The Wooleen Way

David Pollock

The Wooleen Way
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The Wooleen Way

David Pollock

The outback conjures many images that the Australian psyche is built upon. Its grand vistas of sweeping dusty plains and its evocation of a tough pioneering spirit form the foundation of our prosperous culture. But these romantic visions often hide the stark environmental, economic, and social problems that have inadvertently been left in the wake of our collective past.

Through retelling the struggle of his family amid droughts, financial ruin, depression, and death, David Pollock exposes the modern-day realities of managing a remote outback station. Forced by a sense of moral responsibility, he set out on an uncharted course to restore the 153,000 hectares of degraded leasehold land that he felt he was obliged to manage on behalf of the Australian people. Then, just at the point when that course seemed certain to fail, the project was saved by the generosity and faith of everyday Australians.

This is an urgent story of political irresponsibility, bureaucratic obstinacy, industrial monopolisation, and, above all, ecological illiteracy in a vast segment of the Australian continent. It is a familiar story of overexploitation. Yet it is also a story of the extraordinary ability of the natural environment to repair itself, given the chance. After over a decade of his hard-won insights, Pollock outlines in The Wooleen Way a specific and comprehensive plan to reverse the ecological damage done to the pastoral resource since European colonisation. He also emphasises the economic and social necessity of carrying it out.

This is a story with national implications about a way to curb the conquering human spirit so that it aligns with the subtle power of the natural landscape.


’Pastoralism might be a dirty word in Australia. I think there is a certain correlation in Australian’s minds between pastoralism, colonisation, the displacement of Aboriginal people, and soil degradation. I think if we’re honest about it, we can see that pastoralism in Australia has worked the way strip-mining has: plants are denuded by sheep, living soil is eroded, biomass is turned into a salable product (wool) and exported overseas. It’s an exploitative and extractive industry. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Indeed the Latin root for pastoral not only means to feed and maintain, but also to protect.’

And protect is exactly what David Pollock is doing on Wooleen, his 153 thousand hectares of pastoral lease in the Southern Rangelands of Western Australia. Pollock had already started to question the way Rangelands were managed when he inherited his land in a degraded condition. By the time it was his, he knew it was his responsibility to make the land whole again. But restoring land from 200 years of abuse is a difficult journey. Criticising government policy, questioning the Pastoral Lands Board, inviting dingoes onto his land; none of these things would win Pollock any friends. While other pastoralists thought him crazy to destock his land for so long in order to regenerate it, ANZ threatened to foreclose on him.

By asking difficult questions and following the advice of ecologists who were working against received wisdom, Pollock has managed to bring water back to Wooleen Lake, attract native wildlife, build soil health, and make muddied rivers run clear. Pollock pulls no punches. He questions whether land essentially owned by banks can ever be sustained as a public resource, and criticises government policy that favours short-term profit over environmental restoration and Indigenous land management.

Michael McLoughlin works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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