Light shed on history of Australia’s first people

REVISING HISTORY: Bruce Pascoe of Mallacoota talks about the agricultural practises of the Original Australians. Picture: Albert McKnight
REVISING HISTORY: Bruce Pascoe of Mallacoota talks about the agricultural practises of the Original Australians. Picture: Albert McKnight

Stone fish traps, kangaroo fences, ancient grinding dishes and the story of a 19th century European explorer who saw a town in a desert – this is some of the evidence that suggests the Original Australians ran complex and advanced societies. 

Bunurong man Bruce Pascoe of Mallacoota is an educator at the forefront of revising Australian history. 

He has filled many roles over his life, including farmer, teacher, Aboriginal language researcher, archaeological site worker and editor. 

His book Dark Emu, which won Book of the Year at the 2016 NSW Premiers Literary Awards, argues about reconsidering the hunter-gatherer tag for precolonial Indigenous Australians. 

He said there was evidence Indigenous people across the continent were using domesticated plants, sowing, harvesting, irrigating and storing. 

At the Far South Coast Landcare Association’s annual general meeting in Bega on October 13, Mr Pascoe talked about his research into the issue. 

He said when British explorer Charles Sturt was travelling what is now Sturt’s Stony Desert in the 1800s he was rescued by people living in a town with 500 residents who harvested grain despite living in a harsh environment. 

Also, he said Indigenous Australians in the Alps used to live in stone houses.

“I don’t think there were many places in the country that didn’t have towns,” Mr Pascoe said.  

When it came to agricultural practises, one example was the fish traps at Brewarrina in northern NSW.

These are a network of rock weirs and pools built around 40,000 years ago to catch fish as they swam upstream and are one of the oldest man-made structures on earth.

Also, grinding stones have been found at Cuddie Springs in western NSW that were used to grind grain 30,000 years ago.

“That is a world first; there is no-one doing it before that,” Mr Pascoe said.  

He said Original Australians used to herd kangaroos into systems of fences, then kill the young males for food.  

There also used to be multi-operational fields, Mr Pascoe said, of domesticated yam daises – or murnong - and kangaroo grass. 

When the Europeans brought sheep to the country the animals went to yam paddocks and ate the plants to the ground, but a couple of yam gardens have survived on the Bundian Way. 

On the evening, the new Far South Coast Landcare executive was announced. 

Josh Dorrough is chair, Dean Turner vice-chair, Bruce Davison treasurer, John Carter secretary with the committee Sue McIntyre, Len Gazzard and Philippa Russell. 


Discuss "Light shed on history of Australia’s first people"

Please note: All comments made or shown here are bound by the Online Discussion Terms & Conditions.