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 land use
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.