This research investigates contemporary human/environment interactions in the context of a changing rural system, for the purpose of environmental management. Evidence is presented that ordinary residents have significant place-based connections to the physical landscape in the study area, and these connections are underpinned by a number of concepts - naturalness, ruralness, aesthetic, function and environmentalism. There are important differences in the way that ordinary residents and environmental managers construe these concepts, and two entirely different landscape-related construct systems are apparent.
The research was carried out in the northern hinterland areas of the Sunshine Coast, in South East Queensland, Australia. Historically, such hinterland areas in Australia have been rural, with primary production based economies. During the last decade, many rural hinterland areas have
been experiencing rapid population growth and land development, resulting in an influx of new and different values and land uses. The study area therefore provides an opportunity to examine human/environment interactions in a changing rural system.
Grounded Theory Methodology guides the research process. This is a 'theory building' methodology favouring an exploratory approach, and here has resulted in two stages of research. The first stage describes the connections to landscapes held by residents in the study area, and the concept of place provides a conceptual framework for the investigation. Standardised qualitative interviews, a modified cognitive mapping technique and a participatory photography exercise were developed to gather rich qualitative data from 40 residents. The emergent place significance takes the form of physical significance as setting, resource, and
sentiment; and social significance in self & family, people & community, and history & culture. A review examines the substantial literature on the human/place relationship and with the place significance described in the data, provides a valid foundation on which to base and inform the second stage of research.
Using Kelly's Personal Construct Theory as a theoretical framework, the objective of the second stage was to investigate how residents and environmental managers construe landscapes in the study area. A photo grid survey method was developed using photos from the participatory photography data as landscape elements, and constructs derived from landscape descriptors in the interview data.
The photographic landscape elements were rated by 120 residents and 40 environmental managers in terms of the constructs natural environment; typically Australian;
has economic value; needs vegetation cover; scenic and beautiful; rural landscape; good for your health; useful and productive unspoiled; well looked after; lush and fertile; good for the environment; exotic vegetation; provides habitat for wildlife; left to nature; relaxing and peaceful; weedy and messy; untouched wilderness; native vegetation and bushland. Multivariate data analysis techniques were used to reveal the correlation structure in the data.
The analyses show two very different networks of meaning held by residents and managers towards landscapes in the study area. The two landscape-related construct systems are modelled in terms of the main relationships and associations in the data. Residents construe a three way association between aesthetic, function and ruralness, and hold separately an association of natural/environmental constructs. Managers construe aesthetic and function in association with
natural/environmental constructs; ruralness is seen as a detractor from this. Managers also distinguish between ecological and agricultural function, and tend to exclude human purpose and presence from their appreciation of landscape.
This research is relevant in the current environmental management climate where community and public involvement in land management programs is emphasised. It addresses the need to better understand contemporary relationships held by Australians with land and environment. The findings are important in the extension of environmental management programs to private freehold land, and are topical in current policy discussions. The thesis provides timely empirical evidence of the different values and construals that can be supported in people's connections to landscapes. In doing so, it contributes to questioning the values and beliefs that are driving environmental policy formation and program implementation. This questioning is
itself located within an ethical debate questioning whether there is a 'right' set of values for achieving environmental sustainability.