Visions of Southwest Queensland: A study into the human-environment connections in a grazier-centred cultural landscape

Steel, Kathryn L. (2003). Visions of Southwest Queensland: A study into the human-environment connections in a grazier-centred cultural landscape PhD Thesis, School of Natural and Rural Systems Management, The University of Queensland.

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Author Steel, Kathryn L.
Thesis Title Visions of Southwest Queensland: A study into the human-environment connections in a grazier-centred cultural landscape
School, Centre or Institute School of Natural and Rural Systems Management
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2003-07-30
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Bob Beeton
Total pages 217
Language eng
Subjects 160804 Rural Sociology
Formatted abstract This dissertation is an exploratory study into one group's construction of reality of their place in the semi-arid environment of Southwest Queensland. Built on this exploration is a questioning of conceptions of the place of people in the landscape. Through a grounded approach, I build a conceptual theory about contemporary grazier culture in Southwest Queensland. This theory is summarised in the thesis that the grazier culture of Southwest Queensland has developed and changed such that the graziers' expectations of the human place in the land have become significantly naturalised, at least partly indigenised and, overall, that the landscape is accepted as a human landscape where human presence and activity is both 'natural' and 'right'. I extrapolate these findings to implications for and of graziers in wider Australian social representations of rangeland landscapes.

A 'city-bush divide' is widening in Australian society. The land - how we manage it, what we value therein, what we want it to look like - is the entity at the centre of this division. Social conceptions of what is right for the land differ, though the term 'sustainability' is used by many. One proposition of this dissertation is that a 'city-bush divide' is a philosophical division over fundamental beliefs of the place of people in the landscape. More basically, this is a divide over the conception of the ideal human-environment relationship.

This thesis proposes that reconciliation with the land is needed in contemporary Australian society. Many people have not experienced, or come to terms with the reality of people in the landscape, while others have built cultures around making a living from the land. This divergence has resulted in more than an ecological problem, and more than a socioeconomic problem. There is a cultural imbalance in what we expect the land to provide and what is accepted as valid management knowledge. The collective cultural landscape is epitomised by divided landscape ideals.

Pastoral development has been the accepted right land use for the rangelands of Australia since European occupation of the country. The cultural icons associated with pastoralism also defined an image of true Australian identity for about 150 years. But social values have diversified and changed so that there are now visions of the semi-arid landscapes beyond pastoralism. The pastoral cultural landscape of Southwest Queensland provides a case study into the contentions that have developed over the land in Australia.

The landscapes of Southwest Queensland are a physical product of a history of Aboriginal and more recent pastoral land uses. Pastoral land use is a reflection of an entire culture built around manipulating a semi-natural system for productive purposes. People live in this landscape, and graziers in particular claim a history and culture built around life on the land and land use. However, the values represented by this history and the people who still hold them no longer accord with all Australians. Landscape values based on different concepts of wilderness and naturalness are challenging the graziers' place in the landscapes within which they live and work.

Taking a constructivist approach, I explore one group of people who claim an intimate understanding and connection to the land where they live. Using a grounded theory process, I build a conceptual model of what this connection is. I extend the model by proposing a theory of where the grazier landholders' connection fits within contemporary Australian visions of nature and Australian landscapes. The challenges that face both graziers' and those that would contest them are significant. In particular, attention is needed to the way we talk about the land and the meaning behind the language we employ. This is a starting point for developing a shared understanding of what the land means to those who claim to care for it.
Keyword Queensland, Southeastern -- Rural conditions
Queensland, Southeastern -- Social life and customs
Nature -- Effect of human beings on -- Queensland, Southeastern
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