Review: Land of Sweeping Plains

The Book: Land of Sweeping Plains
Edited By: Nicholas Williams, Adrian Marshall, John Morgan

Australia’s sweeping grasslands are perhaps one of the most overlooked native habitats in our nation’s history. Despite their humble beauty and the wealth of species reliant on them for survival, the native grasslands of south-eastern Australia continue to be underappreciated in various ways. 

The detailed and beautifully presented Land of Sweeping Plains is a step forward in raising awareness of an underappreciated environment that also happens to be Australia's most threatened ecosystem. Accompanied by stunning photography of plants, animals and landscapes, this book achieves the seemingly impossible task of comprehensively and accurately portraying the history, ecology, social context and management of temperate grasslands in one volume. Interspersed with artwork and evocative descriptions of this habitat, the text also evokes a sense of wonderment in response to the importance of this ecosystem for both the human and the non-human.

To begin with, the authors cite the strong significance of grassland environments in the livelihood and culture of Australia's indigenous people. In regards to food, this ecosystem provided indigenous groups with an abundance of underground non-grass species, such as various tubers and bulbs, as well as a wide range of herbivorous animals, such as kangaroos, that provided meat. Grasslands remain a place for traditional owners to participate in cultural practices that emerged from their reliance on this important ecosystem. Following the introduction of pastoralism by the Europeans, however, such food sources all but disappeared due to the effects of grazing livestock, in turn affecting these traditional practices. 

Despite this tragedy, it has also been said that our nation as we now know it is indebted to this grassland environment for its wide and clear spaces that first allowed European agricultural practices to thrive. However, it can also be said that these practices, as well as urbanisation, weed invasion and the potential effects of climate change, have led to the degradation and destruction of a unique Australian habitat that was once incredibly widespread. Through research, we now know that grasslands are an extremely dynamic ecosystem that harbour a wide array of unique faunal and floral species, such as fat-tailed dunnarts, brolgas, black kites, eastern grey kangaroos, tesselated geckos, tiger snakes, chocolate-lilies, nodding greenhoods and red darling peas, to name but a few. Additionally, we also know that grasslands require active management in order to enhance plant recruitment, remove introduced plant species, and to effectively control their role in productive industries. As is appropriately stated in the introduction, ‘to not act is to fail.’ 

The authors proclaim that the aim of this detailed yet accessible text is ‘to communicate to as broad an audience as possible the knowledge essential to valuing, enhancing and managing south-eastern Australia’s native grasslands.’ I believe that it does just this, whilst also instilling a more universal sense of respect and appreciation for this habitat that extends beyond the purely scientific. 

This book belongs on your bookshelf if… you work in a research or management industry relating to temperate grasslands or you are simply fascinated by one of our nation’s most underrated habitats. 

Rachel Fetherston

Rachel Fetherston is an Arts and Science graduate who is passionate about communicating the importance of the natural world through literature. She recently completed her Honours year in Literary Studies, involving research into environmental philosophy and the significance of the non-human-other. She is the Arts and Philosophy Editor for Wild Melbourne.

Find her on Twitter at @RJFether.