The Daily Grind - A Day in the Life of an Aboriginal Woman Baker
Looking back, we can only admire the skill and stamina of the Aboriginal women in the way they fed their families. But, don’t be beguiled by Mr Pascoe’s Aboriginal romanticism when he quotes from one of his favourite explorer’s journals :
“as evening fell, Sturt would sit out the front of his hut and write… and he said that as evening fell he loved to listen to the people singing and laughing, children playing and dogs barking, but behind all of that cheerful noise, was a sound, and that sound was, pshhh, pshhh, pshhh, as people ground grain into flour. He said it was mesmerising, the lifestyle that these people had. And as the meals were finished he could hear women putting children to bed and by 10 o'clock at night the whole village was silent. Our people were considered by the colonists to be barely human and reading that evidence of our culture really, if you're not moved by that, and if you're not moved by the fact that those people were murdered shortly afterwards, then you have indeed a very hard heart. And you also, as well as being moved by it, you have to do something. You have to respond intellectually. - why did this happen? But why does the absence mean something to us today?”
Well, that all sounds very romantic, but the reality is that after a hard day gathering food and attending to other family matters, the women still had to grind grain into the evening in preparation for the following day. I can almost here them say, ‘It might sound like a sweet, mesmerising pshhh, pshhh, to you Mr Pascoe, but to us ladies it is just an endless, daily grind’. The domestic life of these “women bakers” was far from easy, as the following photographs of the bread-making process show.
These photographs are from one of Mr Pascoe’s favourite sources, Norman Tindale’s, Aboriginal Tribes of Australia, UCP 1974, B&W plates section.
In this photograph we see the Aboriginal women, so short of grass seeds that they are reduced to even gleaning the seeds that have been gathered by ants around their nests. No ‘vast Aboriginal agricultural cereal estates’ to see here Mr Pascoe?
This is the typical size of the ‘sustainable harvest’ from Mr Pascoes ‘vast Aboriginal grain Belt.’
The following photographs describe the laborious steps involved in making even a small loaf of cereal bread
Academics have calculated the productivity of these “women bakers”:
There is a 95minute preparation time (plus time to harvest the seeds which we assume is an additional 95mins) so, say, 3 hrs total to harvest seed and make a 280g loaf, or 11hrs (660mins) /kg loaf.
A 280g loaf of Aboriginal bread has 1885 kj of energy, (6.7 kj/g).
If we compare this to modern bread, which is 7000kj/700g loaf = 10kj/g and costs $2/loaf at Coles .
Today the average worker wage is $25/hr so it takes 7 minutes “work” to “make” 1kg of bread; whereas the skilled Aboriginal baker takes 11hrs (660 mins), or 94 times longer to make the same amount of bread for her family.
- Images from Cane,S., “First Footprints”, Allen&Unwin, 2013, p178.
And, Mr Pascoe never misses an opportunity to play the “guilt card”, in this case adding the throwaway line :
“ and if you're not moved by the fact that those people were murdered shortly afterwards, then you have indeed a very hard heart”,
but he offers no evidence that these people were ever actually murdered.
Likewise with his comment :
“And you also, as well as being moved by it, you have to do something. You have to respond intellectually. - why did this happen? But why does the absence mean something to us today?”.
Well, no one is stopping any Aboriginal baker re-invigorating this 30,000 year old tradition and harvesting Australian native seeds for flour and bread-making. One would think there is no shortage of Government or Aboriginal community funds to invest in a flour and bread making business. The market potential is enormous. Australians would be so supportive. So why blame modern Australian society for this failure of the Aboriginal community to maintain its own traditions. In my local community in Dandenong in Melbourne, there is no end to the number of artisanal bakeries, run by migrants and refugees, churning out delicious Vietnamese french baguettes, Afgani flatbreads, Italian sourdoughs, Parisian croissants and German rye-breads. If all these Australians can keep their traditions alive Mr Pascoe, why can’t I buy an Aboriginal Desert Seed Cake from your mob?