How far back does our history go?
We already know that the indigenous Australians go back somewhere between 40,000 and 60,000 years but in actual fact an unprecedented DNA study has found evidence of a single human migration out of Africa and confirmed that the Australian Aborigines are the oldest known civilisation on earth with ancestries stretching back roughly 75,000 years.
It’s true there has been, historically, a small number of claims that there were people in Australia, before the Australian Aborigine, but these claims have all been refuted and are no longer widely debated. The overwhelming weight of evidence supports the idea that Aboriginal people were the first Australians.
So, our history, effectively, goes back 75,000 years.
Aboriginal people formed one of the most technologically advanced societies in the world when they first arrived in Australia. The way they adapted to our country’s challenging conditions is a testament to Aussie inventiveness. It was once a widely held belief in Australia that before contact, Aboriginal culture stood still. But forming the kinds of agricultural societies typical of English settlers just wasn’t the right strategy to endure Australia’s harsh conditions. Even with imported English technology, agriculture was a precarious business in Australia.
The Aboriginal people refined their societies, not over a few hundred years as we have done, but over 75,000 years. It may have seemed that the culture had stood still from the first European contact but remember that their culture goes back to a time when the rest of the world were living in the Stone Age. You don’t fix something that is not broken.
Just to give you an idea as to how good their technology was, here I’ll list some Aboriginal inventions: 10 enduring innovations. These inventions and innovations are among the earliest known in the world and helped Aboriginal people survive Australia’s harsh conditions, (by Lynda Delacey 12th March 2015).
The Boomerang’s distinctive sound and remarkable return has made it famous throughout the world. Other cultures invented throwing sticks with controllable motion and spin, but the boomerang was a purely Australian Aboriginal invention. The angled shape with asymmetrical curves makes use of one of the most complicated principles of aerodynamics : asymmetrical lift.
The woomera is another uniquely Aboriginal invention that uses leverage to allow a spear to be thrown up to three times further. Witnesses report seeing spears thrown with enough force to skewer the trunk of a full grown eucalyptus tree!
Aboriginal people made a powerful thermoplastic resin from porcupine grass and grass trees. They beat the resin out of the grass, then cleaned it and heated it over fire to create a sticky, black substance. The resulting resin hardened as it cooled and was strong enough to bind rock to wood. This resin was used to create tools such as spears, woomeras and axes.
Weirs and Fish Traps
Aboriginal people demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of engineering, physics and aquaculture in the design of elaborate stone fish traps in NSW, and the 100 square kilometre eel farm at Lake Condah in Victoria. They made these fish farms by creating complex systems of canals, linked weirs and ponds out of river stones. Lake Condah shows evidence of a very large, settled community that harvested and smoked eels to trade. Some of the Australian Aboriginal fish traps are thought to be up to 40,000 years old. They may be some of the oldest surviving human-made structures in the world.
The Coolgardie Safe, which used capillary action and evaporative cooling to keep food from spoiling , was the ‘household fridge’ of Australia from the 1890’s until the mid-twentieth century. It is thought to have been partly inspired by watching Aboriginal people carry water in special bags made of wallaby skin, which used the same principles of heat transfer to keep the water cool.
Stone and Natural Glass Tools
Aboriginal stone tools were highly sophisticated in their range of uses. Stone and natural glass were fashioned into chisels, saws, knives, axes and spear heads. Stone tools were used for hunting, carrying food, for making ochre, nets, clothing, baskets and more. Aboriginal people are thought to be one of the first to use stone tools to grind seeds and the first to create ground edges on stone tools. They could grind a precision edge from stone that was as sharp as any metal blade found in England in 1788.
The Didgeridoo (didjeridu)
Played by men in ceremony and thought to be the world’s oldest wind instrument. Simple in design but a complicated instrument to play the didgeridoo was termite-hollowed and tends to be wider in diameter at the bottom than the top. It creates unusual resonant frequencies.
Bush Foods and Medicines
Aboriginal people fished, hunted, rendered poisonous seeds edible, turned certain moths and grubs into delicious meals, made sweet drinks from native honey and nectar, ground grass seeds to bake an early form of damper. They used tannins to treat inflammation and alkaloids to relieve pain; extracted antiseptics such as tea tree oil to cure infections and harvested latex to treat ulcers and skin conditions.
Aboriginal adults made rattles, dolls, spinning tops and balls for their children to play with, as well as small scale, harmless models of tools and weapons. Children made toy propellers out of strips of long leaves, which they launched into the air in throwing competitions.
When the first settlers arrived in Sydney they found fields of open grass that seemed ideal for farming sheep. They didn’t know that Aboriginal people made and actively maintained these fields through a form of, controlled burning, called, ‘firestick farming’! Aboriginal firestick farming was incredibly precise. They could aim the fires in a specific direction to clear tracks through the bush or create open parklands. Firestick farming flushed out animals that could be killed instantly for food. New grasses grew in the burned off areas, creating ideal conditions for game animals, such as wallabies, and encouraging low-growing food plants to grow. Some Aboriginal people have warned that low intensity burning is necessary to prevent more serious fires in Australia.
It’s a pity the European settlers didn’t take a leaf out of the Aboriginal’s book on how to treat the environment. They saw themselves as the custodians of the land not the owners because they believe they came from the land , everything they needed came from the land and they eventually went back to the land. For at least 74,768 years the Australian landscape hardly changed but look what’s happened in the last 232 years.
That’s about it for this week, stay tuned to find out what the, real, reasons were for England to send more than 160,000 convicts to our shore.