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"The Biggest Estate on Earth"

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James Trapani

on 22 September 2016

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Transcript of "The Biggest Estate on Earth"

"The Biggest Estate on Earth"
1) Bill Gammage has called Australia "the biggest Estate on Earth"
2) He argues that Australia is a "made" continent and is in no way natural.
3) This lecture will examine Aboriginal life prior to European colonisation. It will focus on:
a) Evidence
b) European perceptions
c) Life on the continent
d) New discoveries about the First
Australians - order to ask
e) Why did they not follow European
patterns of development?

European Perceptions of Aboriginal Cultures
European perceptions about, and attitudes towards, the First Australian provide insight into two areas:
1) Evidence into pre-1788 life; and
2) The motivation for the negative treatment that defined the period between 1788 and 1967.
Moreover, it is essential to understand this views.
New Discoveries about life in Australia
All of the stereotypes about Indigenous life relies on the assumptions that:
1) The First Australians were less developed than Europeans; and
2) The First Australians were a natural part of their environment.

These assumptions have been refuted by academic research in previous years. Now we see that:
1) The Aboriginal was "made"
2) The Aboriginal people possessed an advanced culture.
3) Some clans developed industries.
The Aboriginal World Prior to 1788
This part of the lecture will provide an overview of life in Australia prior to 1788 - focusing on:
1) Aboriginal nations
2) Aboriginal social structure within bands and clans
3) Aboriginal religion within the "dreaming"
4) Aboriginal arts, dance and culture.
5) Aboriginal food supply.
6) The navigation tools of a nomadic society.
7) Aboriginal adaptations to hostile environments.
8) Aboriginal oral cultures; and
9) Life in the Torres Straits.
How do we know?
The First Australians did not have a written culture like Europeans.
Then how do we know what their lives were like?
Prehistorical Sources
During the first lecture we spoke about forms of evidence - recall that:
1) Archaeological evidence: Is the study of objects found at certain times in human history; and
2) Anthropologists examine past civilisations.
When studying the first Australians we can also look at the contact with Europeans and the culture that still exists today.

Archaeological examples
Arts and Culture
Cave Paintings
First Contact
The existing culture
Family and social structure
Aboriginal Nations
Aboriginal Arts and Culture
The Aboriginal Economy: Subsistence living
Life in the Torres Straits
1) The First Australians shaped their environment!
2. The first Australians had advanced technology! And in some cases this become industries.
Why did the First Australian NOT build a European style society?
1) We will begin to examine the peopling process of Australia since 1788
2) This will attempt to explain the diverse population that Australia possesses today.
3) It will also examine some resistance to diversity which exists in Australia's past.
Watkin Tench
Artistic Impressions
The Noble Savage?
Terra Nullius?
Bill Gammage and Fire-Stick Farming
1) Avoiding Catastrophic Fires
2) Regerminating
the Bush
3) Creating Stable food supply
4) Making the land
Was this a form of farming?
Archaeological Evidence
Fish Traps and weapons
The Gunditjmara People
An Emerging "Economy"
Collective Learning
No Need for agriculture?
Lack of war and violence?
No Property ownership?
Oral Culture
Religion - the "Dreamtime"
Surviving a hostile environment
Efficacy of Oral Cultures
Key differences to life on the mainland
Neither the word "Aboriginal" or "Indigenous" define the first inhabitants of Australia.
They are both derived from Latin and mean "native to".
There is no one word for the first inhabitants of Australia as there was no single nation of Australia.
Rather, like Europe there were many nations. Each nation had a unique language and social structure.
Hence, no two hour lecture can offer a comprehensive analysis of "Aboriginal culture"
All we can do here is to identify both common and unique practices present prior to 1788.
There were over 250 unique Aboriginal nations in 1788.
Nirimba stands on the land of the Dharuk people.
Aboriginal people lived in small groups we call ‘bands’. A band was a mixture of men and women, adults and children that hunted and gathered together on a day to day basis. The spear tended to be the hunting tool of men; the digging stick the gathering tool of women. The people in these bands would be related to each other, as persons often are in a household (T Rowse, 2013).

