Australian Immigration and Its Effects
Australia is an island continent which is geographically isolated from
the rest of the world.This has resulted in the evolution of many unique plants
and animals and the development of a very fragile ecosystem. This ecosystem has
been influenced by human immigration for many thousands of years.
The original immigrants were the Aborigines who are thought to have
migrated to Australia from Asia between 50 and 100 thousand years ago.These
primitive people learned to live in the inhospitable environment of Australia
with very little effect.Their major environmental impact was from the use of
controlled burning of the land.Over the years they had learned the benefit of
periodic fires to control pests and to clear debris before it accumulated and
led to large uncontrolled disastrous fires.This also returned nutrients to the
soil which helped to grow back new vegetation.Unlike those who followed, the
Aborigines had very little impact on the environment.
Following the Aborigines, Asian seafarers are believed to have traveled
to Australia to trade on the north shores. Experts are not sure, but they
believe that these seafarers are the ones who first introduced the dingo into
Australia almost 3,500 years ago.The dingo rapidly became the top predator and
is probably the cause of the disappearance of the Tasmanian wolf and the
Tasmanian devil from Australia. They will hunt down almost anything but they
are not known to attack humans.They will attack kangaroos, wombats, rabbits,
and even lizards.After the settlers arrived and the sheep were brought in, the
dingo started to hunt the sheep.The sheep were much easier for them to get.
As a result of this the sheep grazers built a 3,307 mile long fence to separate
the sheep from the dingo. A $20 US bounty is now placed on the pelt of each
European immigrants did not come to Australia until after April 29, 1770
when captain James Cook landed in Botany Bay and made the first claim for
England on the eastern part of the island.He called it New South Wales.
In 1787, England started their first colony in Australia which was a
penal colony since England’s prisons were very overcrowded.That year, on May
13, eleven ships carrying almost 1,500 people, 800 of them convicts, left
England for the new colony.The ships first landed in Botany Bay on January 18,
1788 but found it unsuitable for a colony.They then moved north to Port
Jackson, one of the world’s best natural harbors.The settlement was started on
January 26 which is now celebrated every year as Australia day.The settlement
was later named Sydney after Britain’s secretary, Lord Sydney.Lord Sydney was
responsible for the entire colony.
The first European immigrants brought with them their livestock, plants,
and traditional ways.Much of this was not suitable for Australian conditions.
They also brought with them cultural beliefs including the Christian belief that
man was superior to the rest of creation and had the God given right to exploit
The Europeans believed that the Aborigines were inferior and refused to
use the knowledge that they had acquired about the environment.They began a
campaign of genocide with bullets, diseases, and even poison.With few
Aborigine survivors the practice of periodic burning came to an end.This led
to many of the plants and animals which had become dependent on this regular
burning to die off.
Sheep ranching quickly became a major agricultural practice in Australia.
By 1860 over 20,000,000 sheep were grazing and by 1890 ther…..e were over
100,000,000 spread over the entire continent.Sheep graze in large herds and
their hooves destroy the fragile soil by trampling it down so hard that roots
and water can not easily get through it.Over grazing quickly led to soil
erosion turning pastures into dust bowls.This also led to the overgrowth of
tougher plants, some of which were poisonous.Destruction of the grazing land
also effected many of the small native animals such as bandicoots which had
depended on it for food and cover.
The European rabbit has also been able to thrive in Australia at the
expense of the environment.They were first introduced by a squatter named
Thomas Austin who had 24 rabbits sent to him in 1859.He used them for breeding
and also released some to hunt.The rabbits found that there was plenty of good
food and liked the sandy soil for burrowing.They reproduced rapidly and
quickly took over and replaced other native animal species.Large stretches of
the country became scarred from the burrowing and barren from the rabbits eating
the vegetation in sight.
The water buffalo is another non-native animal which has caused several
problems.They were introduced by the Australian Army in the far north during
the early 1800’s. Originally there were only about 100 in Australia but by 1981
there were nearly 300,000 roaming the wet-lands. When they were introduced into
Australia they brought the blood sucking fly with them.When the fly sucks the
blood from animals it releases a chemical that can kill them.These flies
breed in the dung of the buffalo and have been able to breed freely because the
Australian dung beetle cannot get rid of the large patties left by the buffalo.
The Australian dung beetle is only use to the small pellets left by the sheep.
The buffalo also tear up the ground which has led to severe soil erosion and
their wallowing turns the wetlands into muddy bogs harming breeding grounds of
many small water-living plants and animals.
The unpredictable Australian weather, particularly the droughts led the
immigrants to develop reservoirs and irrigation systems.Unfortunately, life
along these rivers had adapted to the periodic floods and droughts.Many of
these native plants, deprived of this natural cycle, have suffered and are in
danger of extinction.The cooling effects of the dams, due to water drawn off
the bottom, has made many rivers too cold for native fish to spawn.
The European immigrants had specific ideas regarding the beauty of
nature.The Australian landscape did not fit these standards of beauty.They
therefore began to landscape by first clearing native plants and replacing them
with imported ones.The list of these plants grew year after year.Some failed
while others thrived and overcrowded the native plants.One of these plants is
the Prickly pear.It was originally imported as a hedge plant but eventually
took over 120,000 square miles of land.
The effects of immigration on the Australian environment over the last
few centuries has been devastating.The original European immigrants could not
foresee the major impact their transplants and traditions would have on the
environment.Even if they had, conquering the land was necessary for their
survival. In many areas the environmental degradation may have past the point
where it can be restored and is now beyond repair.However, with greater
understanding and knowledge of the Australian ecosystem it is hoped that further
degradation can be stopped or even reversed.What is needed now is the
commitment of people and resources to make it happen.