“This is exactly what I know about Australia: one big red desert with kangaroos roaming all over the place.” This is the confession I keep hearing from students whenever we travel to Chillagoe, an Outback area located about 3 hours drive from the SFS Center for Rainforest Studies (CRS). Chillagoe is a rather interesting place. One geologist described it as the “most geologically diverse area in the world.” The area is characterised by mining heritage, limestone formations and caves, and Aboriginal art; all of which are nothing but spectacular. A smelter was built by the turn of the 20th century, but the whole mining venture in Chillagoe failed to live up to its promise. The area was subjected to various boom and bust resource extraction cycles, with the smelter finally closing during the Second World War.

The trip to Chillagoe helps students to appreciate the fact that, although mining may come with the promise of wealth and jobs, throughout the world, evidence show that it also results in high social and environmental costs. Chillagoe presents an important lesson, showing the early expansion of mining in Australia, and can be seen as a microcosm of many of the issues around mining and its broad effects on society and the environment. Students were somewhat shocked to learn that the town whose current population is approximately 150 people once had over 10,000 inhabitants. Nowadays, the main land use activity around Chilllagoe is cattle grazing.

Students had the opportunity to enjoy a guided tour of one of the numerous caves in the area.

This field trip shows that the Centre for Rainforest Studies is not always about studying the rainforest. We encourage students to integrate knowledge of the surrounding landscapes in order to gain a better understanding of integrated conservation management over large areas. This is based on the idea that the landscape is interconnected; hence, protected areas such as the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area suffer if the areas around them are badly degraded. Therefore, excursions to Chillagoe will be part of our routine for a long haul–future students can expect to enjoy this trip to Outback Australia!