In the early 1900s mining and grazing prospered in broken hill. But the environment, writes Kate Hennessy, did not. Enter Albert Morris: the man who saved silver city from the sand.
In the 1930s, Broken Hill was facing a serious predicament. Its outback landscape of saltbush and mulga had been logged, while introduced animals like rabbits and foxes were damaging entire ecosystems. The result? A whole lot of dust, sand, and erosion.
“It was pretty bad back then,” says Daryl Ford, a National Parks and Wildlife Service Living Desert ranger. “Dust storms and all that drifts and blowing into town.” With hills resembling sand dunes, fences buried and homes threatened, something, or someone, needed to intervene.
A GREEN BELT IN THE RED DESERT
Albert Morris was secretary of the Barrier Field Naturalist Club. He and his wife Margaret had wandered the bush for years, collecting botanical specimens, and testing what grew well in their yard. “I have a dream of a green belt around Broken Hill,” Morris said in 1936.
That year, Zinc Corporation funded Morris’s idea. Volunteers planted eucalypts, saltbush, wattle and other natives over 22 acres of denuded land to re-anchor the soil. Aware that animals liked to nibble on tasty young seedlings, Morris ensured a rabbit-proof fence encircled the ReGen area – practices that seem obvious now but were visionary then.
It worked. “It’s a green belt about half a kilometre wide that goes practically all around Broken Hill,” says Daryl. Is it still important today? “My word, yes.”
In fact, the innovative work of Albert Morris earned him a reputation as a pioneer environmentalist whose ideas have since been copied by mining cities across Australia and the world.
Daryl is fervent in his love for Broken Hill’s outback landscape and admires Morris for his innovation.
“People then thought ‘what a silly idea’,” says Daryl. “But he’s the bloke that’s gone ahead and done it anyway.”
A drinking fountain in front of the Technical College in Argent Street commemorates the legacy of Albert Morris, to whom Broken Hill and all those who have shared in the mining town’s rich underground bounty owe a debt of gratitude.