This thesis was a study of extensive commercial beef cattle pastoralism in the Gulf country of Queensland. The work had two main aims. The first was to redress the neglect of studies in Northern Australia, with a sociocultural focus on people involved in an industry which dominates much of the area of three states. The second was to contribute to the anthropological understanding of pastoralism, by broadening the information base on people concerned with cattle production under dryland conditions. While this had comparability with extensive grazing in both North and South America, it also had implications for the study of traditional pastoralism, especially that in regions of marked seasonality.
The thesis was presented in three parts. The first part was essentially theoretical, the second historical, and the third, ethnographic. In Part I, the first chapter examined the broad issues addressed in the study, and developed the theoretical framework. While this fell within the context of cultural ecology, its focus was on the interplay between ecological, ideological, technological and organisational dimensions, the adaptational outcomes of the interaction between human and natural systems, and the consequences these had for the people involved. The framework incorporated some of the precepts of social exchange theory, as an analytic device in examining interactions between people in the small groups resident on the isolated stations. The second chapter was methodological, and presented the adjustment of research principles to the situation encountered in fieldwork with a dispersed population, who shared, in some cases, a common cultural background with the researcher.
Part II took up the question of historical antecedents to the presentday conditions, and examined comparatively the New World development of extensive grazing, particularly the derivation and consequences of Australian practices from the British tradition. This was focused, in Chapter 4, on the Gulf country itself, which traced the way in which the Gulf ecology constrained the form of pastoral adaptation, and the strategies used by pastoralists in developing some of the dominant patterns which characterised present day practices.
Part III was concerned with those currently involved in extensive commercial grazing, and commenced with an examination of the relationship between man, land and cattle in Chapter 5. Herds of 20 000 or more were depastured on stations of 2500 km2 in area, which were the residential base for some ten to fifteen people, during the dry season from april to November. This chapter also served to introduce the people included in various capacities on the stations, whether as owner-operators, usually of smaller properties, or as managers for absentee interests, which characterised much of the commercial relations of seasonally employed stockmen and maintenance workers, and, while developing an appreciation of their work roles, it also considered strategies such as role switching and internal migration which enabled people to remain employed in a region of restricted employment opportunity.
The possibilities of social interaction for the group as a whole were seen to be predicated by the organisation of each station as an independent unit, isolated by physical distance and restricted communication from neighbouring properties. In Chapter 11, the nature of district integration was considered from the point of view of station people, and this incorporated a brief analysis of the two pastoral towns of the Gulf, which, besides being administrative centres of the shires, were also the home of some of the Aboriginal stockmen. Aboriginal affiliation with the area, in addition to having a long standing history, constituted a more permanent attachment to the region than that of many of the highly mobile in-migrants to the district, with the exception of established grazing families.
The final chapter summarised the research findings, and, in comparing these with other studies of both extensive and traditional pastoralism, developed an adaptational model, which incorporated the theoretical constructs developed in the initial chapter.