Women typically moved clans upon reaching maturity. This process ensured the interconnections of different bands within given Aboriginal nations who shared a common language.

The elder members of the tribe played a special role in both education and ceremony. The nature of the oral culture (explained soon) required repetitious story telling to transfer both skills and spiritual connections.

A band moved where its members thought food and water were available, but a band could not go everywhere.

A clan is made of several bands which hold a common familial and linguistic bond. A nation is made of several clans with cultural and linguistic bonds.
The world was created by mythical creatures and these mythical creatures continue to be embodied in the world; these mythical creatures are the physical world’s spiritual substance. For example, in some parts of suburban Alice Springs there are rocks and trees that are sacred to the Arrernte people because these rocks and trees are understood to be the physical embodiment of the ancestral spirits that made the land, plants and animals (we sometimes refer to these mythical creatures as ‘Dreamtime creatures’).
There is thus a story about the origin of any place, and every place has within it the spiritual substance of the creatures that made it. The people who are born in that place contain within them some of the spiritual substance of that place; when they die it is very important that they be buried in the locality where they were born.
The rituals of death and grieving ensure that a person’s spirit is restored to its place. While a person is alive, he/she must be taught the songs and mythical stories of that place. The association between certain people and certain places was and is a principle that makes the world orderly (T Rowse, 2013).
Painting: The first Australians used a variety of artistic styles to depict their universe. Some of their art - especially their painting of the human form predates European incarnations by several thousand years.

Body art: Was created to communicate social status, spirituality, availability for marriage etc. with other clans and nations.

Song and Dance: Designed to communicate with different clans and nations.
Each band was responsible for creating enough food for its members.

While large game was preferable - the female ole of gathering was equally important. Vegetation and insects were important to the Aboriginal diet.
Aboriginal bands would routinely relocate due to shifts in resources. This required advanced navigational skills - especially in the desolate terrain of central Australia. A reliance on natural water sources made successful navigation a matter of life and death.

The first Australians used the same technology as fifteenth century Europeans - Astrology and maps. The one difference seems to be the communal sharing of this information.
While we mostly think of Australia as hot and dry - two technologies were important to surviving the colder climates of Southern Australia.

Here we see the first Australians using animal hides and fire in a comparable way to other nomadic societies.
An oral culture is simply one without writing. These cultures are usually seen as "less" able to communicate effectively.

However, recent research has shown that oral cultures have effectively kept the memory of major climatic events such as sea level rise in Sydney.

An effective oral culture is built around a social structure that emphasises the knowledge of the elders. This was evident in Australia.
The Torres Strait is an island chain that connects the Cape York Peninsular to PNG. Hence, it is evident that the Torres Strait Islanders exhibit characteristics of both the First Australians and the people of PNG. There are also Melanesian elements.

Their island based world means a greater emphasis on the ocean within their: religion, social structure, economy and effectively every aspect of their lives.

They are considered a distinct cultural and ethnic group - hence they have their own flag and identity under Australian law.
1) Society is hierarchical: Like Polynesian societies, the Torres Straits were governed by island chiefs. This person held increased status along with economic and political power. This was both a political and spiritual position in pre-contact society.
2) Land ownership is permitted: Land (including reefs for fishing) was divided between families and it was transmitted paternally to the next generation. Land ownership leads to conflict - with a greater emphasis on violence than on the mainland.
3) Practice of Agriculture: The Torres Strait islanders farmed simple vegetables to ensure long-term food supply. The food supply was also commodified rather than shared - as was the case on the mainland.
4) Overseas trade: The specialisation of resources on different islands made trade necessary to survival.

Extinction of ancient animals.
“With the natives we were very little more acquainted than on our arrival in the country .... When they met with unarmed stragglers they sometimes killed and sometimes wounded them. I confess that, in common with many others, I was inclined to attribute this conduct to a spirit of malignant levity. But a farther acquaintance with them, founded on several instances of their humanity and generosity ..., has entirely reversed my opinion and led me to conclude that the unprovoked outrages committed upon them by unprincipled individuals among us caused the evils we had experienced.”

