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Contrasting Colonial And Indigenous Use Of Natural Resources

1287 words - 6 pages

The Australian Aboriginals arrived on the North west coast of Australia some 50,000 years ago, crossing on land bridges caused by changing sea levels (ACME, 2008). They have stayed in Australia to this day, once expanding to about 600 different groups all over the country (though in particular concentration around littoral regions and other large water sources, as demonstrated in Figure 1). When European colonisation began in the 1780s (australia.gov, 2008), a fundamental difference in the two cultures, and cause of much dispute and damage, was a fundamental difference in opinions of surplus. This void of understanding between the native hunter-gatherer culture for which surplus was unnecessary, and the settling, largely agriculturally and pastorally based culture in which surplus was vital, can be said to account for a large part of cultural difference and disagreement.

It can be generally assumed that in terms of sustainability the Aboriginal style of living was superior. One simply has to look at the rapid environmental degradation and depletion of resources since European colonisation to see that in order to survive for 50,000 years the Aboriginal people must have used far more sustainable techniques, and this observation is supported by masses of records and research. While the Aboriginal peoples manipulated the environment, it was done in such a way that naturally occurring processes were not changed, but rather enhanced. Fire was used as a sophisticated tool to create a series of diverse environments, increasing the variety of plants and animals available (Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania, 2012). While this changed the landscape—notably opening up forest canopies and thus allowing for undergrowth germination, and transforming bush into grasslands, so encouraging an increase in grazing animals, reptiles, and edible fungi—it did so in a way that the land was sustained.

The Europeans more actively manipulated the environment. Those who came to Australia early, excepting convicts, were primarily in search of wealth, and many had some sort of convict workforce. The lack of available arable land in Britain pushed people towards this newfound land, which offered them relief from the overpopulated cities whence they came. Their more active manipulation of the land, especially the introducing of foreign species, damaged the natural environment and affected the ability of the Aboriginal people, considered by them barbaric, to practice their better adapted ‘survival’ techniques. The population growth and sudden increase in population density, when previously it had been extremely low (estimated population of Australia before 1788 is 750,000 (Australia Museum, 2013)) coupled with the settler’s inability to use suitable food sourcing methods meant that the land was not able to naturally supply settlers with the necessary food. Consequently, starvation and food shortage was initially a large problem for Europeans.

The difference between the indigenous...

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