By Tracey Moore. The definition of rangelands is ‘open country used for grazing and hunting animals’ and/or ‘woodlands, shrublands and grasslands for animals to graze or wander upon’. A total of eighty one percent of Western Australia is rangelands. Some of the rangelands resembles a desert and to run stock on it seems like a lot of hard work. Especially when you consider the environment domestic sheep were originally run on; the lush green grass of England. To be able to utilise the rangelands as grazing land for domestic animals such as cattle and sheep, water needs to be readily available.
Before European settlement in Western Australian, water was at a premium. Natural springs were not common and rain was an irregular event. Early settlers ran only small numbers of domestic stock and native animals such as kangaroos and varanids were seen only every so often. Men working in the pastoral areas downed tools as kangaroos hopped past in order to hunt the animals for dinner. Meat had most likely not been consumed for several months prior to the kangaroo moving past (Pers comm, Anonmyous).
Today water is more plentiful in the rangelands of Western Australia. Water points were created to facilitate grazing of domestic stock – cattle, goats and sheep. This has also created water points for native species such as kangaroos, wild dogs, varanids, and emus, creating larger numbers of these native animals.
More water means more offspring survive the summer heat, increasing population size over time. This has in turn resulted in wildlife-human conflicts: emu migration from the middle of Australian to the coast was unheard of before water points. Increased kangaroo numbers, combined with stock, has increased the total grazing pressure on the land. Current wild dog numbers are likely to exceed pre-European numbers, with significant impacts for livestock producers and potentially native species. Varanids were not in such high numbers that when traversing roads you had to avoid them every couple of 100m and the ground wasn’t covered in their tracks.
Watching over a watering hole for days and days can tell a simple story. Water is required for life, for play, for resting, for feeding. It is a central resource for many species in this tough landscape; ranging from the introduced and native herbivores, goats, cattle and kangaroos, to the larger predators, wild dogs, varanids and eagles, and lastly the smaller individuals, western bower birds and bushstone curlews. The watering hole provided a great location to pass the 36⁰C or more days.
The rangelands of Western Australia are a tough, unforgiving place. Signs of weakness result in death, drought means being hungry, often resulting in dying animals, and booms never last for long. The same can be said of the people choosing to live in the southern rangelands. When you farm millions of hectares, getting around means long distances, fencing goes on for forever, no power from the grid, town is often 100kms or more away, your internet is slow and its very, very hot. Water to survive comes from the few rains or your windmill, and has to go a long way too – there are many thirsty animals out there, some are even the livestock being farmed.