No Domesticated Plants or Animals? Then No Agriculture or Husbandry
Agriculture is the science and art of cultivating plants and livestock and is a key development in the rise of sedentary human civilizations. In the practice of farming, cultivation of the soil occurs for the growing of food-crops and fibres, plus animals are reared to provide food, wool and other products. It results in a food surplus that enables people to live in settled villages, towns and ultimately cities.
In Dark Emu Mr Pascoe insists that from his reading of the early explorer’s journals “that Aboriginal people did build houses, did build dams, did sow, irrigate and till the land, did alter the course of rivers, did sew their clothes and did construct a pan-continental government...” (From back-cover of Dark Emu 2018 reprint).
We beg to differ and say that the evidence, including a closer reading of Mr Pascoe’s own cited references, shows that Aboriginal society was a nomadic, hunter-gatherer one. This is not to say that it was an inferior strategy for Australia, but rather that the Aborigines decided, or were forced to, not progress to an agrarian society (we know the answers to this and will post our final conclusions in the April Political Sections of this blog post when we summarise this work - so keep checking our site!)
So, if Aboriginal society was really a settled, agrarian society in pre-colonial times, as Mr Pascoe claims, he would need to explain the following paradoxes :
The fruit of the cycad was a staple carbohydrate source for Aborigines for millennia.
If Aboriginal society was a settled agrarian one, why did they not cultivate ‘vast estates‘ of cycad plantations? The most they ever appeared to do was to harvest the cones from wild trees.
Why don’t we see descendants of Aboriginal farmers today operating commercial cycad plantations like, for example, Australian pineapple farmers?
We would argue, because Aborigines were hunter-gatherers and had developed no special agricultural skills.
In the 1840s at Nundah, now a suburb of Brisbane. but once the area roamed by the Aboriginal Turrbul tribe, pineapples were first grown in Australia by the colonialists.
Why didn’t the Turrbul tribe seem to have any gardens of cycads or other plants in the rich soils of Nundah? We would argue because they chose, or were forced to adopt, a hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
Mr Pascoe with his myrnong or native yam daisy. He writes “Surely we can no longer ignore such a valuable plant or the commercial opportunities it offers” (Dark Emu, 2108 reprint p 26-27).
It’s the old trick of the Intellectual Elites - they sit around scribbling about their ideas before hand-balling them onto the “we” (that is, the rest of us, we plebs or the taxpayer) to try to put into practice. It’s a brilliant strategy for them - if someone else does get the idea to work they can then reap the glory. If it fails, or never gets attempted, they have already moved onto the next great idea, or they can blame the plebs for failing to follow their ideas closely enough (this is why the hair-brained idea of socialism /communism fails to die! If only Lenin, Stalin, Castro and Chavez had done socialism properly it would have worked and millions need not have died. So let’s give it another go under my directions and I am sure it will work this time!). As the intellectuals have no ‘skin in the game’, if their idea is a stuff up, it hasn’t cost them a cent and they have made plenty of book sales in the meantime. The tragedy is that the adoption of many of these ideas have real consequences for real people who end up having their lives, or finances, ruined by these hair-brained schemes.
This looks more like a yam daisy hobby, than a commercial reality.
Will this be the result of following ‘Comrade’ Pascoe’s agronomy advice of no fertilizers, pesticides, fossil fuels or plant breeding as he outlines in Dark Emu.
In our opinion, the output and quality of the yam daisy tubers will be so poor, the enterprise will fail commercially.
These photos were taken at the local market in Dandenong, Victoria. The only thing Aboriginal here is the name ‘Dandenong’, a word from the Woiwurrung Aboriginal language.
The market is full of hard-working Australians, mostly New Australians, Greeks, Italians and more lately Indians, Chinese, Vietnamese and refugees from the ‘Stans’ and Africa. All working hard to grow and sell great produce, including all the agrarian tubers such as yams, potatoes, daikon, et al.
But no yam daisy, or myrnong, is on offer.
Daikon or daikon radish is grown and used by local Japanese, Chinese, Hindus, Panjabis and Malaysians amongst others, who all have long history as agriculturalists.
Why aren’t myrnong, grown by the descendants of the local Aboriginal Woiwurrung, available at the market?
We would argue because the Woiwurrung were not agriculturalists and so there is no continuing culture that would result in their descendants in being myrnong market gardeners today.
A successful Colonial version of the myrnong?
The humble parsnip, produced on-mass in Victorian soils for $2.99/kg.
Domestication of Animals
Lara, Victoria is a outer suburb of Geelong/Melbourne that was a traditional hunting ground of the Wathaurong tribe, and a wintering and spring breeding ground for the native Cape Barren goose. The Wathaurong would have fed on these geese, their eggs and goslings for millennia. Why didn’t they domesticate them?
Because the Wathaurong, like all other Aborigines were nomadic hunter-gatherers and they decided they did not want tend a flock of domesticated geese.
This photo, taken at Lara’s local suburban lake, is of two very tame Cape Barren Geese, quite happy to raise their young each year near human habitation.
Anyone who has been to Noosa will know about the total tameness of the native Brush Turkeys. They are in pest proportions on the roads amongst the traffic, in the shops and in peoples gardens!
It is as if they are carrying around a sign saying - “ Please take me in - I want to be domesticated!”
