Dark Emu II: Precolonial Australian societies tilled the land

May 2011
Rural Australia
Who, me ? Alright then, I will try to answer;

I dont know That depends what you mean by 'like a garden'. But I think I know what you mean by 'park like' as th descriptions and references to that term are in the material we have both read .

I assume not all of it was 'park like'. The park like appearance resulting from land 'management' was in those areas most suitable for it. In some cases it seemed to have 'crept across the landscape' . But would all of Australia been like a park, I doubt it.


I tjink there was aslo vast areas of 'wilderness' .
There may well have been vast areas of wilderness considering the size of the continent. The references to "Gentleman's Parks" are those reported and drawn such as this by the illustrator of Sturt's 19th century publication: "Two expeditions into the interior of southern Australia, during the years 1828, 1829, 1830, and 1831 : with observations on the soil, climate, and general resources of the Colony of New South Wales"

How does archaeological evidence answer the question that Australia was a garden ? I dont know, I dont think there is archaeological evidence that all of Australia was a garden. There is such evidence to show parts where cultivated (tools, grinding stones, etc ), there is an historical record and there is a current record in old tree growth patterns and indicators ( but that isnt archeology)
I must admit what I was thinking about was the estimated size of the grain belt compared to current times:

May 2011
Rural Australia
The existence of grindstones would not constitute evidence of cultivation or farming. It just shows that someone was exploiting a grain based food source. I think the only way to show farming of cultivation would be evidence of long term occupation of an area, something with permanent structures.
Yep. Grindstones have seen use all over the world by nomadic hunter-gatherers. They can be used as evidence for breadmaking but not agriculture.

One would need evidence of long-term seed storage, permanent settlements, and/or mass plantings to prove the existence of agriculture. Tools, alone, are not enough.
The following is derived from our earlier discussions:

  • Houses and villages:
    * [Quoting explorer Charles Sturt:] In walking along one came to a village consisting of nineteen huts... Troughs and stones for grinding seed were lying about... The fact of there being so large a well at this point... assured us that this distant part of the interior... was not without inhabitants.
    * WORKSHOPS: [M]ost of the tool workshops associated with these constructions, as well as the constructions themselves, still do not appear on the archaeological register of Aboriginal Affairs Victoria.
    * HOUSE & CAKE in Sturt's Desert: Sturt's new house, roast duck and cake!
    * HOUSES for 40 PEOPLE: On seeing houses built to accommodate forty people in groups of fifty or more both explorers resort to words like huts or hovels to describe buildings which in rural Ireland would have been called croft houses.
    * BIRDSVILLE: Several villages were located near Birdsville, south-west Queensland, where today the remoteness and inhospitable nature of the land is mythologised as the desolate Outback. Many Australians find it hard to imagine the area as a once productive and healthy environment for large numbers of Aboriginal people.
    * EXPLORERS TAKE (shelter in) HOUSES: Mitchell is sensitive to the quality of the houses but insensitive to his occupation of someone else's residence. He occupied empty houses on many occasions and liberties of this kind were likely to have ruptured the relationship between white and black more severely than any action other than physical attack.
    * TOWNS on the DARLING RIVER: On the Darling River, explorers saw similar towns to those seen by Sturt and Mitchell and estimated the population of each to be no less than a thousand. Peter Dargin estimated the population of the region as 3,000 but the journals of Sturt, Mitchell and others reveal that they passed many such populous villages.
    * MALLACOOTA HOUSE: At Mallacoota in 1842 Joseph Lingard met two Aboriginal men and, 'made bold to go into their retreat, which I found to be like a house inside'.
    * HOUSES WERE SOLID STRUCTURES: [Robinson] reported that the walls and rooves of the beehive, or kraal, type were so substantial that they were strong enough 'for a man on horseback to ride over'.
    Agriculture: sowing, irrigatation and tilling of land:
    * NINE MILES OF STOOPED GRAIN: Explorer Lieutenant Colonel Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell wrote that he "rode through nine miles of stooped grain" Mitchell's fellow explorers describe it as looking exactly like "an English field of harvest" where the grain had been stooped for ripening.
    * MASSIVE YAM FIELDS (Vic): Mitchell describes seeing massive fields of murnong stretching as far as he could see.
  • * MASSIVE YAM FIELDS (WA):Lt. Grey in Western Australia was halted by yam fields "that stretched to the horizons". The land was tilled so deeply that he could not walk across them.
    * Hillsides of Melbourne terraced for yam daisy agriculture. (Isaac Batey, early farmer)
    * HARVESTING IMPLEMENTS:Many northern Australian museums display long, knife-like implements, which usually bear legends such as 'of unknown use' when in fact they are juan knives - long sharp blades of stone with fur-covered handles, which the explorer Gregory described the Aboriginal people using to cut down the grain.
    * CACHES: King, on the doomed Burke and Wills expedition, found a storage of grain in an Aboriginal house, which he estimated at four tons.
    * MOUNDS: [T]he mounds proved to be gigantic ovens for the cooking of the compung rush.
    * HUNDREDS OF MILLSTONES: ... Sturt's description of the evening whirring of hundreds of mills grinding grain into flour.
    * YAM YIELDS: "After studying Aboriginal yields from yam daisies it is easy to imagine a potato farmer turning over part of his farm to yam, thus avoiding the need to use fertiliser and herbicides."
    * YAM PRESERVATION: The only yam plants to be found today are on railway verges and other lands fenced off from livestock and where no superphosphate has been used.
    * OZ DESERT SEEDS: Latz says that, 'the nutritional value of the seeds from the desert species is equal to or better than that of the cultivated grains'.
    * MURNONG aka YAM DAISY: A 100g sample of Microseris lanceolata tubers would provide 3-4 times the energy level of a 100g potato.
    * TWO MAJOR CROPS: yams (as well as other root vegetables) and grains.
    * Norman Tindale... estimated the milling techniques to be around 18,000 years old, an age which, if it is true, re-writes the history of world agriculture.

