|Vast tracts of eucalypt-dominated forest are far from a "natural" ideal. I'm sorry to have to say that knowing how it will be resisted by many Green friends, but it is an inescapable part of a much bigger argument about Australia's place in the world. Right now that argument still has the flavour of an apocryphal blind person discovering an elephant by touch, but dice are really rolling, so it's time to note some pointers.
At the heart of this story, of my framing, is a simple slogan I've been pushing for some time: We have more to learn from them than they have from us. Of course this is about Australian culture as seen in contrast to occupier culture. (While I'm addressing this to my fellow occupiers, I would more than welcome any intervention by those who celebrate deeper ancestry here and who, in their deepest selves, have not sold out to the temptations of some Hollywood.)
This has become more urgent today as I have reached Chapter 3 of Bruce Pascoe's Dark Emu: Black seeds agriculture or accident? which was published just 16 days ago and ups the ante enormously from Bill Gammage's high water mark that I reviewed 15 months ago. Pascoe revisits the journals of early "explorers" to describe a swathe of farming practices within the setting of Gammage's fire-managed woodlands.
It is now impossible to escape the conclusion that Australians maintained a sustainable agricultural civilisation for more than 40 thousand years before anything comparable developed in Eurasia, Africa or the Americas. Freed from the framing needed to sustain Terra Nullius, 21st Century archaeologists and historians will increasingly make their reputations on a more honest reading of the limitless evidence. Tim Flannery's Future Eaters may have been first to make a case that humanity's original entry into Sahul was the source of the ill begotten notion of mastery over nature which looks very sick in the shadow of the locals' custodial attitude to the land.
The other blindingly obvious point that my fellow occupiers insist on ignoring is that our prevailing, globally minor, third rate example of derivative Hollywood culture gets no significant traction internationally, while tiny surviving fragments of indigenous culture have become valued everywhere else. While today it is a fantasy, it is no longer too early to start working towards a revived and world-situated Australian culture which celebrates its deep roots and quickly redresses the horrific imposed incarceration differential.
Compound all that with Lynne Kelly's research, soon(?) to be published on the role of rock art as index to verbal knowledge in late pre-literate cultures, showing the Burrup Peninsula alone to be the University library of five millenia. (It's little wonder the oligarchic end of the occupation spectrum remains determined to obliterate such places.)
Finally back to my Green problem. Gammage alone, and even more so in cohorts with the century old Cumbo pic linked below, makes it clear the country the invaders found was much closer to open parkland than today's dense eucalypt forests presumed by too many environmental activists to be essential to the survival of particular at risk species. That last claim is historically impossible, or those species would not be with us. Eucalypts have only dominated swathes of the continent since fire management was forcibly terminated. Before the first peoples there had been a completely different tree species mix, with now extinct large herbivores similarly keeping it more open than the almost impenetrable mess that has been allowed to establish during the occupation. More than a few other countries know too well just what a dangerously invasive weed the most impressive eucalypts can be.