Bill Gammage, the veteran historian and author of the ground breaking book, The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia, will give a talk at the Daylesford Town Hall on Friday Nov 29. Bill Gammage is adjunct professor in the Humanities Research Centre at the Australian National University.
In this multi-award winning book, Bill refutes the common notion that pre-1788 Aboriginal people had no system of land management, on the contrary he shows that the people who lived here then had developed, over many generations, a complex, elaborate system of management to ensure the survival of their culture.
He suggests that time spent maintaining the landscape was a cultural obligation of great import. There’s an exhibition of works by colonial artist Thomas Clark at the Hamilton Art Gallery, a room full of 1850-60’s views of the western district ……wide open spaces, clear of stumps. Clark and other artists of the day had no agenda to paint anything other than what they saw. Where are the trees, now so plentiful?
Gammage uses written accounts by explorers and historians, and early landscape views (sketches, paintings, etc) to explain how Aborigines created an ideal landscape for obtaining the variety of food items they needed in their diet, and kept the countryside clear of dense vegetation (and thus dangerous fires).
The indigenous Australians were more efficient than Europeans, Bill asserts, in getting food, shelter and other needs from the land, mostly by the use of fire and manipulation of the life-cycles of food plants.
Once the fire-based land management systems was removed with the arrival of Europeans, the continent became overgrown and thus more fire prone (made worse, as well, by the climate changing to a much drier one). With The Biggest Estate on Earth, Bill has updated the history of Australia, and our way of seeing our land. If his conclusions will be debated, they speak directly to contemporary concerns with land and land care. The central premise of The Biggest Estate on Earth is that before white settlement, the continent had been looked after by mindful and meticulous caretakers.
The talk is organised by the Hepburn Relocalisation Network. Do not miss this rare opportunity.
Entry $10/$8 pre booked $15/$12 at the door
Here is Bill Gammage talking about the book.
Review on the Wheeler Centre website.
(The recording of his talk, introduced by HRN’s Su Dennett is available here.)