Why didn’t the Aborigines, if they were settled “agriculturalists”, domestic these willing turkeys?
Because they weren’t. They were nomadic hunter gatherers and preferred to kill and eat the Brush Turkey and dig up its eggs from the mound nests as required.
Even in Sydney, the Brush Turkeys are invading people’s backyards. Here is a typical nest up against the back fence. The eggs are layed inside the rotting vegetation which incubates them.
One would think that it would have been possible for Aborigines to domesticate them over the millennia and then live off their eggs?
Every Aboriginal ‘stone house village’ could have had a flock of domesticated Brush Turkey’s.
But there weren’t Aboriginal ‘stone house villages’ and there weren’t domesticated turkeys.
But other hunter-gatherer societies in nearby New Guinea and SE Asia did domesticate birds.
The Red jungle fowl (Gallus gallus or Gallus bankiva) is the most commonly found wild species in the world today and is considered the main ancestor of the domestic chicken.
Why would our Asian neighbours domesticate the Red Jungle Fowl, but the Aborigines didn’t domesticate any of our ducks, geese, brush turkeys or even emus?
Because they were a nomadic, hunter- gatherer society, not a settled agrarian society. This is NOT to say that they were inferior, but just that to deal with the conditions on this continent, the Aborigines made the decision (consciously or subconsciously) to follow a hunter gatherer lifestyle.
Another example of Aboriginal people not having any knowledge of animal domestication is given by the following case :
“In December 1890, …the chief or mamoose of the Seven Rivers tribe [in Cape York known] as Tongambulo, [was] accompanied by Sub-Inspector Savage and his party to Thursday Island. One early account noted that he:
"‘cannot speak a word of English, nor had he been near a white man’s abode until brought into our midst. One of his first impressions on rambling around the barracks was conveyed in the question he asked Kio the interpreter: “Why white man could make the fowls stay about the house, when in his country they all flew away and could not be caught?” Kio explained as best he could to the mamoose that the white man possessed a magical power which was sufficient to tame anything;”
Locating Seven Rivers by Fiona Powell in Indigenous and Minority Placenames: Australian and International Perspectives, Edited by Ian D. Clark, et al 2014 by ANU Press, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.
But wait, all is not lost yet. Here is Mr Leeton Lee in 2018 at least giving it a go with his small business in harvesting and selling bunya nuts, which according to Mr Pascoe, “…were so prolific that they provided food for large gatherings of [Aboriginal] people, not only during the harvest, but later when stored quantities could be eaten” (Dark Emu 2018 reprint, p150).
We wish Mr Lee well and will follow his business as it develops, but he needs to get serious and seek Mr Pascoe’s marketing skills to achieve some serious funding - see our post below.
See : https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-05-12/australian-native-bunya-nuts-great-camp-food-and-bush-tucker/9751602
It is Strange that the Aborigines had been harvesting and eating native macadamia nuts for millennia, but they never decided to progress to the ‘horticultural - orchard’ stage.
This is despite the fact that a pioneer in the 1860’s in macadamia nut ‘gathering’ and selling was apparently, “King Jacky, aboriginal elder of the Logan River clan, south of Brisbane, Queensland, was the first known macadamia entrepreneur, as his tribe and he regularly collected and traded the macadamias with colonial settlers” (Source wikipedia).
If Mr Pascoe was serious about developing an Aboriginal Agricultural Revolution”, macadamias, the indigenous nut, the bauple, gyndl, jindilli or boombera, would seem to have a better economic potential than the yam daisy. A crowd-funding project, by say 200,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, investing only $100 each, would give them an investment fund of $20M. This is more than enough to start a commercial macadamia operation.
“Tasmanian Aboriginal people have hunted and eaten mutton birds for more than 10,000 years…[and today’s] commercial harvest… is almost exclusively carried out by Aboriginal people”.
- ABC report
Click here - Tasmanian Mutton Birders
This, we believe supports our argument that Aboriginal people were a successful hunter-gather society, not an agrarian one. Age-old hunter-gathering techniques such as Mutton birding survive to the present day, but nowhere do we see any Aboriginal “agricultural” practices such as grain cultivation, sowing, irrigating, building of stone houses, etc., as claimed by Mr Pascoe.
The only animal domesticated by the Aborigines was the dingo, which arrived from Asia, presumably in Austronesian canoes, some 3500 years ago (fossil evidence), or possibly even 4,600 to 18,300 years ago (mDNA evidence).
Besides being camp companions, watchdogs, and garbage and scrap disposable servants, the Aborigines used dingos as ‘living blankets’, giving rise to the expression, “five-dog night”, to mean a very cold night.
One wonders whether the Aborigines, with their deep understanding of Australia’s wildlife could not have, in the course of their 50,000 years on the continent, developed at least some small mammal, or marsupial, animal husbandry.
For example, guinea pigs were apparently domesticated more than 3,000 years ago in Peru, coinciding with humans’ transition from a nomadic to an agricultural lifestyle. The Incas kept guinea pigs, and the animals were bred during the same period by various people who lived along the Andes Mountains from northwestern Venezuela to central Chile. These rodents remain a sustainable food source for the native peoples of Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, who either keep them in their homes or allow them to scavenge freely both indoors and out.
Our argument is that the Aborigines made a social and economic decision not undertake animal husbandry as they consciously, or subconsciously, decided the costs outweighed the benefits.