Somewhere on mainland Australia people used every farm process. Climate, land, labour, plants and knowledge were there. Example was there, in the north and after 1788. Templates and tending made farmers without fences…
Since 1788 the assumption that the Australian continent was an untamed wilderness has been prevalent. We are told that it was the settlers who tamed the land – clearing the land and developing agriculture. But historian Bill Gammage disputes this assumption. Up until – and beyond – 1788 Aboriginal people managed the land in complex systems which preserved food stocks, encouraged vegetation to grow in patterns which suited not just the people who lived there, but also the animals and plants which shared the land. These systems and strategies were used throughout Australia, adapted to location and managed by custodians who each knew their land intimately.
Gammage’s work is thorough and groundbreaking. He has spent more than ten years examining the land, early records, and visual evidence to put together his argument that Australia was a single, large estate operated by many managers with common purpose. He makes particular use in the book of early paintings, which he contrasts with modern photographs to show how the land has changed without regular burning and shaping, as well as quoting extensively from diaries, journals and other early colonial records to show that the land was carefully managed prior to colonisation.
This is not a light bedtime read. It is a mix of history and science, more suited to the academic than the layman – as Gammage says in his appendix, arguments from fellow academics have ‘forced this book into more detail than a general reader might prefer’ – but it is as important as it is enlightening, and fascinating, too
With extensive back of book notes and bibliography,The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia is a truly valuable book.
The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia, by Bill Gammage
Allen & Unwin, 2011
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