Australian Aboriginal Agriculture

When I was at school nothing was taught about Aboriginal Australia. The little knowledge I do have is from friends, family and television. Sadly none of these sources cast a shining light on Aboriginal people or their culture.

I’ve heard many times that Australian Aborigines did no farming of any sort. Even as recent as a year ago when I asked a Northern Territory National Parks officer if he thought Aboriginal people might have moved fig trees from one area to another, he laughed at me.

Aborigines are renowned  for their amazing knowledge of what can be eaten – some foods needing complicated processing before being edible. Yet even after 50,000 years they still hadn’t figured out how to cultivate plants?

This has always struck me as a bit odd, but hey if it’s generally accepted that these people were hunter gatherers with no need for farming, then who was I to think otherwise?

A couple of months ago I came across an  article about the Cabbage Palms that grow in Finke Gorge National Park in Northern Territory. These world famous palms shouldn’t be growing where they are… in the middle a desert!

It has long been accepted that they are rainforest remnants, but new evidence suggests this isn’t the case. These palms had been brought to the area or at least their seeds had been. Genetic testing confirmed they are the same plants that grow a thousand kilometers away in Mataranka and Lawn Hill and they’ve only been in this location for a relatively short period of time.

You could argue that these palms were moved by animals, which sadly is probably how most Australian’s would explain this fact, but it’s a lot easier to admit that Aboriginal Australians were probably the reason for these plants being here.

That’s when I came across “Dark Emu: Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident” by Bruce Pascoe. It’s such an eye opener! It seems Aborigines may have been farming 20,000 or more years before the commonly accepted 10,000 year mark, that agriculture is thought to have started.

I won’t say too much about the book, if you’re interested then buy it, it’s a great short read with a stack of information. What I will say is that it is clear from the Author’s research that Aborigines did farm! They farmed both plants and animals allowing them to thrive in almost every environment Australia could throw at them.

Some of the plants that Aborigines grew are starting to attract scientific attention. Australian Native Rices are the only wild gene pools left in the world and may one day help improve current rice crops.

“Alpine Rice” a Victorian Agricultural company has started the first Australian native rice farm maybe encouraging interest in this and other native crops. And hey, maybe history will remember Aboriginal Australia’s past in farming!



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