From Tim Flannery, ed, Watkin Tench’s 1788 ... A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson, (Melbourne: Text, 2009), [14 July, 1788], p.91

Australia was settled during the intellectual period known as the enlightenment. The enlightenment emphasised the role of "truth and reason" within European advancement. Hence, Empires such as Britain saw the world as the object of developed Europe
One popular idea in this period was that of the noble savage. The philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau had suggested that life before civilisation was preferable to the burdens of developed life. Within his 1782 text - "Reveries of a social walker", Rousseau argues the nobility of the "less developed" people of the world. While this view appears more progressive than later visions of eugenics - it relies upon an implied paternalism.
The civilising mission continued in the C19. The British-Indian poet, Rudyard Kipling defined the non-European races as "half devil and half-child" and in need of European help to enter the modern age. He called this the "White-man's burden"
The context of European thought is important. If we are to say "the Europeans were wrong in the way the thought of and treated the First Australians" - then we must understand why the Europeans came to this conclusion.
It is important to note the contributions of Professor Tim Rowse and Professor Carol Listen for the development of the UWS version of this lecture. Many of the ideas and images come from their expert accounts provided over the past few years.
1) The first Australians have been on this continent for at least 50,000 years.
2) Their lives were uniquely crafted depending on their "nation", "clan" "band" and the environment around them.
3) Their lives were much more complex than European ideas of "hunter-gathers".
4) We know this by studying their past and present.
5) European perceptions of the First Australian determined their past, present and future in this society.
6) Therefore, it is important to alter that perception through the use of academic research into the topic.
7) We have found that the Australian environment was altered by its inhabitants, and perhaps they held a better understanding of the continent than "advanced" Euro-Australians do today.
The concept of Terra Nullius is built upon the lack of "civilisation" present in Australia upon the British discovery:
Hence, we are forced to ask
- in the 50,000 years that the First Australians were here - Why did they NOT build a European style society?
Humans are no more biologically developed than they were 50,000 years ago (i.e. we have not evolved).
The reason that humanity seems more intelligent and advanced is that we have a system of collective learning.

Australia was isolated from the greatest landmass by the "Wallace-Line". Hence, it was isoloated from the technological and political developments of the past 7,000 years.

The first Australians used collective learning in their spiritual and land-management practices.

However, their low population and low exchange with other continents inhibited their material development.

Hence, 18th century ideas of society came to view them as "less-advanced"

Around 7,000 years ago, the Indis Valley civilisations began increasing the land's carrying capacity. This led to what we generally call civilisation.

This did not occur in Australia - because it did not need to. Australia maintained a low population. The practice of fire-stick farming maintained a high food-labour ration. This meant that the First Australians worked seasonly to maintain the land and reaped the benefits year-round.

The lack of agriculture meant a lack of visible structures. The mistake of the Europeans was to believe that the land was "not developed"
The fact that food and resources were plentiful, meant there was little warfare in Australia.

The lack of warfare meant a lack of military establishments, a lack of hierarchical rule, a lack of military technology and a lack of clear delineations between Aboriginal nations.

The violence amongst the First Australians was minor and the records show no major conflicts.

While we see this as a positive, it also meant that they were not well organised to resist European invasion.
The relationship to the land was fundamentally different to that in Europe. The first Australians believed that they were part of the land rather than the owners of the land.

Hence, caring for the land was beneficial to their well-being. They did not exploit the land in the way that Europeans sought to.

Again, the Europeans did not understand this relationship and viewed the First Australians as primitive.
There is a lot of evidence to demonstrate that the First Australians lived in Australia for tens of thousands of years.
At Lake Mungo in Western New South Wales, they have fossils and other signs of life that are dated to roughly 40,000 years ago.
Some evidence shows the ancient use of tools, while others demonstrate ancient examples of Indigenous art.
This is an important component of our research into life in Australia prior to 1788 as it can give us scientific evidence to support the types of stories told by the descendents of the First Australians.
Australia is virtually covered in Aboriginal art. We know that Australia's art is much older than is found anywhere else in the world.

