Type of operation
At present there is very little organised cattle grazing taking
place in the Arnhem land region. There are a few small operations,
such as those at Gumbulunya and Mawangi, which supply local
abattoirs. However, there is a growing interest from some
communities in setting up pastoral enterprises, and of managing
more intensely the wild cattle populations in the area. In
addition, there is a growing awareness of the potential for
harvesting wild buffalo, which is already being carried out around
Bulman, and supplies the traditional owners of Kakadu.
To the south of the region, there are several large cattle
grazing properties which could potentially be part of the operating
strategy. Depending on pasture availability, younger cattle could
be sent to be fattened on these properties to the south of Arnhem
land. Access to transport and other infrastructure could also be
improved via cooperation with these producers.
Arnhem pastoral history
By the end of the 19th century, the pastoral industry had begun
to push north, and Europeans had already settled on homesteads and
in small communities on the fringes of what is now known as Arnhem
Land. In many areas Aboriginal people and pastoralists were in
direct competition for land. On the border of Arnhem land near the
Roper River between 1882 and 1885 Elsey, Hodgson Downs, Valley of
the Springs and Urapunga stations were stocked. To the west of
Arnhem land, Fisher and Lyons had taken out a lease on the entire
area from the Adelaide River to the East Alligator River. In 1885,
McCartney's lease covered an area from Gove Peninsula to just west
of the mouth of the Blyth River.
Many of these early producers went broke, or chose to move to
more hospitable country such as that around the Victoria River to
the west. One of the most ambitious of these ventures was initiated
by a Melbourne-based syndicate, the Eastern and African Cold
Storage Supply Company, which leased land in 1899 and in 1903
decided to attempt a pastoral venture. The lease was vast, covering
the whole of North East Arnhem Land or 51 800 square kilometres.
This lease took over some of those abandoned late in the nineteenth
century to the north of the Roper River. However, this lease also
failed and was abandoned within five years. Some of the reasons may
have included the lack of fences, lack of stockmen, difficulties of
mustering cattle over such an enormous area, low quality of feed
and Aboriginal people spearing cattle. Several accounts of large
scale massacres of Aboriginal people and atrocities have been
recorded by historians as occurring during the tenure of the
company in the area (Dewar 1985). It seems likely that these
pastoralists faced increasing hostility from local Aboriginal
people, and this combined with an apparent lack of knowledge of the
land forced them to abandon the enterprise.
The Arnhem Land Reserve was set up in 1931 and this act ensured
that settlement within the region was only open to those with
spiritual rather than commercial ends in mind: the
Pasture land communities
Only one pasture land community (annual sorghum) covers more
than two thirds of the region. Other communities are distributed in
medium to small, localised patches mainly around wetland areas.
Monsoon annual tallgrass pastures of annual sorghum (Sorghum
intrans, S. stipoideum et al.) are found throughout the region.
Hummock grasslands of curly spinifex (Plectrachne pungens)
are associated with sands and skeletal soils. Patches of these are
scattered through the inland regions.
Wanderriegrass (Eriachne spp.) is the LPU of monsoonal
tallgrass, pasture lands of coastal and seasonally flooded lowlands
associated with some of the major rivers in the region.
Fragmented patches of perennial shortgrass found in coastal
country are dominated by saltwater couch (Sporobolus spp.).
These grasslands have little fodder value and are without top feed
(palatable shrubs and trees). Upland tallgrass (LPU) of monsoon
perennial ribbongrass — golden beardgrass
(Chrysopogon fallax ) pasture communities are scattered in
numerous small pockets around the southern sectors of the
A small strip of bluegrass (Dicanthium fecundum) and
golden beardgrass (Chrysopogon fallax) occur along the
Wilton River in the southern Arnhem region. These bluegrass
grassland pastures are associated with clay soils.
Dewar, Michelle (1985). Strange bedfellows: Europeans and Aborigines in Arnhem Land before World War II, University of New Engalnd: Thesis (M.A.)
Thiele, S. (1982) Yugul: An Arnhem Land cattle station, North Australia Research Unit Monograph, Darwin.
Tothill, J. C. & Gillies, C. 1992, The pasture lands of northern Australia: Their condition, productivity and sustainability, Meat Research Corporation, NSW, Australia.
Wheaton, T. (ed) (1994). Plants of the Northern Australian Rangelands. Government Printing Office, Darwin, Australia.