Nicole Spiegel, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Charters Towers –


A little bit about myself, the participant. As a mid-career grazing land management scientist, I study the landscape that is used by grazing livestock to understand ecological processes and ways to sustain both plant and animal production. I am also a current co-chair of the XII International Rangeland Congress, to be hosted in Adelaide in 2025. My chance to attend the Australian Rangeland Society conference in Broome this year was a great opportunity for me to not only promote my work and the upcoming IRC25, but to learn from like-minded people. ‘People’ extends to fellow scientists and extension officers, on-ground land managers and emerging leaders. I bring attention to the latter two: those that are connected to the land on a day-to-day basis and those that are bringing new ideas to the table and have the potential to be future leaders for managing and promoting Australia’s rangelands. I believe the conference in Broome was a huge success in allowing the spotlight to be shared with both land managers and emerging leaders.

ARS23 had a record high number of land managers attending, in the order of 24, which was fantastic and will hopefully continue to grow in future conferences. To those managers who did get the opportunity to present or have your management principles and experiences presented on your behalf, your stories were inspiring. The beauty of ARS symposiums is the chance we get to come together to learn from each other and to gain a better understanding and appreciation of rangeland management and culture.

As for the emerging leaders, it was great to see them in action, presenting, engaging, and challenging our thinking. It is important the next generation are acknowledged and that their voices are heard. The conference did not fail to disappoint in this regard, with a theme dedicated to the cause of ‘passing the baton to the next generation’. I think I’m not alone when I say it was evident that there exists a vibrant force of early career professionals keen to make their mark in the rangelands. This is exciting, and as a mid-career professional and for late career professionals we’d be fools not to nurture this – assisting where we can and providing lots of encouragement.

In sharing my own experience of attending the recent conference I could compare this symposium with past meetings. However, every conference is stand alone in offering something unique, both in time and place. Time in this case has been where the research environment has been rapidly changing, such as in terms of meeting carbon emission reduction targets, having greater emphasis on ecosystem services – e.g., through natural capital accounting, being able to deal with climate extremes such as drought in a more proactive rather than reactive way, using more technology and big data and machine learning and artificial intelligence to help us with monitoring and decision making, and exploring social dimensions further and partnerships such as improving engagement with traditional knowledge holders and bridging the gap. An assortment of policy, technology and culture added to the mix of rangeland ecology, sociology, and economics.

The unique place that ARS23 offered was Broome – a coastal pearling and tourist town in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, where to the north is the vast Dampier Peninsula landscape. One of the conference tours – the one I went one – journeyed through this landscape, allowing us to learn about past and present social, environmental, and economic realities. The experience was a cultural one, where we were guided by Indigenous rangers to learn about ways to ensure connection to country, looking after country, economic opportunities and cultivating the next generation.

Our first stop enroute was to learn about the formation of a Dampier Penisula Fire working group. This group formed in 2016 for the purpose to address the damaging impacts of wildfires across the Bardi Jawi and Nyul Nyul ranges. Extensive and carefully managed prescribed early season burns now take place to lessen the impact of any late season fires and to provide a mix of burnt and unburnt areas across the landscape. Instrumental to the success of the working group is the collaboration, hard work, pride, passion, and leadership of the ranger groups and capacity building of younger members that is taking place. The range they cover and the impact they are having and the targets they are setting to minimise the occurrence of damaging late season burns to protect country and biodiversity is truly commendable.

We then travelled to two Aboriginal communities: Beagle Bay and One Arm Point (Ardyaloon). Beagle Bay, a small Aboriginal settlement located inland from Beagle Bay on the west coast, is steeped with Catholic missionary history including the Sacred Heart Church built in the 1800s – standing as an icon of the past and boasting a lavish mother of pearl and seashell altar. We were guided to nearby natural springs and wetlands and given time to consider the ecological value of these groundwater-dependent ecosystems and the current condition they are in, especially with regards to stock disturbance and human impacts. A conversation about feral donkeys also came up, where uncontrolled numbers is only adding to the disturbance of and damage to the freshwater wetlands.

At One Arm Point (‘Bardi’), we stopped at Round Rock Lockout to marvel at the massive tidal flows of the King Sound and views out to the Buccaneer Archipelago, before arriving at the Ardyaloon Trochus Hatchery. The cultural hatchery tour like the Beagle Bay tour also took us on an historical journey, this time to learn about Australia’s pearl button manufacturing and the commercial exploitation of the Trochus niloticus (sea snail) for its shell. The Ardyaloon Hatchery, of which was established in 1988 as a research station, now operates as a cultural and environmentally significant farming venture. Not only does the hatchery play a role in restocking juvenile trochus to support the commercial harvesting and sale to the Australian aquarium industry, but the hatchery also employs local people and provides aquaculture and tourism training.

