Scientists have decided recently that desert areas in Australia and the dryness of the climate can be laid at the feet of the aborigines who, they say, changed the ecology of the country with systematic burning of forests.
They are really out on a limb with this hypothesis as far as I am concerned when you consider that the English Government at the time of settlement considered this country Terra Nullius, that is, Empty Land.
By giving the country this particular name they denied the aborigines had any place here; denied that the aborigines had had any effect at all on the land and denied them a place as citizens.
The term Terra Nullius is used still in the present time when referring to the time of settlement of Australia and is one of the reasons that present Prime Minister John Howard refuses to apologise to the aborigines for their treatment at the hands of the Europeans.
The other reason is that he thinks that no one was responsible for the appalling treatment they received, and that it was a natural occurrence in the taking over of a country.
Howard couldn't be more wrong . Haven't we all gone to a friend at a funeral and said to him" I am sorry for your loss" without claiming responsibility for it?
That's how I see the situation.
I don't believe I was responsible personally for what happened but I am certainly sorry for it .I am sorry for the treatment received by innocent people who were living out their lives quietly; the all-out slaughter of aborigines if they dared to defend their stolen land; the total lack of dignity allowed to aborigines in the normal course of their lives even to this day; and the expectation that aborigines should be grateful for the Government hand-outs that are meant not to help them, but to develop in them a sense of need.
The population of aborigines during the 60,000 years it has now been proven that they have lived here has never been high, and it is mind-boggling to think that they could have devastated the forests ,and killed huge numbers of now extinct beasts by their habit of firing the forests occasionally for food.
Climate and ecology change could be expected over a long period of time and to blame it on the few tribal people who lived here for all those years is a pathetic attempt to denigrate them once again.
Each time I buy Chinese Takeaway I am given chopsticks made from wood pulp, and I know I am holding in my hands the great old trees of Tasmania's old growth forests.
John Howard allows the thousands of years old forests to be felled to make wood pulp to sell to the Japanese who dislike re-using chopsticks.
I have a drawer full of chopsticks because I am unable to throw away the evidence of our once great and magnificent old growth forests, where the tree ferns grow to enormous heights and where in places human foot has never been set.
I notice that until the Howard Government allowed wood-chipping, the forests had survived 60,000 years of aboriginal settlement.
Wouldn't you think that if the aborigines had been as destructive as previously mentioned, that the old growth forests would all be gone?
But they aren't.
One of the worst attacks on the ecology of Australia occurred from the fifties onward when Joh Bjelke-Peterson, later to become Premier of Queensland invented a device consisting of two tractors with a huge chain between, which, when driven through scrub land laid it all on the ground.
This caused devastation of the green areas of Queensland and other states when it was taken up further afield.
This sort of destruction of the ecology is continuing today, with farmers insisting they cannot farm or run cattle on land that has trees on it.
In areas like Gatton the devastation is almost complete with trees razed and water drawn from the water table in the form of bores. It is estimated that it will take 200 years to restore the land to the condition it was formerly in; that is, without salty soil.
Australia is the only country in the world where it can be said that in a mere 200 years good farmland has been totally destroyed and the use of chemicals and tree felling has caused wide-spread destruction.
In northern Queensland there are a number of wonderful old rain forests that have escaped the onslaught of the Europeans, and in the centre of the continent, far away from the sea, and where the sun burns along the flat expanses of land, there is desert.
For 60,000 years the aborigines lived along the coast where they fished and in season went inland for the Bunya Pine Festivals they held to celebrate the arrival of the nuts on the trees.
They moved their tribes where the food was best; from the coast when the fish ran, to inland when it didn't.
Some tribes lived inland and learned things about the land that Europeans never did, and never showed any interest in until very recently when the thought of war, and existence on the land became a possibility.
Then the aborigines were besieged for advice.
How do you find a water-hole when the sun is burning and you are far from everything you know?
Which trees can you eat the seeds from, and not suffer poisoning?
How do you catch a fish/ turtle/ snake for food when you are starving and have nothing to hand to assist you?
The questions are endless because "civilised" people do not know these things, and the day may be coming when they will need to.
That will be the day when the aborigine comes into his own, when someone who can take his living from the land will be of high value.
And in the meantime we watch the old growth forests that the aborigines saved for 60,000 for us disappear into a pile of wood-chip.
We watch the clear water-ways dry up and die from poison run-off from farms and industry.
No blaming the aborigines there.
We watch one of the last large colonies of platypus approach annihilation because the Government insists that a supermarket that no one wants be built right beside the platypus colony.
We see one of the animals on our Coat of Arms, the kangaroo "culled" 30,000 at a time.
I can see in my mind's eye the present day aborigines of Australia crying for their country; for the loss of everything they knew to be true and right from their ancestor memories; for David Gulpilil, actor extraordinaire and wonderful human being who is not allowed to sit with his friends and family in the long grass outside the towns lest it upset the white people.
A great wrong has been done here in Australia as has been done in some other countries with the arrival of the Europeans, and it is too late to change things now.
But we can still recognise the benefits the aborigines have to offer us and treat these wonderful people with the respect they deserve from us.
And to let them know how sorry we are for what has happened to them as a race, and declare that while we live on this land and breathe this air, we will be thankful to them for preserving it for all those years for us to enjoy now.
Copyright: Bernie Pattison
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