Other Historians and Anthropologists Agree - Aboriginal Society was a Hunter Gatherer Society
Mr Pascoe relates that he came to the attention of a group of academics who said,
“Look, we don’t want you talking to our students about this stuff, [Aboriginal agriculture] because it’s wrong, it didn’t happen…Aboriginal people were hunter-gatherers.”
But he was furious, and says that he then,
“went to a second-hand bookstore and plonked down $8 for a copy of the journals of 19th-century explorer Sir Thomas Mitchell…There his eyes fell on Mitchell’s eyewitness account of Aboriginal villages in Queensland housing more than a thousand people, and “haycocks” of harvested seed-grass stretching for miles, drying in the sun to make flour for native bread. It was then he knew he had his next book” *
So, in the era before the publication of Mr Pascoe’s Dark Emu, the conventional wisdom of two-hundred years of research from scientists and academics such as Joseph Banks, Norman Tindale, Tim Flannery, Geoffrey Blainey, Jared Diamond, Thomas Sowell and Prof Richard Broome amongst others, was that the available evidence showed that Australian Aboriginal society was a hunter-gatherer one. But Mr Pascoe would have us believe that all these other scientists and academics are wrong and, by his own admission, his revelatory theory which came to him when he went into a second-hand book shop and bought a copy of the explorer Thomas Mitchell's journal for $8, is correct. We are staggered that Australians have paid millions of dollars in taxation over the years to fund academics to study and conclude that Aboriginal society was a hunter-gatherer one, yet Mr Pascoe seems to have found the true story for 8 bucks !
*Richard Guilliat, ‘Turning history on its head’, The Weekend Australian Magazine, May 25, 2019.
“It is often wondered why Aboriginal people did not develop agriculture. But the question should be inverted to become: why should they have? What makes agriculture particularly a superior economy? It might feed many, but only if many need feeding. Agriculture, which developed in the Fertile Crescent of modern-day Iran and Iraq, has lasted so far less than 10,000 years, whereas the Aboriginal foraging economy was at least four times as old. Indeed, hunting and gathering is in world terms several million years old. Aboriginal people survived for over 40 millennia with a non-agricultural economy, which suited the land, and was sustainable with the land” .
Richard Broome, Professor of History at La Trobe University, one of Australia’s most respected scholars of Aboriginal history in Aboriginal Australians, a history since 1788, (2010) 4ed, p8-9.
“For 50,000 years, or even more, the Aborigines had been nomads. They maintained the tradition of moving systematically around their terrain long after most people of the world had settled down to the sedentary life of garden, farm, village or town. New Guinea had gardens and pigs, and several islands in the Torres Strait grew vegetables in neat gardens, but the new ways of life did not apparently reach Australia. Why did its people not adopt the idea of cultivating plants and keeping herds?”
Geoffrey Blainey, Australia’s best known historian and author of nearly forty books, in The Story of Australia’s People – The Rise and Fall of Ancient Australia, 2015, p217.
“Pre-contact Aboriginal Australia is often seen as a paradigm of a hunter-gatherer culture”.
Prof Amos Rapoport, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Dept. of Architecture, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, in Memmott, P., Gunyah Goondie + Wurley, QUP, 2007, Preface.
“As with indigenous peoples across Australia, the clans of the East Kulin [Melbourne, Port Phillip and Central Victoria] were hunter gatherers”
Dr Gary Presland, History and Archaeology Graduate La Trobe University and University of London with a forty year research history of the Aboriginal and natural history of the Melbourne area, in First People, the Eastern Kulin of Melbourne, Port Phillip and Central Victoria, Museum Victoria Pub. (2010).
Photo Credit: Digging rush bulbs Arnhem Land 1936 - Copyright Museum of Victoria D Thomson Collection; Others Museum NSW Collections
“One way to commence a study of the Australian tribe would be to ask a simple question : “ What happens when a few small groups of people of family size are wrestling a living from a given area of land by searching for food, over whose presence and growth they have no direct control?” Such persons are neither farmers nor animal herders and they have no means of transport or travel other than that inherent in their possession of legs and their ability to use simple canoes and rafts as limited aids to travel“. -
N.Tindale, Aboriginal Tribes of Australia, UC Press, 1974, p9.
