Restoring Broken Histories

Ms Lilian Pearce1

1ANU, Canberra, Australia


By the early 1900s, overgrazed arid areas of the American mid-west and Australia simultaneously found themselves confronting the effects of unfettered colonial land manipulation and extraction on old, tired soils. Around this time, the discipline of ecology was emerging in Australia, in response to soil conservation concerns. Between 1936-1938 in Broken Hill, in semi-arid Australia, a ‘campaign against the sand’ was launched to save mining practices, profitability, and lifestyle, by re-establishing a local arid-ecosystem around the city. This paper considers “The Regen” – one of the world’s first ecological restoration projects – within a history of settler transformations of the Australian crust. It draws on historical analysis and social research conducted between June 2015 and March 2017. Stories erupt of love, gender, health, and environmental justice, and silenced Wiljakali and Barkindji cultures. These stories contest notions of environmental order and control. The Regen has many positive values, but also acts to pacify ongoing realities of mining that make their way into physical bodies, mentalities and material legacies. A prosperous settler-industrial heritage amidst challenging ecological conditions is celebrated, but time and again, Broken Hill is buffeted by intersections of colonial imaginaries and ecological realities, ancient geologies and global economies.


Lilian recently submitted her PhD thesis: ‘Historicising Australian Ecological Restoration: Environmental Histories of a Cultural Practice’ through the Fenner School of Environment and Society, ANU. Since completing a Bachelor of Science with honours in Geography at UTAS in 2011, she has worked across disciplines in academic, government and practical roles, in urban, regional and remote settings. Her research interests span environmental history, political ecology and cultural geography. Lilian is a member of the Australian and New Zealand Environmental History Working Group, and the Victorian National Trust’s Landscape Reference Group.

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