Australian news, and some related international items

Australians must learn from Aboriginal management of the land


The massive destruction whites have inflicted on the landscape is unforgiveable. Now we have no excuse. Gammage has told us how it was done. Let’s hope it is not too late. As Gammage says, one day we might be able to call ourselves Australian. 

Australia: How the Aboriginal people managed ‘the biggest estate on Earth Review by Coral Wynter

The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines made Australia
By Bill Gammage

Links, March 13, 2014 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal –– This is an extraordinary book, one that will increase your appreciation of the country’s first people, as we begin to understand their amazing knowledge and sheer genius in the way they cared for the land, or as Bill Gammage calls it the “biggest estate on Earth”.

Gammage describes with many examples how the Aborigines looked after the land. No corner was forgotten, including deserts, rainforests and rocky outcrops, across the entire continent for at least 60,000 years until the colonisers began to destroy all this labour after their arrival in 1788.

The Aborigines judiciously used fire to create parklands, with huge, stately trees and grass underneath on rich black soil to feed, then harvest kangaroos and wallabies, as well as to grow yams and spinach. They used cool fires to preserve and maintain the biodiversity of Australia’s orchids, ferns, fruit trees and edible plants. They used “templates” to judiciously burn areas with plants sensitive to fire.

Australia in 1788 was a paradise, which was much more than just sustainable, but instead yielded an abundance of food, which could feed a huge population, some estimates say as many as 8 million people.

Gammage begins his book with a quote from explorer Thomas Mitchell, in Sydney 1847. “Fire is necessary to burn the grass and form these open forests… But for this simple process the Australian woods had probably continued as thick a jungle as those of New Zealand or America.”

There was definitely no terra nullius and no part of Australia was empty or abandoned. The Aborigines burnt everywhere, even rocky mountains, and desolate areas. If any source of fuel built up, it was burnt. The intensity of the fires was regulated in order to limit fuel and regulate plant growth. They created a sharp boundary between forests and grasslands. They used the smoke from the fires to herd the kangaroos to a suitable place where hunters were waiting for them.

They back-burned around large trees to protect them and create the parklands. Explorer Charles Sturt in 1849 observed:

In many places the trees are so … judiciously distributed as to resemble the parklands attached to a gentleman`s residence in England.

Remarks by many early settlers echoed this point over and over again. The white newcomers thought that the parks were natural. The system of fire-stick burning totally changed the normal vegetation. Burning every two to four years promoted perennial grasslands and supplied ash to fertilise the soil. In forests, only the trunks were burnt and not the canopy, while the fires lasted for no more than a day. The dense roots of grasses trapped any rain that fell, keeping a layer between the dry earth and the salt below, preventing salination…….

There is a discussion on whether or not the Aborigines were actually farmers. They built bark and mud dams to farm fish and eels. They replanted the tops of yams, after eating the roots. They reared dingoes, possums, emus and cassowaries, carried fish and crayfish stock across country, which Gammage calls farming without fences. They set aside sanctuaries for nesting birds, water birds and emus.

Another chapter describes what all the Australian cities originally looked like, where streams and middens were located in the city centre and suburbs and areas of special cultivation. This abundance due to their farming methods and the ability to move around made the Aborigines a free people.

So the early colonisers did not have to cut down dense bush and bash their way through impenetrable undergrowth, as the land had already been cleared for them. Australian white society never comprehended how the land was maintained. For these reasons, Gammage argues for an Aboriginal person to be a member of the board of any government group that is deciding policy on land care, fire management, and all aspects relating to the environment. He says that even though a lot of knowledge has been lost, at least, an Aboriginal person would know more than most non-Aboriginals. In addition he/she would be likely to stay on country and be committed to good land management……….

The massive destruction whites have inflicted on the landscape is unforgiveable. Now we have no excuse. Gammage has told us how it was done. Let’s hope it is not too late. As Gammage says, one day we might be able to call ourselves Australian.

March 14, 2014 - Posted by | aboriginal issues, AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, Resources

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