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 2017: 28).


Significant expanses of Australia, and the accompanying natural resources, are dedicated to ecosystem service provision. In cases where this land has become degraded, rehabilitation practitioners achieve the renewal of ecosystem service delivery by way of facilitating the recovery of certain requisite indigenous biotic and abiotic qualities, such as specific plant species, or water features. However, unlike ecological restoration, effecting the full recovery of degraded ecosystems is not an aspiration of rehabilitation practice (see SERA 2017). Environmental repair projects that featured concern at the impairment of ecosystem service delivery were occurring in Australia by at least 1896.


SERA 2017 Standards Reference Group ‘National Standards for the Practice of Ecological Restoration in Australia’ Society for Ecological Restoration Australasia. Second Edition 


Port Phillip Bay 1896

An historically significant series of Australian degraded area repair projects that focused on the reinstatement of natural qualities linked to amenity and commercial values took place along the east coast of Port Phillip Bay, Melbourne, Victoria, between 1896 and the 1930s. The projects were conducted on the traditional lands of Boon wurrung language group clans, Eastern Kulin nation. Dispossession of these clans commenced with the European invasion of Nairm (Port Phillip Bay) in 1835. Disease, settler aggression and social ostracism were to follow. Today, Eastern Kulin People continue to maintain physical and spiritual links with their traditional lands.


'Leptopsermum laevigatum' approximately 1920s Source: A Forster NLA
‘Leptopsermum laevigatum’ approximately 1920s Source: A Forster NLA

The historical environmental repair projects focused on the replanting of Coast Teatree, Leptospermum laevigatum, to degraded foreshore reserves located at Brighton, Hampton, Sandringham, Black Rock, Beaumaris and Mornington (see Gallery). Concern at the degradation and loss of commercially valuable amenity qualities, in the form of the shelter and beauty provided by the teatree, strongly motivated these environmental repair undertakings. However, alarm at diminishing levels of cherished biological qualities, and recognition of the need to reinstate and conserve these qualities, also inspired some participants.


Red Bluff Brighton 1880 -1900 remnant Coast Teatree Source: SLVIC
Degraded foreshore, remnant Coast Teatree ‘Red Bluff Brighton’ 1880 -1900 Source: SLVIC

Local government played a prominent role in many of the projects. Brighton Council initiated and managed the first attempts at replanting Coast Teatree, in 1896. Mordialloc, Sandringham and Mornington Councils also managed and financially supported repair works that reinstated Coast Teatree.

Strong community engagement was a prominent feature of the Port Phillip Bay projects. In 1903, members of the Mornington Progress Association, with the support of Mornington Shire Council, undertook a series of repair sessions, involving the replanting of thousands of Coast Teatrees, south to Fishermans Beach.


Fishermans Beach Mornington approximately 1909 Source: State Library Victoria
Fishermans Beach Mornington approximately 1909 Source: State Library Victoria

It is likely that the success of the Mornington replanting efforts encouraged further community engagement with degraded area repair at Port Phillip Bay. The Hampton Progress Association undertook an ambitious Coast Teatree replanting project along the foreshore reserves in 1911, at the considerable cost of seventy pounds, and the Black Rock Progress Association replanted Coast Teatree at Half Moon Bay in 1913.


Hampton beach ca.1910-ca.1930 Source: Robert M O'Brien SLV
Hampton beach ca.1910-ca.1930                Source: Robert M O’Brien SLVIC

Between 1924 and 1927, Sandringham Council, local residents and Beaumaris Improvement League joined forces to manage and stage an innovative repair project along the Beaumaris foreshore reserves. These Coast Teatree replanting sessions, in which children also participated, were conducted on successive weekends, during the winter months. Historical reports of of the projects indicate that the residents were engaging in a form of environmental stewardship.


Beaumaris 1910-1920 Source: Robert M O'Brien State Library Victoria
Beaumaris 1910-1920 Source: Robert M O’Brien State Library Victoria
During the course of the Port Phillip Bay projects, noted journalist and conservationist Donald Macdonald emerged as an advocate for degraded area repair ideals that today would be suggestive of ecological restoration practice. In particular, he was keen to reinstate a wide range of the indigenous flora species that had originally grown in the foreshore reserves, and then permanently conserve them and the associated avifauna. Many of his proposed repair techniques, such as the employment of managed fire to regenerate the foreshore indigenous flora communities, are likely to have been too progressive for the period, and opportunities to put them into practice did not arise.

