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Outdoor and Environmental Studies Unit Three. 3.1.2 Indigenous Relationships With Natural Environments. INDIGENOUS RELATIONSHIPS WITH THE ENVIRONMENT. Beliefs Perceptions (what we think) Impacts/practices (the effects) Interactions (what we do).

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outdoor and environmental studies unit three

Outdoor and Environmental Studies Unit Three


Indigenous Relationships With Natural Environments

indigenous relationships with the environment
  • Beliefs
  • Perceptions (what we think)
  • Impacts/practices (the effects)
  • Interactions (what we do)
beliefs the dreamtime
The world was created in the dreamtime by spirit ancestors.

Equivalent to the bible.

Creation stories explain natural features, animals and plants

When they died they returned to the earth or became a natural feature/plant/animal


BELIEFS(the dreamtime)
  • They believed that the land owned them, rather than the other way around.
  • They had a responsibility to look after the land/plants/animals


  • The land would provide for them if looked after
  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qok6YM3E1z8
  • Because the "Stories of the Dreaming" have been handed down through the generations, they are not 'owned' by individuals. They belong to a group or nation, and the storytellers of that nation are carrying out an obligation to pass the stories along.
  • The Elders of a nation might appoint a particularly skilful and knowledgeable storyteller as 'custodian' of the stories of that people.
  • With the discouragement and 'unofficial' banning of the telling of traditional stories, which continued well into the twentieth century, many stories were 'lost'. The custodians passed away without being able to hand the stories on. This was particularly so in the south-east region of Australia.

Storytelling, while explaining the past, helps young Indigenous Australians maintain dignity and self-respect in the present.

Present-day custodians of stories play a vital role in Indigenous communities.

practices management
  • Semi nomadic lifestyle
  • Seasonal movements
  • Few permanent settlements
  • Hunting and gathering
  • Firestick farming
  • Story places/sacred sites
  • Totems
  • Small populations
impacts of indigenous cultures
Impacts of Indigenous Cultures
  • Possible extinction of mega fauna
  • Creation of grasslands/open woodlands
  • Introduction of dingo – impact on mainland
  • Selection of eucalypts over rainforest plants
  • Relatively little impact over 50,000 years compared to 200 years of European settlement
extinction of mega fauna
Extinction of mega fauna
  • It is a contentious issue as to whether human habitation led to the extinction of Australia’s mega fauna. The link below is from the University of NSW and give the view that species extinction was more about climate change
  • Mega Fauna Extinction and climate
  • However there is another school of thought that indigenous populations were the route cause, as the link below points out.
  • Mega Fauna and People
  • Diprotodon optatum, evolved about a million years ago and may have become extinct as recently as 15,000 years ago, has the distinction of being the largest marsupial ever. It was the size of a rhinoceros—three metres long, almost two metres high at the shoulder, and weighing as much as two tonnes. It had pillar-like legs and broad footpads, a little like those of an elephant.
introduction of the dingo
Introduction of the Dingo
  • According to Dr Tim Flannery, Director of the South Australian Museum , from about 5,000 years ago, the dingo revolutionised Australian Aboriginal culture and the natural environment. Flannery argues that the arrival of the dingo was closely associated with profound changes in aboriginal language, stone tool technology, food production, population levels and trade patterns. At the same time, these changes in indigenous culture were linked to environmental changes which were, in turn, also associated with the impact of the dingo.

As Flannery states: "Imagine the boost given to a clan that could harvest meat twice as rapidly as its neighbours". The decline in marsupial numbers as a result of the arrival of the dingo, Flannery further argues led to an increased abundance of grasses, which in turn provided the basis for the increased propensity of Aboriginal people to harvest and eat grass seeds. This increased propensity appears to have occurred by about 1000 years ago. This shift in diet may have been associated with a further increase in human population. As Flannery states: "In this dingo-driven revolution we see a profound restructuring of Australia 's ecosystems and human cultures, which involved a further diminution of the role of large herbivores, and an increase in human population fuelled by harvesting newly available plant foods. This was a dramatic departure from what had gone before."

