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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 1

I Groping In A Strange Environment: 1788-1851

II Farmers Take The Initiative: 1851-1888

III Enter Education And Science: 1888-1927

IV Agricultural Science Pays Dividends: 1927-1987

V Examples Of Research And Development 1928-1988
i Land assessment
ii Improving the environment
iii Adapting to the environment
iv Improving farm management

VI International Aspects Of Agricultural Research

VII Future Prospects

VIII Acknowledgements



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Land assessment (continued)

Between the two World Wars, assessment of the carrying capacity of pastoral lands was widely practised in an attempt to prevent serious environmental deterioration and to ensure a reasonable standard of living for leaseholders. In New South Wales, the Western Lands Commission, which was established in 1900, following the disastrous period of drought and rabbit infestation in the western part of the State during the 1890s, was given responsibility for assessing the land resources of each pastoral lease. The adoption of the 'home maintenance unit', i.e. the minimum area of land required to support a family, allowed a more or less sensible sub-division to accommodate soldier settlers and others. This approach was at the time highly innovative and the techniques for measuring carrying capacity were still largely rule of thumb. They were certainly inadequate for determining agricultural capability in what had been grazing country but was destined to be subdivided and opened up for soldier settlement. The totally unfounded optimism which prevailed in many areas of soldier settlement in New South Wales and Victoria resulted in the tragic failure of many of these settlers during the 1930s.

The late 1940s and early 1950s saw a number of developments in soils assessment in Australia, both in terms of soil survey and chemical analysis. A particularly attractive method of land system survey was proposed by Dr. C. S. Christian and developed by him and his CSIRO colleague Dr. A. Stewart. This method involved the then revolutionary concept of using air photographs as an analogue model of the land resource to identify broad scale recurring patterns of land units, and then determining their characteristics by stereoscopic examination and field traverse sampling. Although this approach was distinctly Australian and was developed especially for the rapid inventory of northern Australia, more or less similar approaches were developed independently in Canada and in the United Kingdom at about the same time. Christian's method was subsequently used widely throughout northern Australia and later in Papua-New Guinea and was adapted in various ways for the survey of land resources by agencies in all Australian States.

During the 1950s and 1960s many advances were made in the techniques of assessing climates and soil moistures, of classifying soils, and of chemical analysis. These all resulted in improved methods of estimating the agricultural potentials and limitations of land, but the greatest impact on land assessment came with the advent of the digital computer. This made possible a variety of improvements ranging from the development of geographical information systems capable of storing, manipulating and displaying land data quickly and efficiently, to numeric taxonomic and modelling procedures and the processing of land resources satellite data.

The lands system approach to land assessment and its several variants has continued to be used throughout Australia to the present. There have been many changes, however, in the emphasis placed on individual components of the landscape, on methods and the precision of measuring and classifying these components, and above all on the technology for providing the overview image used for pattern recognition. The most significant contribution of remote sensing to land assessment has been the advent of the ERTS/Landsat group of satellites with their synoptic representation of the earth's surface, which were developed by the USA and provided by them to all countries wanting to use them.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Western Lands Commission, N.S.W.

People in Bright Sparcs - Christian, Dr C. S.; Stewart, Dr A.

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 30 - 31, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher