The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia

The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia

The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia

The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia

Synopsis

Reveals the complex, country-wide systems of land management used by Aboriginal people in presettlement Australia Across Australia, early Europeans commented again and again that the land looked like a park, with extensive grassy patches and pathways, open woodlands, and abundant wildlife. Bill Gammage has discovered this was because Aboriginal people managed the land in a far more systematic and scientific fashion than most people have ever realized. For more than a decade, he has examined written and visual records of the Australian landscape. He has uncovered an extraordinarily complex system of land management using fire, the life cycles of native plants, and the natural flow of water to ensure plentiful wildlife and plant foods throughout the year. Aboriginal people spent far less time and effort than Europeans in securing food and shelter, and this book reveals how. Once Aboriginal people were no longer able to tend their country, it became overgrown and vulnerable to the hugely damaging bushfires Australians now experience. With details of land-management strategies from around Australia, this book rewrites the history of the continent, with huge implications for today.

Excerpt

Henry Reynolds

At the time of Federation there was an upsurge of interest in the Aborigines. Scientists like Baldwin Spencer and enthusiastic amateur ethnographers like fj Gillen, rh Mathews and aw Howitt carried out research in remote parts of Australia and examined relevant written records which had been accumulating over the previous century. There was a sense of urgency about their work. Ascendant evolutionary theory suggested that the Aborigines were destined to be driven to imminent extinction by the iron laws of evolution. the widely observed decline of the indigenous population appeared to confirm evolution’s death sentence. the anthropological information sought by the scholars was endangered. It would soon disappear with the old tribesmen and women and be lost forever. and it was irreplaceable because it was assumed to embody evidence about the pre-historic origins of humankind, about language, religion, art, marriage and other social institutions. This gave these Australian studies international importance. Scientific journals in Europe and North America clamoured to publish their findings, and books on the Aborigines found readers among the intellectual elites, who used the raw ethnological data to weave sophisticated theories about human nature. But the scholars of this time had no interest in the actual Aboriginal communities living among the colonists in fringe camps or on sheep and cattle stations. They were seen as people who had lost both their racial purity and their pristine culture. They were also inclined to be irreverent and un-cooperative.

The twentieth century saw a slow process among settler Australians of reassessment of Aboriginal society. Many currents came together. Evolutionary theory slowly lost its grip on Western intellectuals. Racial theories, increasingly challenged, were totally discredited by the human disasters in Europe. De-colonisation set up a tidal wave of change, and the adoption of human rights by the fledgling United Nations challenged the whole idea of a white Australia. By the 1920s it had become obvious that Aboriginal communities in settled Australia were growing, giving rise to anxiety about . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.