The First Australians used art to communicate stories about things they had seen. Hence, you will see a lot of artwork representing animals - this is especially interesting when it comes to extinct animals. On the previous slide we also saw representations of Asian and European ships which are also good evidence of contact.

But by far the most interesting art work found in Australia are the representations of the human form. This demonstrates that the First Australians viewed themselves as unique from the other forms of fauna. These images are ancient when compared to examples from Europe. This demonstrates a level of cultural development - previously thought impossible at such early stages.
In 1963 the ancient cave paintings of France were found at Lascaux. They are estimated at 17,300 years old This is seen as the birth of independent thought in Europe and the basis of all civilisation there.

The cave paintings in Australia date back to 40,000 years. Their purpose is the same - to represent the world around them. Hence, we can see that the first Australians developed advanced thought at a very early stage in human development.
Art depicting life in Australia
Despite the actions of Europeans, the First Australians have the longest surviving continuous culture on earth

Their practices can tell us a lot about what life may have been like prior to 1788.

Their spiritual stories, hunting technology and social hierarchy still resemble life in the pre-contact world.

Keep in mind that much of Northern and Western Australia was barely settled by White Australia until the mid-twentieth century.
Information is passed down by Aboriginal elders to the younger generations through oral culture.

This has proven to be much more effective than would conventionally be thought. We only know about things like firs-stick farming, eel-trapping and the dreaming by listening to the descendents of the first Australians.

However, the link in many oral cultures is largely broken by the disruption of European colonialism. The death and assimilation of generations of Aboriginal broke the oral lines. The continuing declines of many language groups is also damaging.

Nevertheless, it is a good source of information for us scholars.
The Europeans did not think "a lot" of the First Australians. They saw no visible signs of civilisation. Hence, they concluded that the First Australians were undeveloped "hunter-gatherers.

Marx defines human development up to the current stage (up until socialism and communism) in the phases of:
1) "Primitive Communism" - where the hunter-gatherers share their resources to the benefit of all.
2) "Slave society" - where land is commodified and clear hierarchies between social classes emerge. He links this to the birth of agriculture around 7,000 years ago in Europe.
3) "Feudalism" - where a strong state infrastructure draws wealth up a defined hierarchy at the expense of a large labouring class; and,
4) "Capitalism" - where individuals are free to exchange their labour for capital.

Europeans did not see a different trajectory for human development. Hence, they assumed that the First Australians were 7,000 years or so behind them. We now know that this was not necessarily true. However, our vocabulary on development has not improved since this period. We still call countries that have not achieved "capitalism" - developing - as if our form of society is correct.
All of these factors lead the Europeans to assume that the First Australians were not people and that they did not own the land.

Because they did not see the evidence of European civilisation such as agriculture, buildings, a military and most importantly fences, they did not consider the land settled.

The British called Australia Terra Nullius - an empty land. The implication was that the Indigenous population was a less evolved life form which formed part of the flora and fauna.

We will examine the exchanges between Europeans and the First Australians from the early 1800s further in week 4's lecture!
The implicit idea behind "terra nullius" is that the First Australians lived within their habitat without altering it - hence they were no different to any other species.

However, this was not the case. This lecture will demonstrate that they shaped the continent to serve their needs - something that Europeans had done.
The arrival of the first Australians on the continent around 50,000 years ago coincided with a mass extinction of species.

The global era of the mega fauna saw the evolution of huge variations of existing species. This meant the first Australians were confronted by:
- a seven metre long carnivorous Goanna (weighing up to 2 tonnes)
- wombats the size of rhinos (weighing up to 3 tonnes)
- giant flightless birds (weighing up to 500kg)
- and a large cat-like alpha predator.

The First Australians led to the extinction of these species. In some cases, they would have been motivated by food. In others they would have purposely removed (to extinction) large predators.

