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Savanna Explorer > All Regions

Tropical savannas: a unique region

savanna trees

Photo: CSIRO

The tropical savannas are the landscapes of dense grass and scattered trees that stretch across northern Australia from Broome to Townsville. This sort of country covers a huge area — around 1.9 million square kilometres — or around one-quarter of mainland Australia's land area.

These landscapes are very important for a number of reasons. Many of them stem from the fact that the tropical savannas represent the less-developed end of Australia.

Aboriginal people

Aboriginal land use

Aboriginal culture

The tropical savannas are still home to a rich Aboriginal culture. Aboriginal land covers substantial parts of the region such as Arnhem Land in the Top End of the Northern Territory. Aboriginal people have a long association with the land over tens of thousands of years and much traditional knowledge of land management. However, Aboriginal people are involved in all aspects of land use in northern Australia: they are pastoralists, miners, tour guides, park rangers, entrepreneurs and community leaders.

Cattle industry

Pastoral industry

Northern Australia is also home to a pastoral industry that manages the largest area of land of any group. Here are some of the largest cattle stations in Australia, with a rich history such as legendary stations like Victoria River Downs. Pastoralists in northern Australia contend with variable climate, often poor soils, and threats such as invading weeds and changed fire regimes. Tree clearing and vegetation management are contentious issues in the north, raising one of the most pressing land-management questions: How do we manage the trade-off between production values and biodiversity?

Crimson finches, a threatened bird species in northern Australia

Plants and animals

The tropical savannas are also home to an extraordinary variety of plants and animals — and not just in the rainforest patches that dot the region, but also in the grassy woodlands. Many factors contribute to this richness, not least of which is the fact that the tropical areas of the world tend to harbour high levels of biodiversity and the fact that northern Australia still retains substantial natural habitat for plants and animals. To find out more about the native plants and animals of the tropical savannas click on "Plants and animals" in the menu above left.


Outback tourism

Tourism trade

These three factors — Aboriginal culture, the cattle station lifestyle and the natural environment — are major attractions for an increasing tourist trade to the savanna country. Such visitors are often Australians who have retired on extended self-drive trips. As an example of the trend in tourist numbers to certain parts of the north, arrivals to commercial tourism accommodation in the Kimberley region of Western Australia have increased from 141,600 in 1981–82 to 348,969 in 1996–97.

Mining

Mining

The largest money generator in the tropical savannas region, however, is mining—with some of the world's largest mineral ore bodies and mining operations in the region. Metal resources in the tropical savannas include: bauxite, copper, lead, zinc, silver, nickel, tin, gold, manganese, uranium and magnesite. Other mineral resources include: diamonds, mineral sands, phosphate rock, kaolin, limestone and silica. Energy resources include coal and petroleum.

Defence

Defence forces

An increasing presence in the tropical savannas are the Australian Defence Forces. As part of the Australian Army's expansion of its ready deployment force, the 1st Brigade has been moved to Darwin. As part of this expansion, the Army is also managing larger amounts of land in the tropical savannas. It has taken over what was formerly Bradshaw cattle station in the Victoria River District as a training area, and also manages the Townsville Field Training Area, formerly the Dotswood cattle station, in north Queensland.