Land systems: an Australian invention
Regional land classification, originally devised by CSIRO scientists, has resulted in the production of land system maps. The first areas in Western Australia to be mapped using this new classification process were the North Kimberley and Wiluna-Meekatharra lands in the late 1950s.
The Western Australian government developed its own program of ‘rangeland surveys’ of major pastoral catchments through the former Pastoral Board and later also the Commissioner for Soil and Land Conservation. This began with the 1969-71 survey of the Gascoyne River Catchment and included observations and concepts of ‘range condition’, classifying the land according to the changes induced by grazing including damage to perennial vegetation and soils.
The program of surveys has continued for 35 years to the present day. Land system maps and the descriptions and assessments of land condition have become a primary information for pastoralists, mining companies and more recently conservation managers. It enables land to be managed according to the types of country. Each land system, with its soils and vegetation, responds differently to seasonal rainfall as well as to impacts from grazing and other land use pressures, events and destabilising influences.
Land systems across the arid and semi-arid tropical regions were progressively classified and mapped, according to the geomorphology, soil and vegetation. Successive surveys used Beard’s vegetation maps, geological survey maps and whatever ad hoc survey data could be gleaned from prior studies. Improvements in spatial information from remote sensing, including Landsat and other satellite data, allowed advanced digital mapping and analysis.
Developed in Australia, this method has also been adapted to rangelands in other semi-arid parts of the world.
The basis of the land system groupings has evolved over the years to meet practical land use and management considerations.
Land system names
- The land system map of Whitewells Station (Charles Darwin Reserve) strikes people with its interesting set of names for the land systems. Following a tradition in soil mapping where soil types are named after the place at which they are first described (the type area), land systems are usually named after the station paddock or nearby well where they were first identified.
- Bandy – granite outcrops, from Bandy Rocks, Perrinvale Station, west of Leonora.
- Bannar – gravelly sandplain, from the North Eastern Goldfields.
- Carnegie – salt lake system, first described from the Wiluna district, named after Lake Carnegie. David Carnegie was an explorer of inland Western Australia in the 1890s. He wrote Spinifex and Sand, c. Arthur Pearon Ltd, London, 189, Penguin Books 1973, Facsimile edition by Hesperian Press,1982.
- Challenge – undulating plains on granite, from the Murchison River catchment east of Murchison settlement. The name came about from ‘saturation’ country radio coverage of the 1986 America’s Cup Challenge in Fremantle at that time when the new and otherwise unnamed system was first encountered on that survey east of Murchison Settlement.
- Euchre – breakaways from the North Eastern Goldfields.
- Gabanintha – hills of basalt, dolerite, jaspilite and greenstone, after the locality of that name near Meekatharra.
- Graves – greenstone hills, after a small unnamed mining community graveyard in the North East Goldfields.
- Joseph – yellow sandplain with very dense mixed shrubland, after St Joseph Well, Whitewells Station.
- Kalli – plains of red sand over laterite, from Kalli Station in the Murchison region.
- Moriarty – stony plains, after Moriarty Well on Riverina Station near Lake Ballard.
- Olympic – irregular plains and low rises.
- Pindar – eucalypt woodlands, from Pindar Siding near Yalgoo, on the abandoned Geraldton – Meekatharra railway.
- Rainbow – wash plains, after Rainbow Well near Leonora.
- Waguin – sandy plains and small breakaways on laterite and granite, from Wiluna – Meekatharra survey.
- Yowie – sandy surfaced plains, from Yowie Well, Perrinvale Station, west of Leonora. The Yowie is ‘an ape-like man, two to two and a half metres tall, believed by some to roam in certain parts of Australia, esp. Southern New South Wales (The Macquarie Dictionary).