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The Forum > Article Comments > Water: the one reason our first peoples should be glad for 1788 > Comments

Water: the one reason our first peoples should be glad for 1788 : Comments

By Brian Holden, published 25/1/2013

In severe droughts in some parts of Australia water dries up completely, which is an insurmountable problem without western technology.

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How can an article about water issues and some bloke's bushwalking days be used as a basis for discussion concerning:

one sentence on activists and invasion?
Posted by plantagenet, Friday, 25 January 2013 8:15:40 AM
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The African bushman has survived through similar droughts for millennia, and who knows where the apparent dry riverbed invariably holds water, that can be sucked up using a hollow reed, with some dry sphagnum moss wrapped around its end! They are also skilled hunters, and can survive were no Tasmanian bush-walker, however experienced, could!
Similarly, the Australian aborigine knew where there was permanent water, even in the driest of times, and in the most arid country.
Much of what the white man has contributed, clear felling and swamp, [wetland,] draining, has destroyed much of the natural water resources, that indigenous populations previously could count on, to iron out the feast or famine nature of the rainfall.
Australia was once a land covered from coast to coast in verdant rainforest, and was once a very much wetter place.
Only in the last 12-14000 years has this changed.
Part of the problem, could have been the migration to these shores, of hunters, who relied almost exclusively, on fire as a hunting tool?
And like the Mayan civilisation, destroyed much of what had previously and reliably sustained quite large populations.
As for dropping the word invasion?
Given most of the early settlers arrived in chains and not by choice!
It's had to see it as an invasion, just enforced migration?
However, and on the other hand, the Tasmanian Aborigine, was hunted down until almost extinct, as indeed were other mainland indigenous communities.
And therefore, seen through their eyes, it was an invasion; and or, war!
And no, it wasn't all one-sided!
But, the responses to a few culled sheep or cows, were massively disproportional, with whole communities massacred!
Many of my Northern NSW white forbears would have died or starved, but for the native generosity, inherent caring and sharing way of life, bush tucker and bush medicine.
Therefore, no hand or firearm, was raised in anger, when one or two sheep disappeared from flocks that numbered in the hundreds.
However, that seems to have been the exception rather than the rule, in the clash of cultures!
Rhrosty.
Posted by Rhrosty, Friday, 25 January 2013 9:08:17 AM
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The scariest thing is that if a calamenty were too strike and cause a technology black hole, the vast majority of us in the first world would not be able to survive.
Posted by JamesH, Friday, 25 January 2013 3:49:58 PM
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"The scariest thing is that if a calamenty were too strike and cause a technology black hole, the vast majority of us in the first world would not be able to survive."

Exactly, and in the same way, when a calamity struck (drought) many Aborigines did not survive. This is why the 'secrets' (water source) of 'country' were kept so close and only passed on to initiated kin. Secrets of country endlessly fought over and protected, endless inter tribal/clan warfare, as witnessed thoughout most continental areas subject to these regular calamities. Saharan Africa and the Middle East being obvious examples.

Whilst the author took an interesting, somewhat circular rout to reach the "one sentence on activists and invasion", his is a valid 'take' on the conclusion we may draw. Our cultural perceptions are wisely tempered with, as Rhrosty states, an "on the other hand" look at any conclusions reached.

It is healthy to unpack the variety of 'myths' that develop concerning people's and cultures, as the author has done here.
Posted by Prompete, Sunday, 27 January 2013 8:12:13 AM
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Prompete,

I was thinking much the same myself, that in the inevitable droughts, the Aboriginal population would often be devastated. I have been doing some work on the Correspondence of the Protector of Aborigines here in SA, 1841-1940, and the development of a system of around 100 ration depots across the State through the late nineteenth century - so often, pastoral lessees report local Aboriginal people being in a destitute condition and he rushes Stores out by the quickest route.

But it was not just a shortage of water, but of 'natural foods', animals which could move out of drying areas much more quickly than humans - and even so, they were often wiped out by the lack of feed and surface water.

At the 1899 Royal Commission "into the Aborigines", coming at the end of decade of drought, lessees report people coming out of the desert like bags of bones, with bands tied around their abdomen to stop the hunger pains. And what happened to old people, and small children, in those times ? They died. Simple as that. At the same Royal Commission, a copper reports discovering an old lady under a bush sway out in the desert, near Camooweal, on her own, waiting to die.

The Aboriginal population must have fluctuated enormously over the last fifty thousand years, region by region. It must have been no picnic to try to survive droughts and maybe half the time, too, going by how often droughts come around - the 1880s drought, the nineties drought, the Federation drought, the 1930s drought, the 1960s and 21990s droughts. This can be a b@stard of a country, it has not been all sweetness and light. Nobody is magic, not even Aboriginal people.

I remember a lecture given here in Adelaide by Henry Reynolds, from JCU - he remarked that when he flew down, he was already over dry, semi-desert country before the plane had really got much height, and was still over it as the plane was coming down into Adelaide. Yes, there is a lot of hard country out there.

Cheers,

Joe
Posted by Loudmouth, Monday, 28 January 2013 3:31:46 PM
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Oh dear Brian, your article is an unfortunate series of highly illogical extensions.

Firstly, one of the most fundamental points of survival for the Aborigines in arid areas was knowing where they could get water in dry times. They were highly nomadic and obviously knew how to read the landscape and move on when food and water resources necessitated it.

Secondly, Aborigines lived all over the continent, not just in arid areas. Even in the worst and most widespread drought, I canít imagine that significant mortality would have occurred, let alone anywhere near the extent of being close to extinction.

Thirdly, even if the water security afforded by European society was a significant factor, it was nothing compared to the negative factors of the destruction of culture and the alcoholism, welfare dependency and hopelessness of a people forced to live on the fringes of the society of their invaders.

I find the notion that better water provision alone should somehow annul or greatly dilute the invasion and destruction of the indigenous culture of this land to be absurd and quite frankly, offensive.

Brian, I have enjoyed many of your articles, but this time you have really got my hackles up.
Posted by Ludwig, Wednesday, 30 January 2013 8:46:41 AM
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