David Phelps, ARS President and Director, DAF Office Landsborough Hwy Longreach Qld 4730. 

Email: president@austrangesoc.com.au


First up I want to wish all of our members and friends the best possible Festive Season – Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I suspect most of us are happy to put 2020 behind us, and it can be easy to dwell on the difficulties, frustrations and negatives within a challenging year.

However, during 2020 we have seen many changes with the potential to leave lasting benefits across Australia’s rangelands. Examples include greater accessibility to medical services from remote locations through expanded telehealth systems, greater access to on-line tertiary study, and the recognition that a wide range of jobs can be successfully performed remotely through on-line tele-commuting systems. These have started to unlock opportunities across the rangelands, which can gain momentum through improved rural and regional internet connectivity.

Many people have discovered the pleasure of living and working in smaller towns where community spirit is still strong, where there is support from your neighbour, wide open spaces and where many natural wonders are on our doorstep. Pastoralists, conservation managers, indigenous custodians of lands and the public have had the opportunity to reconnect with landscapes, or opportunities to share their knowledge, skills, expertise and passion with a new audience. Once domestic tourism recommenced across our rangelands, many people who had wanted to visit more remote locations had the opportunity. They prioritised travelling to the rangelands and experiencing the outback without options for overseas travel and they have thoroughly enjoyed themselves. This has opened up new tourism potential, which can gain momentum through positive local attitudes, warm welcomes and engaging stories for our visitors.

Households have rediscovered the simple pleasures of home cooked meals, and home consumption of Australian produce has risen. Consumers have become more focussed on home-grown and local foods, including rangeland beef, lamb, chevon, bush foods, tropical fruits and more. In many cases, this has also created opportunities for local food supply chains to grow, including the potential for local food manufacturing. Wattle seed, long a mainstay of the rangelands bush food industry, has become truly mainstream through its inclusion in widely available gourmet ice-creams. Our rangeland produced foods can maintain momentum through sustainable and ethical production systems.

With increased interest in the outback, there is greater potential for us to engage with people who are discovering our vast, wonderful rangelands for the first time. The Australian Rangeland Society seeks to increase our engagement with a potentially larger audience, and provide the opportunity to inform more people about the rangelands. We have now released the Range Management Newsletter as Open Access, meaning that everyone can read the wealth and depth of information that our members regularly contribute. With an even larger and more diverse audience – from natural management, conservation, tourism, mining, pastoral and policy readers – 2021 onwards will be the ideal time for more contributions on an even more diverse suite of topics. It would be great to see contributions on production systems, ecology, landscape management, conservation, socioeconomics, technological innovation and more. I invite every member to consider contributing an article in 2021, even if it a simple paragraph to profile your area of interest or expertise.

The latest issue of The Rangeland Journal is actually a double-issue, and is already being cited, shared and widely read. These issues are based on keynote presentations, posters and lightning presentations from the 2019 Canberra conference around the theme ‘Resilient future rangelands – integrating environment and livelihoods.’ All of the papers are Open Access thanks to sponsorship from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. Congratulations to the conference committee and their guest editorial panel for an excellent range of high-quality papers that are generating strong interest.

The inclusion of commentary papers has generated a lot of interest, especially the thoughtful and considered contributions from authors who have spent long careers studying and witnessing changes across their part of the rangelands. Papers on the custodianship of wildlife, carbon farming, indigenous culture and values, positive narratives and stories from the rangelands, future leaders and the key future challenges are all receiving well deserved attention.

The Australian Rangeland Society was established to promote the conversation, the science and the art of rangeland management for a sustainable future. I believe we continue to achieve this, even as science, extension, land management, the climate and the way that people engage with professional organisations all continue to change. As is stated on the ARS website:

“Given the diverse activities and needs of people in the rangelands, the Society exists to provide a forum for the free exchange of ideas and information amongst people who live remotely or are concerned about rangeland issues.”

The ARS website has been off-line a few times in the last month, as our web hosts implemented new security measures. We apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused.

This will be my last Christmas message as President of the ARS, as I will have reached the maximum number of consecutive terms that I can remain on Council as of the Annual General Meeting in May 2021. It has been a privilege to support the activities of the ARS and to represent the interests of such a dedicated and diverse membership.

As we all reflect on the year that was 2020, I ask each of you to consider what it is that you can give to the rangelands. I know that each and every ARS member has so much to contribute to sustainable landscapes, vibrant communities and values that we share for a better future.

I wish you all successful, satisfying and enjoyable 2021.