A history of CSIRO’S Central Australian Laboratory, 1: 1953–80: Pastoral land research

Margaret Friedel, Stephen Morton

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CSIRO’s research in the arid zone was initiated after World War 2 when a strong push to develop the sparsely populated and isolated region of northern Australia was promoted as being in the national interest. This impetus had social and political origins but implementation depended on scientific insights into regional ‘potential’, which was couched at the time in terms of agronomic and pastoral use. Ray Perry was a key figure in early land resource surveys of the region and later a key motivator for, and supporter of, research in the arid and semi-arid rangelands of Australia. His commitment was fundamental to the establishment of CSIRO’s Central Australian Laboratory. Pastoral land use and improving the land for that purpose were the primary concerns when CSIRO’s presence in Alice Springs was established in 1953. From an initial focus on ‘making the desert bloom’, in particular making the vast spinifex grasslands more ‘useful’, the focus of research shifted to maintaining the productivity of country preferred by cattle and establishing methods for monitoring its health. It was not until the 1970s that Aboriginal and conservation land management appeared in the laboratory’s research agenda, somewhat intermittently, in response to important social and political changes in the wider Australian community.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalHistorical Records of Australian Science
Early online dateJul 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Jul 2022


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