Pastoralism has played an important part in the development of the Northern Territory with pastoral lands occupying approximately 50% of the land area. These grazing lands are known as 'rangelands'.
The Soils of the Northern Territory (pdf 2.8Mb) are generally low in nutrient value resulting in low nutrient pasture; consequently for Pastoralism to be of economic value, herds and properties are necessarily large with some paddocks being 100's of square kilometres in size. The Department of Land Resource Management is actively involved in the monitoring of the rangelands throughout the NT as part of its obligations under the Pastoral Land Act.
The Northern Territory is made up of many different land systems. In the Alice Springs region alone, there are 88 different Land Systems of the Alice Springs Region as defined by ¹ Perry et al (1962) and ² Christian et al (1954).
Rainfall is variable across the Northern Territory rangelands. The average rainfall for the Alice Springs District ranges from 150-200 mm in the southern region to 300-375mm over the remainder. This gradually increases northwards up to 4800 mm for the Top End coast. The quantity of pasture available to livestock is dependent on the rainfall received each year. The timing of the rainfall events determine whether grasses or forbs (broad leaf species) respond. Northern regions of the Northern Territory have more reliable rainfall patterns than those to the south.
Despite these differences in rainfall patterns pasture resources throughout the rangelands require careful management to prevent over-utilisation. In addition to unreliable rainfall events, pastoralists in the rangelands have to cope with feral animals competing with both domestic stock and native animals for available pasture. Feral rabbits have caused substantial degradation in southern regions with feral donkeys, camels, horses, and pigs also having a major impact. Large feral animals damage pastoral fencelines and can impact rotational grazing programs aimed at managing native pasture resources.
During the NT Brucellosis Tuberculosis Eradication Programme (BTEC) in the 1970's, many selected paddocks and areas held high stock numbers in quarantine. The nature of the eradication program dictated that an empty paddock remain between the 'clean' tested cattle and the 'dirty' (un-tested) cattle. This requirement put great strain on the natural pasture and water resources in those isolated areas.
In the decades since, there has been much effort to restore and maintain the native pasture and soil resources. Many pastoralists believe it is imperative for the health of their business, their livestock, and the land to not over-utilise the pastures and to maintain organic matter on the soil surface as an aid to water infiltration and to protect soil against wind and water erosion. In other words, keeping the land 'rain ready'. See Northern Territory Cattleman's Association website for further information about Grazing Land Management.
The Pastoral Land Act was enacted by the Northern Territory Government to help accommodate competing land uses including Landcare, Aboriginal Land Rights, conservation for preservation of biodiversity, recreation, and tourism, as well as long-standing pastoral interests.
¹ Perry, R.A., J.A. Mabbutt, W.H. Litchfield, T. Quinland, M. Lazarides, N.O. Jones, R.O. Slatyer, G.A. Stewart, W. Bateman and G.G. Ryan (1962) Land Research Series No. 6: Lands of the Alice Springs Area, Northern Territory, 1956-57, CSIRO, Melbourne.
² Christian, C.S., L.C. Noakes, R.A. Perry, R.O. Slatyer, G.A. Stewart and D.M. Traves (1954) Land Research Series No. 3: Survey of the Barkly Region, Northern Territroy and Queensland, 1947-48, CSIRO, Melbourne.
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