Environmental change

People living in Australia's inland have experienced profound changes in the environment for millennia.

From a time when the great water systems of Lake Mungo and the Menindee Lakes were full and megafauna grazed the inland plains, through to the drying of the lakes following the end of glaciation. These changes have continued as European land use practices have driven anthropogenic changes of erosion and salination.

Our researchers are doing work all along this timeline. By understanding the land use of the past, we can better contextualise and understand how current practices of pastoralism and industrial agriculture affect the environment. Climate change and some land use practices are adding to the problems of salination and desertification. These landscapes tell us stories. Their features can be read and decoded to help us understand the deep histories of Australia's Indigenous nations. They also tell the more recent stories of lives in dispossessed, possessed and settler-colonial landscapes.

Current projects

Community oral histories will explore, document and present community knowledge of the Basin environment, trends in condition and experiences of water management and socio-economic trends related to water. The project, run by CSI's Dr Margaret Cook and Dr Karen Twigg, will provide a view of how people perceive the Murray–Darling Basin system has changed. Key areas of historical focus are memories and insights into Basin rivers before system-changing events, such as alien carp invasion, and changes in levels of water extraction or crop types throughout the Basin.

The Murray-Darling Water and Environment Research Program is an Australian Government initiative to strengthen scientific knowledge of the Murray-Darling Basin.

It is designed to help inform water and environment management decisions which will improve outcomes for the Basin and its communities.

Led by Professor Nick Bond from our Centre for Freshwater Ecosystems and in collaboration with Griffith University. Our researchers in the Centre for the Study of the Inland are working on two of the priority themes of the project: Environmental Outcomes; and Social, Economic and Cultural Outcomes.

The social research component of the project seeks to identify the diverse underlying values people attach to their environments, particularly water. It looks at how these are revealed during periods of change, and how conflicts around values have been accommodated and managed in the Murray Darling Basin. The project involves CSI’s:

Funded by the Australian Research Council, the Parched Research project explores how people and communities have lived through and managed drought over time and in different regions of Victoria and their NSW borderlands: Mildura, Bendigo, Albury Wodonga and Shepparton. We look at the meanings and experiences of drought and aim to expand our knowledge of how we can better adapt to the environments on which we depend.

We explore the historic, artistic, cultural and scientific aspects of past and present droughts, as well as media coverage of these events. In particular, we will focus on four droughts:

  • those of Federation (1895–1903)
  • World War II (1937–1945)
  • the Millennium (1997–2009) and,
  • the recent drought (2017–2020).

The project brings together a number of our centre researchers including:

Conflict over water is one of the most pressing and contentious challenges for modern Australia. Its resolution will require a cultural change in how Australians relate to and share water. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB).

Cultural and historical analysis is essential to understanding the role of the MDB in Australian social and cultural life, the pre-existing conditions of current water disputes, and the formation of influential approaches to land and water management.

This Australian Research Council funded research project aims to enhance public understanding of the formation and evolution of cultural attitudes, values, norms, and practices relating to water in the MDB. The project is led by Prof Sue Jackson (Griffith) and includes CSI’s Prof Katie Holmes and Dr Karen Twigg.

This is a 2022-2024 DECRA project for Dr Ruth Gamble who is writing a history of Himalayan Ice. Her main focus will be on the ice around Chomolangma (Mt Everest), but she is also looking at the ice and glaciers around Kangchenchunga, Namche Barwa and Gangotri.

Articles and Book Chapters from this work:

  1. R Gamble. 2022. “Surviving Pemakö’s Pluriverse: Kunga Tsomo, the goddess, and the LAC.” Critical Asian Studies, 54 (2): 398–421.
  2. R Gamble. In Press (2023). “Climbing the Great Gorge: the many discoveries of the Yarlung Tsangpo Gorge.” In Multipolar Clime Studies of the Himalaya, Andes and Arctic. Dan Smyer Yu, Jelle Wouters and Arupjyoti Saikia, eds. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
  3. R Gamble. In Press (2023). “The Mountain’s Many Faces: how geologists mistook Chomolangma for Everest.” In New Earth Histories. Alison Bashford, Adam Bobbette, Emily Kern eds. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

In this project, funded by the Norwegian Research council Dr Ruth Gamble collaborates with researchers from Norway to study the impacts of sand mining on northeast India’s political ecologies.

The project is a collaboration between Dr Ruth Gamble, earth and biological scientists, anthropologists and religious studies specialists to write books and articles about the Himalayan Rivers. The project is running from 2019 to 2023 and is supported by the Australian Research Council. Articles that have already come from this project are:

  1. R Gamble, J Powers, P Hackett. 2022. “Famines of the Early Little Ice Age (1260–1360): the impacts of pre-modern climate change in Central Tibet. Bulletin of the School of African and Oriental Studies 85 (2): 1–19.
  2. R Gamble. 2021. “Muddying the Waters: the invention and enclosure of Tibet’s wetlands.” In: Trans-Himalayan Environmental Humanities: Integrating Indigenous Mountain Knowledge. Dan Smyer Yu and Erik de Maaker eds. Environmental Humanities Series. London: Routledge.
  3. R Gamble. 2021. “Conflits de l'eau au Tibet.” In: Que penser en Chine aujourd'hui. Paris: Gallimard.

This project unites several initiatives between La Trobe researchers, Yung Balug people, the Dja Dja Wurrung Womens Knowledge Group and the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation. There is ongoing reciprocity of knowledge between Yung Balug, the Women’s Knowledge Group and LTU researchers about Djandak (country), Gatjin (water) and Wi (fire), and how this relates to the cultural landscape and its resources on Yung Balug Country west of Bendigo, Victoria.

The research brings together Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and modern scientific approaches to better understand how access to water and the use of fire have shaped land use, the availability of food plants like yams and lilies, and the availability of fibre plants like cumbungi. We are developing an archaeological record for Yung Balug Country that spans the entirety of human history in Australia, from deep time, the recent past, to the present day. This new knowledge is helping to empower Dja Dja Wurrung women to actively care for Country for the first time since colonisation. It will also provide the basis for achieving the Yung Balug Clan’s long-term goals in education, tourism, and self-determination.

The project is funded in part by the ARC Special Research Initiative Grant SR200200357 Fire, Flood and Food: People and Landscape Change in Northern Victoria

This project aims to investigate how historical mining activities in Victoria have left a toxic legacy of heavy metals in soil and water. Using an integrated approach between historical archaeology, environmental humanities, and the physical sciences, the project seeks to generate novel datasets that document the spatial distribution of contaminants. This will allow a better understanding of the impact of mining heritage on the landscape. Anticipated outcomes include new knowledge about pre-industrial background levels of heavy metals in the environment, more efficient and targeted remediation of former mine sites, and improved dialogue between heritage and environmental managers. The project promises significant benefits for future land and water management and approaches to mining heritage. This project is Australian Research Council Discovery Project DP220101967