White Australians have tended to think of our First Nation peoples as intellectually inferior, and culturally backward. Well yes, they didn’t have written languages but nor did many tribes in Africa New Guinea and the Pacific when white men arrived from Europe or Asians arrived from SE Asia. What they did have and still retain is a methodology for passing on information to the young via song, dance, story telling and hand-on field experience.
Their understanding of their local ecology to me represents a science that is shared culturally. They did not need peer-group reviewed scientific papers to endorse their authority. It was just accepted at elder’s wisdom. Wisdom is the key word here, the wisdom pervading their approach to environmental stability, their moving around with the seasonal changes, the way to find tucker and water in the long dry periods. The sense of small clan groups being mobile.
We limit our understanding of Aboriginal science by our fixed view of what is science. We don’t engage enough. We think we know better but have made so many mistakes in opening up the Australian land to grazing and farming without understanding the environmental consequences it should be embarrassing. The Aboriginal approach has been to ‘live with nature’ not fight against. Our Ecologists and Agronomist are improving the field practices of farmers, but we have a long way to go, and by blending our approach with Aboriginal knowledge must surely bring even more benefits.
On the eve of 2018 Australia this is a very important message that needs to be spread — that our First Nation Peoples were great Ecologists! And educating them further through our modern systems of schooling and University must be of highest priority. Then we win and they win!
Robin Simson 25/1/18