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Australian Aborigines and Land Management

11 November 2013

This story is at http://archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/first-farmers.html … once again shows that the notion of hunter gatherers in the Darwinian concept is somewhat flawed and bears no relationship with reality. Australian Aborigines have often been described as primitive – even more backward than other hunter gatherer groups, supposedly stranded on an isolated continent and only developing the most rudimentary of cultures. This view was ingrained in people – but where did it come from. Europeans that portrayed Aborigines in the early days did not always see them as necessarily backward. Okay, they didn't sail around the world in wooden ships, or use a plough to make furrows in the ground, but they do appear to have understood the land and the necessity of managing it with fire. These were not the large scale bushfires of the present day, mostly as a result of modern mismanagement by environmentalists with political clout. No, the Aborigines specialised in small fires. These were purposely designed not to fan into wild fires, and therefore may initially have been a tactic to avoid wildfires. They burnt patches of groud cover, and plants adapted to the process or the needs of plants were taken into account in the first instance. One tactic was to burn off the brown older grass and encourage green shoots – which attracted kangaroos and other browsers. Hence, the Aborigines provided a perfect browsing landscape for the colonial immigrants who went on to establish vast sheep ranches. 

Aborigines also grew crops of tubers such as yams, grains such as a native form of millet, macadamia nuts, fruits and berries. They also developed fish weirs to trap and breed eels which were used in ceremonies – a sort of earthly version of the Rainbow Serpent (but less colourful). In other words, their culture did not differ much from that of the Fertile Crescent at the start of the Holocene, or that of Mesolithic people living in Europe up to around 6000BC. So, how did they get that image of being primitive?

The educated and self important classes in the UK have a similar sort of view of people living on so called 'sink estates' or using their hands to make a living. They even teach foreign students on Sociology courses at British universities to despise the lower classes of their adopted country so it is safe to assume this same attitude was exported into Australia, not by the convicts or early horny handed settlers, but by the toffs that came later. Historian Bill Gammage describes Aboriginal abilities in his book, 'Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia' (Allen and Unwin)

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