Despite the great potential of palaeo-environmental information to strengthen natural resource policy, science and practical outcomes naturally occurring archives of palaeo-environmental and ecosystem service information have not been fully recognised or utilised to inform the development of environmental policy. In this paper, we describe how Australian palaeo-environmental science is improving environmental understanding through local studies and regional syntheses that inform us about past conditions, extreme conditions and altered ecosystem states. Australian innovations in ecosystem services research and palaeo-environmental science contribute in five important contexts: discussions about environmental understanding and management objectives, improving access to information, improved knowledge about the dynamics of ecosystem services, increasing understanding of environmental processes and resource availability, and engaging interdisciplinary approaches to manage ecosystem services. Knowledge of the past is an important starting point for setting present and future resource management objectives, anticipating consequences of trade-offs, sharing risk and evaluating and monitoring the ongoing availability of ecosystem services. Palaeo-environmental information helps reframe discussions about desirable futures and collaborative efforts between scientists, planners, managers and communities. However, further steps are needed to translate the ecosystem services concept into ecosystem services policy and tangible management objectives and actions that are useful, feasible and encompass the range of benefits to people from ecosystems. We argue that increased incorporation of palaeo-environmental information into policy and decision-making is needed for evidence-based adaptive management to enhance sustainability of ecosystem functions and reduce long-term risks.