Land use and society
Crown Land and Pastoral Use
The area of the Avon River Basin is over 11.8 million hectares. Of this area, 8.3 million hectares has been made available primarily for free-hold agricultural use and 3.5 million hectares in the east of the basin is vacant crown land. Within this area there are five pastoral leases (Bronte, Carrinta, Ennuin, Golden Valley and Kawana) that cover an area of 244 167 ha (approximately 7% of the Crown/pastoral zone and 2% of the Avon River Basin) for the purpose of grazing (Map 4). The remaining 93% of the Crown/Pastoral Zone is currently managed for conservation purposes under a variety of Crown land tenures including CALM reserves and leases, Crown leases and vacant Crown land.
In addition there are 401 individual mining leases totalling 160 076 ha that cover other land tenures. The mining industry, in particular gold mining comprises a diverse group in terms of size of operators and types of operations. These range from individual miners working small alluvial deposits to major companies with large open pit and underground operations. Very little is known about resource condition in the Crown/pastoral zone.
Regional Industry, Infrastructure and Economy
The development of broad-acre agriculture is a dominant land use feature of the Avon River Basin. Since initial European settlement in 1831, economic development began with an expanding sandalwood industry until 1848 when the resource became over-exploited. Subsequent regional development was based on pastoralism. The lack of transport, water supply and communications infrastructure constrained further development of the region.
The regional economy is now based on agriculture, particularly the grain industries. There are smaller mining, commerce, manufacturing, and tourism industries in the region. Estimates of the Gross Regional Product for the Wheatbelt for 2001- 02 were $2.8 billion (Department of Local Government and Regional Development estimates). The value of agricultural production in the Wheatbelt was $2.2 billion in 1999-2000 of which $1.2 billion was the value of wheat production. Wool was valued at $216 million and livestock disposals $218.3 million. Agricultural productivity is rising by about 4 per cent per annum. Structural adjustment within the industry is occurring as a trend towards fewer but larger farms. The economy of the Crown/Pastoral Zone is based on grazing, mining, harvesting of timber (currently sandalwood and eucalypt burl).
Commercial enterprises are located primarily in the centres of Northam and Merredin. The tourism industry is growing in some areas, particularly in the 'Avon Arc'. Regional infrastructure is primarily to support the rural industries and communities. Towns, roads, rail and grain handling facilities were constructed in valley floor locations. These are the areas now at greatest risk to rising regional groundwater and salinity.
Social Communities and Values
The Avon River Basin forms a large part of a region that is referred to as the Wheatbelt in Western Australia. This region has been the home of many aboriginal groups for many millennia, giving it a rich cultural diversity and history. Map 5 (of Avon NRM Strategy) shows the areas of tribal groups within the Southwest of WA that occur in the Avon River Basin. Aboriginal settlements tended to congregate around the local water holes usually associated with granite outcrops.
It is also one of Western Australia's regions with the longest period of non-Aboriginal settlement, some areas being settled for over 160 years. During this period, a well-established network of infrastructure and a stable population base has been established. The people of the region are recognised for innovation and persistence, qualities that are integral to developing and achieving a vision for the future. The Avon River Basin has a population of 46 000 people. The population has been fluctuating since the 1940s but is now declining and aging. There is continued pressure on the region to encourage people, particularly younger people to the region, with improvement in employment opportunities and 'quality of life' facilities. Many young people leave the region in pursuit of employment or higher education and few return.
Areas close to Perth (the 'Avon Arc') are increasing in population. This could lead to a population increase in the Avon Arc of 43% - 147% by 2026 (ECS, 2003). The percentage of Aboriginal people in the region is above the State average, and their influence in economic, social and cultural life is growing. Aboriginal values and heritage are significant within the region. The Avon Catchment Council recognises the importance of protocols for identifying and respecting Aboriginal heritage vales (AHC, 2002) and has completed a study in the Avon River Basin (Bidjamarni Consulting, 2003).
There are approximately 25 000 people employed in the Local Government Areas of the Avon River Basin (including adjacent areas). Of these, 34.7% are employed in primary industry. A further 24.7% are employed in the major secondary industries (wholesale, retail, manufacturing and construction) and 17.7% are employed in the major tertiary industries (education, health and government administration).
Local communities are generally identified by their association within Shires within the region. There are 35 local government authorities (LGAs) associated within the Avon River Basin. Of these, 17 occur entirely with the region and a further 12 have more than 50% of their land areas within the region (Table 2) The location of LGAs within the Avon River Basin is shown in Map 6 (of Avon NRM Strategy). A significant change to local government administration within the region is the formation of Regional Organisations of Councils (ROCs). These provide opportunities for neighbouring communities to associate and undertake cooperative planning and action for regional natural resource management. The heritage values of buildings and other infrastructure is identified through surveys coordinated by the Wheatbelt Development Commission.
Although the population of the region is relatively small, local communities are cohesive and express a strong interest and attraction to the landscape. They identify healthy landscapes as being important to enjoyable rural lifestyles and local community development. Because of this, local communities of the Avon Region have well-established involvement in managing natural resources within local catchments. Formal and informal networks are formed to increase the capacity for local NRM. These include development of:
- landcare and catchment groups;
- landcare networks, community networks and associations of networks (coordinated through the Avon Catchment Council's Information Network);
- conservation networks such as through Greening Australia (WA), Wildflower Society and the WWF Australia;
- local conservation organisations such as the York River Conservation Society, Toodyay Friends of the Avon River and many others;
- community-led research and development (R&D) groups such as Western Australian No-Till Farmers Association, Lucerne Growers Association, the Kondinin Group, Oil Mallee Association, Saltland Pastures Association, Australian Master Tree-growers Network and the Avon Sandalwood Network;
- local productivity groups such as the Facey, the Freebairn and the Ningham groups;
- NRM and agricultural knowledge brokers such as professional consultants, marketing groups and service organisations;
- heritage groups (e.g. historical societies, National Trust, local museum groups);
The knowledge and skills for NRM within the region have been developed through programs and initiatives including:
- the 'Decade of Landcare' initiatives;
- the Avon Landcare Program and 'Landcare Vision';
- recovery programs for threatened species and ecological communities;
- the Bushcare program in the Avon Region;
- the community-based 'Living Landscapes', 'Woodland Watch' and 'Land For Wildlife' programs;
- the Avon Rivercare Program;
- agricultural industry extension programs, such as the 'Time to Lime' initiative for soil acidity, and,
- farm forestry extension, including 'Farm Forestry Support' and 'Tree crops for Sustainable Agriculture' programs.
In recent years, the capacity of communities for local NRM has been developed and maintained through Community Support Officers (CSOs) located throughout the region. Approximately 25 CSOs have been employed for landcare