While at the hatchery, we had the opportunity to experience firsthand the diverse sea life that can be found in nearby waters, where local tour guides pointed out different marine plants and animals in the aquatic tanks and shared stories about their elders. Alternatively, a short stroll in the surrounding area with the rangers took others to learn about the Monsoon vine thickets. Classed as a threatened ecological community, the vine thickets of the Dampier Peninsula function as a system and provide refuge for many plants and animals but are in a vulnerable state and susceptible to weeds, fire, livestock, pest animals, and human activity such as clearing and recreational activities.

The theme of the conference ‘action all stations’ was so fitting and rousing. Taking my own biased perspective on this I can explain this through my own lens, where I have recently transitioned from one grazing land management project to the next, in support of Australia’s Northern Beef Industry. We are dealing with not only expansive landscapes but also grazing systems where landscape variability is occurring at both spatial and temporal scales. This means the management of animals, plants and soil must involve a dedicated, adaptive, and multidisciplinary approach. We were also reminded in Broome that rangeland management is both art and science, where art encompasses the practical knowledge and application of knowledge, and science the detail of processes and relationships. They complement each other! This was beautifully demonstrated by one of the presentations in Broome focussed on erosion control and drought management, where producer knowledge and decision-making processes of when to destock were matched with scientific testing of remotely sensed ground cover trends to identify early warning triggers for destocking. From this presentation we also learned of the property’s own management principles, reinforcing that the balance of management objectives is best determined at the individual property level.

The conference celebrated the efforts and successes of rangeland monitoring and management that are taking place right across Australia from novel ways of teaching and understanding of processes, to native seed trials, local discoveries, pastoral practices and partnerships, as examples, through to corporate initiatives.

For instance, I thought it was well deserving and progressive for an eco-quilt – used to educate school kids on what native versus exotic species are in an ecosystem, be nominated for best poster. Learning about the recent sightings of Yam daisies on the Hay Plains was truly pleasing and this story was presented with so much passion; a perennial forb that was believed to have disappeared has been found, with so many questions now being asked and sparking so much interest within the communities of Hay and Booligal in NSW and beyond.

The story shared by a grazier on his own insights of the need to manage preferential and selective grazing of livestock on his property was inspiring. I was also drawn to the information presented on virtual fencing and the potential role of precision agriculture in the rangelands to further fine-tune grazing systems.

To provide a broader perspective of the ARS23 experience and testimony of its success and acknowledgment to the conference organising committee, I can share some feedback from research and extension colleagues that represent both early-career and late-career perspectives. The perspectives I received from early career colleagues emphasised the value attending the conference had for them both in terms of personal impact and professional growth. This value included the opportunity for them to present their own research, receive peer review, make new connections, chair sessions, and appreciate the broad spectrum of topics that rangeland science and management covers – “… being a great reminder of the vast and complex nature of the environment we are trying to manage”. Another clear advantageous upshot of the conference was the formation of a support network, specifically for young leaders and researchers across the rangelands, coined the ‘Young Guns’ group.

Finally, in terms of feedback from a colleague who I say respectfully falls in the late-career category, the perspectives provided were insightful. These included the diversity in people coming together and “representing a wide range of ages and topics”. Reflection was also made: “20 or so years ago it was pretty much just research and maybe some extension”.  This has since changed: “This shift has been necessary for the rangelands society to survive, given that science practitioners are now much fewer in number” and that this shift in increased diversity is necessary given that the “challenges faced in the rangelands require a diversity of people to solve them”. Another perspective from this wise person was in relation to ‘passing on the baton’ and challenging the idea of ‘passing’: “I think that young people should grab the baton, wherever they find it, rather than waiting for old folks like me to pass it on”. The conference wrap-up that very theatrically showed the passing of a Chiko Roll and subscription to the ARS I feel echoed this sentiment. We all must forge our own career path and be moulded by those we connect well with and regard as ideal role models. Once you find your passion, seek out a role model(s) or mentor(s), ask lots of questions and do so respectfully, and just go for it and enjoy the journey!


Left to right and top to bottom: Map of Dampier Peninsula, Sacred Heart Church at Beagle Bay, Round Rock Lockout of tidal flows of the King Sound at One Arm Point, Grazier insights shared at the ARS conference, Conference attendees on tour, and Natural spring at Beagle Bay.