Successful reconstruction or restoration of formerly cleared landscapes depends on land use history and its legacies. Programmes developed without consideration of these legacies may fail to be effective and lack credibility. However, compiling landscape histories is not simple; our participatory workshops with long-term local residents combined spatial data on landscape change with facilitated conversations to compile a history of landscape change. Timing and extent of key environmental and socio-economic drivers of woody vegetation cover change since European settlement were established. Some drivers of clearing were relatively well-known, such as drought, or clearing for surface mining and pastoralism. However, others, including important interactions like prolonged drought intersecting with declining wool prices, were less known. These workshops verified provisional data, tested focus and methods, and identified critical time periods for further investigation. The workshops were a powerful transdisciplinary research tool that enhanced the understanding of researchers and participants beyond expectations. Other researchers should consider the general approach when assembling landscape history as a basis for documenting the degree and causes of change.