Australian immigration and its effects on the environment

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 dingo.
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 nature.
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 there 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