Unfortunately, it would appear that the efforts to repair and conserve the indigenous vegetation of the foreshore reserves petered out in the 1930s and 1940s. Today, only scattered remnants of the original rehabilitation work remains. Various Port Phillip Bay local government authorities continue to maintain the remaining patches of  indigenous vegetation along the foreshores.


Peter J Ardill (2021) ‘Innovative Federation and Inter-war Period repair of degraded natural areas and their ecosystems: local government and community restoration of Coast Teatree Leptospermum laevigatum at Port Phillip Bay, Victoria, Australia’ The Repair Press Sydney (February)

Images courtesy of the National Library of Australia (NLA) and State Library of Victoria (SLVIC)


Whyalla and Iron Knob 1935

Historically significant Australian rehabilitation projects commenced in South Australia, between 1935 and 1937 (the precise date is unknown). The projects were conducted on the traditional lands of the Barngarla People (also known as Parnkalla or Pangkala), who were awarded native title rights to areas of the Eyre Peninsula in 2015.

At the invitation of industrialist Essington Lewis and the Broken Hill Proprietary Company, arid zone botanist and conservationist Albert Morris (see Ecological Restoration) developed two natural regeneration projects at Whyalla, an industrial town located on the west coast of the Eyre Peninsula. The projects were located at Whyalla beach and Hummock Hill.

The achievement of amenity outcomes, in the form of dust and sand control, were important objectives, but it is likely that the botanically informed Morris appreciated the ecological benefits that also arose from the projects. Crucially, Morris correctly anticipated that the indigenous flora would naturally regenerate, once the two sites were protectively fenced to exclude grazing stock and other degrading impacts.

By approximately 1940, both of the sites had been re-vegetated. In particular, outstanding results were achieved at Whyalla beach. Towering sandhills that were drifting inland and threatening housing were successfully stabilised (see Gallery).

Albert Morris also developed an unspecified number of planted, indigenous Australian tree and shrub plantations at Whyalla and nearby Iron Knob between 1932 and 1937. Achieving amenity outcomes, in the form of more pleasant urban landscapes, was a major objective. Unfortunately, little else is known about these projects.


Whyalla beach sand-dune natural regeneration site Source: BHP Review 1939
Whyalla beach sand-dune natural regeneration site. Hummock Hill in background. Source: BHP Review 1939


Ardill P J (2018) ‘The South Australian arid zone plantation and natural regeneration work of Albert Morris’ September (Sydney: Australian Association of Bush Regenerators)

Image courtesy of the BHP (Broken Hill Proprietary Company) Review.


Mining industry rehabilitation 1966   

The people of the Noongar nation are the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the lands of south-west Western Australia. Alcoa of Australia Limited commenced bauxite mining operations in the dry sclerophyll, biodiverse jarrah forests of these lands in 1963.

The first attempts to repair the mined land commenced in 1966 (Trigger et al. 2008), and they appear to represent the earliest known and documented mine site rehabilitation projects undertaken in Australia. Initially, eucalyptus species of eastern Australian provenance were planted, but in subsequent projects, flora species typical of the jarrah forest have been introduced to the rehabilitation program. By ca.2000, the stated aim of the program was to establish a stable, self‐regenerating jarrah forest ecosystem designed to enhance or maintain water, timber, recreation, conservation, and other nominated forest values (Nichols et al. 2003).


Motor cars travelling on a dirt road through jarrah forest 1920-29 Source SLWA
‘Motor cars travelling on a dirt road through jarrah forest 1920-29’    Source: SLWA


Nichols O G Koch J M Taylor S and Gardner J (1991) ‘Conserving biodiversity’ in Proceedings of the Australian Mining Industry Council Environmental Workshop Perth Australia 7–11 October 1991 pp.116-136

Nichols O G Nichols F M (2003) ‘Long-term trends in faunal recolonization after bauxite mining in the Jarrah forest of Southwestern Australia’ Restoration Ecology 11:3 261–272

Trigger D Mulcock J Gaynor A Toussaint Y (2008) ‘Ecological restoration, cultural preferences and the negotiation of ‘nativeness’ in Australia’ Geoforum 39 1273–1283

Government of Western Australia (2020) ‘Noongar History’ Department of the Premier and Cabinet Government of Western Australia

Image courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (SLWA)


Page updated September 2021
Copyright © Peter J Ardill