From 1788 the First Nations communities of Australia were progressively dispossessed of their homelands by British military forces, administrators and settlers. Throughout and following this violent process, natural ecosystems that had been carefully managed for many thousands of years were exploited, degraded and even destroyed.

This website, Australian Ecological Restoration History, takes a look at the historical events and projects associated with settler attempts to restore the degraded natural environments of Australia.

To facilitate this study, Australian Ecological Restoration History particularly draws on the contemporary degraded area management concept, environmental repair, as a means of interpreting and analysing historical attempts at reversing degradation.

Environmental repair is any intentional activity—including reduction of impacts, rehabilitation and ecological restoration—that improves ecosystem functionality, ecosystem services, or biodiversity (SERA 2021: 29)

Ecological restoration

Ecological restoration features six principles of practice, and accompanying standards. The principles and standards have been recently developed by the Society for Ecological Restoration Australasia (see SERA 2021). These principles and standards, when utilised as an analytical tool, serve to highlight the complexity of the historical projects: their ecological, administrative, technical, stakeholder and conservation attributes and shortcomings.

Of particular interest is the practice principle that focuses on the ecological aspirations and intensity of a repair project.

Ecological restoration is the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged or destroyed (SERA 2021: 29).

The goal of ecological restoration is full recovery, insofar as possiblein some cases, constraints
may limit potential to less than full level of recovery. Such cases can still be referred to as
ecological restoration projects as long as the aim is for substantial recovery relative to the
appropriate local native reference ecosystem (SERA 2021: 14).

A close analysis of the early historical projects reveals that many of them did feature aspiration to recover ambitious levels of indigenous plant or animal species, or both, in some cases. Achieving conservation outcomes was another common aim. Scientific principles were utilised in many projects; innovative restoration techniques were developed and implemented. 


A further set of historical Australian environmental repair projects reinstated to degraded sites more moderate, but nevertheless, beneficial levels of ecological functioning. These projects resembled the contemporary environmental repair practice, rehabilitation (see SERA 2021).

Rehabilitation is the process of reinstating a level of ecosystem functionality on degraded sites where ecological restoration is not the aspiration, as a means of enabling ongoing provision of ecosystem goods and services (SERA 2021: 31).

Australian Ecological Restoration History also presents interesting examples of historical settler attempts to manage environmentally degrading behaviours and impacts. A map and gallery further illustrate the stories.


SERA (2021) Standards Reference Group ‘National Standards for the Practice of Ecological Restoration in Australia’ Edition 2.2. Society for Ecological Restoration Australasia  www.seraustralasia.com


'The red-tailed black cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus banksii) on Banksia serrata L.f., family Proteaceae, 1929' Source: E. Gostelow NLA
‘The red-tailed black cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus banksii) on Banksia serrata L.f., family Proteaceae, 1929’ Source: E. Gostelow National Library of Australia


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Sharing knowledge creates benefits for all, and contributes to the maintenance of a civil, informed society. When quoting from, referring to or utilising in any manner any content displayed on this website in your own created work, then please acknowledge and cite that content appropriately. If this website has contributed to your research, manuscript or understanding of environmental repair in Australia, then please acknowledge that appropriately in your created work. The provisions of the Australian Copyright Act 1968 apply to all of the content of this website, including the text and illustrations.


'Cockatoo and koala' approx. 1880-1903 Source: N Cayley NLA
‘Cockatoo and koala’ approx. 1880-1903 Source: N Cayley National Library Australia


The author

Australian Ecological Restoration History is an independent website solely managed and edited by Peter Ardill. Peter developed an interest in contributing to the history of Australian environmental repair after viewing the historically significant Broken Hill regeneration area during a 2016 holiday in western New South Wales. The dearth of accurate information available about the regeneration area and how it actually came into being provoked an interest in learning more about its origins, the people who made it happen, and their environmental ideals. Disclosure: Peter is a member of the Australian Association of Bush Regenerators (AABR) and the Society for Ecological Restoration Australasia (SERA).


Page updated July 2022
Copyright © Peter J Ardill 2021