Mr Pascoe selectively uses as a reference in Dark Emu, an article by the US anthropologist Aram Yengoyan to support his theory (Dark Emu, 2018 reprint, p178). What Mr Pascoe omits however is the following clause of Mr Yengoyan’s paper:
“Almost all recent work and reanalysis indicates that the basis of Aboriginal economy in both the interior desert areas and in the tropical coastal areas of Arnhem Land and Queensland was the gathering and collecting of vegetable foods, which formed the bulk of the day-to-day diet…70-80 percent of the diet was composed of vegetable foods and the majority of these foods were provided through the labor of women. Although hunting was the dominant cultural concern and the principal work of males, the overall contribution of meat through hunting was minimal and highly variable in terms of daily consumption."
– Economy, Society and Myth in Aboriginal Australia, November 2003, Annual Review of Anthropology 8(1):393-415.
“The exploitative techniques of the Aborigines were limited to combinations of hunting, fishing, gathering or foraging activities. They practiced neither agriculture nor simpler horticulture as it is conventionally defined and never domesticated any indigenous animals; even the dingoes which they introduced but apparently never fully domesticated ate more of their masters’ food than they retrieved for them. Aboriginal life involved controlled nomadism, while the number, frequency and distance of their shifts depended upon local conditions”.
- Derek John Mulvaney AO CMG FAHA (b1925 – d2016) was an Australian archaeologist known as the "father of Australian archaeology". He was the first university-trained archaeologist to make Australia his field of study". (Wikipedia). Quote from “The Prehistory of Australia” (1969 [1975ed], p72-74)
In the bibliography of Dark Emu, Mr Pascoe includes three separate references to the work of Professor Sir John Burton Cleland CBE in regard to Mr Pascoe’s ‘Aboriginal Grain Belt’ map. From Wikipedia we learn that, "Cleland was a renowned Australian naturalist, microbiologist, mycologist and ornithologist. He was Professor of Pathology at the University of Adelaide… and he was a board member of South Australia's Aborigines Protection Board…charged with the duty of controlling and promoting the welfare of Aboriginal people.”
But nowhere in Dark Emu does Mr Pascoe mention what Sir John had to say about the Aboriginal economy (see below).
“[The Aboriginal] Handicap in the absence of animals capable of domestication and of plants suitable for cultivation. The Consequent Persistence of a Nomadic Life.
Australia possesses no milk-producing animal that could be kept in domesticated herds and flocks for food purposes. It possesses very few fruits of much value and only a single nut now used in commerce and, with perhaps one exception, no vegetable that has passed into the common service of the white man. In the central parts of Australia grains of various grasses were used but none of these is likely to be capable of cultivation as crops. Roots, similarly, such as the yams of Ipomoea, have not been brought under cultivation and hardly hold out much promise if this were attempted. Thus the animal and vegetable surroundings of the first-comers to Australia were singularly unfavourable for the development of a pastoral or an agricultural people. In fact such knowledge as they might have possessed in regard to these matters before their arrival [on the Australian continent] could have been of little or no use and must have been quickly forgotten from want of application. Thus they became essentially nomads, forever hunting and seeking after their daily food. It was only in areas where fish or game, for instance, were abundant that the population became to some degree stabilized. Even here there was no attempt to cultivate food plants.”
– Cleland, J.B. The Ecology of the Aboriginal in South and Central Australia, in Aboriginal Man in South and Central Australia, Pt I, British Science Guild Handbook, 1966, p 113.
“They [the Australian Aborigines] are, of course, nomads — hunters and foragers who grow nothing, build nothing, and stay nowhere long. They make almost no physical mark on the environment…They move about, carrying their scant possessions, in small bands of anything from ten to sixty persons…Their tools and crafts, meagre — pitiably meagre — though they are, have nonetheless been good enough to let them win the battle for survival, and to win it comfortably at that. With no pottery, no knowledge of metals, no wheel, no domestication of animals, no agriculture, they have still been able to people the entire continent…”
- W.E.H.Stanner, The Dreaming & Other Essays, Black Inc Agenda, 2010, p 64,65 & 70 - our emphasis)