Landcare commenced in Victoria, during the 1980s, in response to salinity along the River Murray. The then Minister for the Environment in Victoria, Joan Kirner, was looking for a community award to give her constituents who were tackling environmental issues and asked the Victorian Department to create an award which they called the Landcare Award.
The Commonwealth was looking for a new way to engage with the community in land management. WA had provided small funds from the direct allocation made to States for soil conservation. The Soil Conservation Boards responded with well thought through projects and sought matching funding from local contractors (i.e. fuel machinery for soil conservation works). A similar system was also operating in Canada where Federal State and local funding was being provided for phosphorus management programs on farm to protect the Great Lakes from pollution. In a meeting in Canberra with these as working examples, it was agreed that small grants were helpful and the Landcare program was created.
Increased focus on land management
The National Farmers Federation (NFF) and the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) decided to work together to promote the need for an increased focus on land management in Australia. The groups sought meetings with Ministers from South Australia and New South Wales to support their endeavours and assistance in framing a budget. The South Asutralian delegate, Roger Wickes, and the New South Wales delegate, Warwick Watkins, attended a meeting with the NFF where a program was constructed consisting of landcare grants, property management planning, land capability assessment and tree planting. The then Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, announced in July 1989 the package of funding and released a booklet printed on recycled paper called Our Country Our Future () that spelt out the components of the program which included Landcare and the Billion Trees programs.
The Landcare Committee
The Year of Landcare was part of the promotion of Landcare. Each State agreed to produce a Landcare Plan based on the salinity plans developed in Victoria and the Commonwealth and State Plans were to be released on the same day. South Australia formed a Landcare Committee under the Chairpersonship of Barbara Hardy and the Committee consisted of members from the networks that were involve in farming, industry, local government, media and education.
A SA Newsletter was created to develop a communication program between all those involved. The first Landcare grants were made.
SA launches Landcare Plan
SA completed it's Landcare Plan which was approved by the Soil Conservation Council and the SA and Commonwealth governments. A day for a national and state launch of the year of landcare was set. A logo for landcare in SA was developed. Unfortunately at the last moment the Commonwealth decided to delay the release of its plan and many States were not ready. SA was committed to the event and the launch was made by the Hon Lyn Arnold, Minister of Agriculture in 1989, at Cobblers Creek. Children and a grader making contour banks and the eroded creek bed were the major attractions and many of the media covered the event.
Revised the Soil Conservation Act
SA revised the Soil Conservation Act and called it the Soil Conservation and Landcare Act (1989). It adopted many of the principle of landcare including District Planning and Property Management Planning (see Struggle For Landcare document for details) ().
The landcare movement grew
The landcare movement grew as interest increased. In an attempt to increase the education and support for the community, landcare officers were hired and based across SA. A committee of landcare group chairs was formed and chaired by Bruce Mundy to help with the community education program to support landcare and the chairs decided to conduct an annual conference. An annual conference was held each year in the May school holidays so families could attend and education sessions were delivered with up to eight sessions running concurrently and up to three alternative field trips provided for people to choose from. Numbers attending were over 300 from across SA. Conferences were held at Murray Bridge, Tanunda, Tumby Bay, Naracoorte, Renmark, Roxby Downs and Port Lincoln.
The landcare group numbers grew to over 300 and information was being sought on a range of topics. Soil pit field days were held all over the agriculture and horticultural lands as people sought to understand the soil. A salinity program was formed to help catchment groups understand how to deal with the increasing dryland salinity problem. Many Agricultural Bureau groups under took trials on the use of minimum tillage machinery and a major change in cropping systems began.
Landscape systems approach
Landcare groups began to understand that many of the problems they were facing required a landscape systems approach and reported in the Signs of Change () booklet. This lead to a program of looking at combining soil conservation and animal and plant control activities together. A Parliamentary Committee which reviewed this area sought to amalgamate the two groups over time and later the Government of the day sought to amalgamate the three acts dealing with soil conservation, animal and plant control and water into new Natural Resource Management Act 2004. This eventually passed due principally to the knowledge and experience the community gained as a result of the Landcare program.
Landcare Australia was formed
Nationally, Landcare Australia () was formed and corporate sponsorship for Landcare and for Biennial Landcare awards was obtained. SA partook in these arrangements through the chair of the SA Landcare Committee being a Director of Landcare Australia. Many events were held under this arrangement in particular the state and national awards in which SA faired well.
The National Landcare Conference arose out of a rebadging of the soil conservation biennial conference held under the Standing Committee on Soil Conservation arrangement. In 1997, SA hosted the second of these and just over a thousand people attended, including a number from overseas countries including South Africa, USA, China and New Zealand. The conference was a success and led to the establishment of Landcare in South Africa and New Zealand (Proceeding) (). Best practice landcare was highlighted and a book of best practice groups of the day published titled Landcare best practice ().
Education became a large part of landcare and was taken on strongly by the SA Education Department. A landcare for schools () program with curriculum development and officers in the Department assisting schools to establish programs was a large success and a number of schools achieved national recognition for their efforts. An outdoor classroom () was established at Golden Grove with sponsorships organized by the SA Landcare Committee.
Property Management Planning
Property Management Planning (PMP) was a landcare project that contributed towards the improved production capacity of South Australian farming and grazing properties. A centre for the PMP was established at Clare in 1991. PMP developed a process of whole farm planning that considered, available resources, a business scheme and personal goals. Early development of the PMP project piloted a promotional extension program and a series of training workshops. On-farm case studies were done. Participants developed a whole farm management process that considered the inter-relating aspects of climate, topography, soil, vegetation, property improvements, crops and livestock, labour, cash flow, economic inputs and returns, capital and personal goals. The success of PMP in the Clare region led to the establishment of centres at Naracoorte, Port Augusta, Port Lincoln, Loxton and Mount Barker. For further reading on PMP refer to publication, Property Management Planning in SA 1993–1996 (Part 1 (), Part2 (), Part 3 ()).
Natural Resource Management Groups
The year and then decade of landcare through the 1990s eventually moved towards natural resource management groups. The success of Landcare was that the local communities were encouraged to set their own agenda seek resources and information to solve their local issues and carry these out through a low level of project management. An analysis of its success was undertaken titled the Signs of Change () and the South Australian Landcare Committee Decade Report 1989 - 2000 (). Many interest groups also had motivated land managers to focus on and to help introduce better land management practices. It still continues under many different programs implementing the principles of Landcare but not necessarily badged with the name. It is a very strong volunteer arrangement and continues to be encouraged.