aboriginal people after colonisation
Aboriginal people after colonisation

Unfortunately in many parts of the country, aboriginal people where treated worse than feral animals. Farmers and landowners would ride into camps shooting men, women, children and babies for the sport of it. While this was still considered murder, it mostly went unreported. Aboriginal people were often forcibly moved from their land if it was of value to settlers. Children who had mixed blood, were routinely taken from their parents and moved to orphanages across the country (the stolen generations). A lot of people in more populated areas of Australian were put onto reservations and missions


operated by the government and the church. Today aboriginal people make up less than 1% of the population, they survived in larger numbers in more remote country areas. Aboriginal history is unfortunately a very sad one, however in 1967 they were allowed to vote

(previous to this they could not vote as they were officially recognised at Fauna – native animals). In 1992 the landmark ‘Mabo’ case recognized native title of the first time’. This case disputed the legal principal of ‘Terra Nullius’, by which the British legally occupied Australia. The British Government successfully argued that the aborigines did not have a civilised society, until it was overturned in 1992.


There is very little evidence to back up any of these claims. Gippsland squatter Henry Meyrick wrote in a letter home to his relatives in England in 1846:

The blacks are very quiet here now, poor wretches. No wild beast of the forest was ever hunted down with such unsparing perseverance as they are. Men, women and children are shot whenever they can be met with … I have protested against it at every station I have been in Gippsland, in the strongest language, but these things are kept very secret as the penalty would certainly be hanging … For myself, if I caught a black actually killing my sheep, I would shoot him with as little remorse as I would a wild dog, but no consideration on earth would induce me to ride into a camp and fire on them indiscriminately, as is the custom whenever the smoke is seen. They [the Aborigines] will very shortly be extinct. It is impossible to say how many have been shot, but I am convinced that not less than 450 have been murdered altogether.

outdoor and environmental studies unit 3

Outdoor and Environmental Studies Unit 3


Non Indigenous relationships with Australian environments

key points
Key points
  • Arrived in 1788 from a continent that had seen nature controlled for centuries. Europe had high rainfall, predictable seasons and fertile soils
  • Believed that god had created the world for humans to use and control
  • Contempt – all things British were superior
  • Australian trees, landscapes, animals were harsh, ugly, strange and inferior and thus replaced with British species and landscapes.
  • Harnessed natural resources without restraint causing huge impacts such as deforestation, animal extinction and pollution.
the first settlers
The First Settlers

The first fleet sailed into Australia in 1788, landing in Botany Bay, Sydney. At first they found this land somewhat strange, after sighting kangaroos and koalas. They met with some aborigines who seemed to object to their arrival, however they were quickly scattered with their fire-sticks (muskets). Had those Aborigines known what their future would hold, they may have put up a more substantial fight. Within 100 years their population would dwindle from approximately 4 million to less than 200 thousand, through murderous slaughter and introduced disease.


PerceptionsMost of the first settlers were convicts who longed to return to England. They were unsure if they would survive in this desperate and hard place. They believed the land was now owned, by them! However they saw Australia as a threat that had to be defeated, they wanted to tame this wild land and turn in into Ye-old England. They cared none for the way the indigenous people looked after the land and managed it. They wanted to clear forests, put up fences, introduce European animals, and valued the land only on it’s commercial yield (logging, sheep and agricultural farming etc).


Interactions and impacts

  • Sheep production was the dominant farming practice of the day with 10,000,000 sheep in Victoria by 1870 (world’s largest wool supplier).
  • Sheep are hard hoofed and aggressive grazers and which in combination with land clearing caused extensive soil erosion and loss of quality pasture with deep rooted perennial grasses disappearing from many areas.
  • Logging forests was necessary to build houses for Australia’s increasing population. It also meant native trees could be replaced with more familiar English gardens.
  • Settlers introduced many foreign speicies of animal and plants such as rabbits, foxes, pigs prickly pear, blackberries etc, most often for food and sport.
  • Settlers build close to waterways, thus causing serious water pollution, aboriginal people never have allowed this.

Early industries at the Prom and their impacts

Sealing and Whaling



Cattle grazing

increasing population
Increasing population

The settlers population expanded to 400,000 people by 1850 and they still saw the environment as a resource. The land was devastated by their practices, after the gold rush the land was left in a disastrous state, as native habitats were destroyed causing the land to resemble Europeans environment. Development started by 1880 with export businesses expanding (extended grazing areas, irrigation, orchard development, market gardens and grain plantations).


Gold rush in the high country