstructions of changing physical landscapes. There is certainly some potential for very broad ‘indicative’ stocktaking, but unavoidable imprecisions and the irritating problem of discontinuities rule out the most ambitious of International Geosphere‐Biosphere Programme (IGBP) style studies. Therefore a major premise of this discussion is the acceptance that we are obviously better placed to offer a range of underpinning social, political and economic analyses than to launch into the production of confident, large‐scale reconstructions of the past ‘faces’ of Australia. The bulk of this paper explores that proposition and is confined to such analyses. On the other hand, it also suggests that the time is ripe for tailoring novel co‐operative research into landscape change in the ‘European’ era, especially by combining physical and documentary evidence in the investigation of carefully selected sites and situations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-106
Number of pages18
JournalLand Degradation & Development
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jul 1994


  • Australia
  • Bioregionalism
  • Community involvement
  • Development
  • Documentary evidence
  • Environment
  • Human agency
  • Land degradation
  • Landscapes
  • Physical evidence
  • Reconstructions
  • Settlement sequence

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