How Aborigines Made Australia
Words by Maria Gubier
Gammage’s book “The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia” challenges traditional views on Australian history and reveals the complex systems of land management used by Indigenous people prior to colonisation.
“how the Aboriginal people managed the environment”
Gammage’s book depicts a view on pre-colonised Australian history where Australia was governed by the sole philosophy of the ‘Dreaming’. Early Europeans likened Australia to a park with open woodlands, abundant wildlife and extensive open fields. Gammage argues that this was due to how the Aboriginal people managed the environment – in a much more sophisticated, systematic and scientific manner than most people realised.
Gammage argues that Aboriginal use of fire to change vegetation patterns was underpinned by the philosophy of the ‘Dreaming’ in an effort to make life abundant, convenient and predictable. He believes this constituted a profound knowledge of how to sustain Australia, explaining how alternating forest and grass was deliberately created as shelter and grazing sites for animals, and thus their food. By rotating burning around Aboriginal country, animals followed the green pickings while shelter was always close at hand.
“ceremony, dance, song, storytelling”
As a race the Aboriginal people were able to focus on other aspects of their lives such as participating in ceremony, dance, song, storytelling, decoration of the body, ground, rock and gatherings to exchange knowledge and myths and the intricacies of finding marriage partners. They lived a life to the full as free people.
“They lived a life to the full as free peopl”.
The final chapter looks at the consequences of European colonisation: Gammage here raises the prestige of the Aboriginal people:
“They sanctioned key principles; think long term; leave the world as it is; think globally, act locally; ally with fire; control population. They were active, not passive, striving for balance and continuity to make all life abundant, convenient and predictable. They put the mark of humility firmly on every place. They kept the faith. The land lived. Its face spoke “Here are managers; it said, ‘caring, provident, hard-working: This is possession in its most fundamental sense. If terra nulls exists anywhere in our country it was made by the Europeans.”
Gammage challenges conventional interpretations of Australian history. He raises the complexity of the country-wide systems of land management that have been mostly unknown and unstudied. With greater Indigenous knowledge, it casts a new light and a new perspective on how we manage our environment today.
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