The practices of firs-stick farming also controlled smaller, though still deadly snakes and insects.
Bill Gammage has asserted that the practice of fire-stick farming was a way of life for the First Australians.

He suggests that the environment was "made" and not natural. He also suggests that it was the most significant cultural and economic activity for many of the nations of Aboriginal Australia.

He suggests that it was a complex endeavor and provides evidence of an advanced system of collective learning in Australia.

But why did they do it?

Australia is a country that constantly deals with the threat of devastation through bushfire. When teaching this subject at Penrith in 2013 - many of my students were absent for long periods as they were either evacuated or fought to protect property.

This summer is predicted to be one of the worst seasons on record with high temperatures and low humidity expected to cause chaos throughout the country.

However, the First Australians knew that "hot-fires" were caused by excessive undergrowth and worked to control this.

As the bush was their home they continually managed the fuel source to prevent the types of fire e see today.
The first Australians also knew that many floral species require fire to survive.

Many of you would be familiar with the image below as the bush recovers very quickly from devastating bushfires.

Inasmuch, fire was seen as an ally in producing a healthier food supply for both human and animal consumption.

If you can control the grass - you can control the fauna.
Australia has an extremely harsh climate. Many pars of Australia see minimal annual rainfall.

Fire is the only way to maintain shrub-life on the edge of deserts. This produces fruits and edible roots - but more importantly it keeps the animals alive for human consumption.

The use of templates controlled the fauna as well as nomadic herders control sheep.

The first explorers in Australia did not call the country "wild".

The bush was controlled by the first Australians.

Lets examine the images below.
The purpose of farming is to increase productivity in order to increase the carrying capacity of the land. Put simply, it is designed to ensure that there is enough food for the occupants to have large families and a comfortable life.

While, the first Australians did not adopt the forms of agriculture present in Europe, the objective was effectively the same - to produce large amounts of food with a staple excess to prevent famines.

Farming also demonstrates a human ability to alter a terrain to the benefit of the human inhabitant. It has been suggested that while Europeans adapted species to serve their needs, the First Australians adapted the entire environment.

I'll leave it to you as students to decide whether this form of agriculture compared to European feudalism - or even to food development in modern Australia.
The discovery at Lake Mungo revitalised an interest in Aboriginal technology.
The interest comes from the sheer age of these discoveries.
Technology in Eurasia was very simple prior to 10,000 years ago.
Hence, finding well crafted tools that are 35,000 years old is of some interest.
We will now spend a few minutes looking at some of these discoveries.
Mungo Man (approx 35,000 years old)
Life in Lake Mungo 33,000BCE?
The tools of lake Mungo
Hunting tools from Lake Mungo
Fish Traps
- The Gunditjmara people of Western Victoria took the next step by establishing a prosperous eel industry.
- The established a labaryinth of canals through the wetland to control the movement of the eels through a form of "aquaculture". - They controlled the entire life-cycle of the eel from birth to death.
- They trapped some of the population in woven tubes.
- The rest were kept alive to ensure a continual supply of food for consuption and for trade.
- The discovery was made by Ken Saunders
who is a descendent of this very tribe.
- The stable food supply developed by the eel industry allowed the Gunditjmara to settle in one location.
- It also led to specialisation and division of labour - with some clan members involved in building permanent dwellings - some involved in fishing and others involved in preserving the eel meat.
- Perhaps most significantly, the excess food could be traded for desirable commodities from all over the country.
- Hence, the Gunditjmara through their aquaculture began establishing a form of permanent agriculture around the same time as the agrarian revolution in the Middle East
Tutorial Revision Question 1
Take 3-4 minutes to respond
How do we know about life in Australia prior to 1788?
How did the Europeans view the First Australians?
Define the social and family structures of the First Australians.
Define the lives of Torres Strait Islanders
What do the major discoveries about fire-stick farming and the Gunditjmara people show about the First Australians?
What are three reasons the First Australians did not develop a European style society?
Go to Kahoot.it and follow the prompts
Full transcript