Of this evidence concerning agriculture perhaps the most convincing is that for the farming of the yam daisy (murnong): Microseris lanceolata
Microseris lanceolata - Wikipedia
The species has edible tuberous roots and was once a vitally important source of food for peoples of Australia. Indigenous communities, particularly in the south-eastern parts of Australia, utilised advanced soil cultivation techniques to reduce erosion and improve crop yields.[3] The introduction of cattle, sheep and goats by immigrating early–colonialist Europeans led to the near extinction of murnong,[4] with calamitous results for first Australians' communities who depended upon murnong for a large part of their food. Murnong was prepared by roasting or pit baking; the taste is described as "sweet with a flavour of coconut".​

The evidence for the farming of the yam daisy appears to me to be sufficient to establish the case that at least the coastal societies of precolonial Australian tilled the land to produce it.

The large scale production of seed grain in the inland areas, such as that witnessed by Mitchell (see above) described as looking exactly like "an English field of harvest" where the grain had been stooped for ripening, could be discussed separately.

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
I have already acknowledged in both of the previous threads that some indigenous Australian tribes practiced agriculture. We have more than enough evidence from early Australian explorers. That doesn't mean that ALL indigenous Australians practiced agriculture nor does it mean that they did it as early as some seem to think.


Ad Honorem
Oct 2016
Yep. Grindstones have seen use all over the world by nomadic hunter-gatherers. They can be used as evidence for breadmaking but not agriculture.

One would need evidence of long-term seed storage, permanent settlements, and/or mass plantings to prove the existence of agriculture. Tools, alone, are not enough.
I think there is some evidence of long term seed storage ;

" In the Darling Basin and central Australia food storage was practiced, either in skin bags or wrapped in grass that was coated with mud. One seed store in central Australia was found that held 1000 kg in 17 large wooden dishes about 30 cm deep and 1.5 m long. Bunya nuts were stored by burying. Cycad seeds were sliced, wrapped in paperbark and placed in grass-lined 6-m long trenches that were filled with soil. It is believed these cycad storage trenches were the largest storage of food in Aboriginal Australia. "

Aboriginal Food Storage

Explorer's reports of lots of people harvesting grain in a field with 'haystacks' stacked up seems to indicate mass plantings ... or at least a managed condition that allowed large areas of the same grain to grow.;

The 'seed spreading ' needs more research :

"Newly published DNA research from a team of scientists and indigenous collaborators upturns botanical history, pointing to a vast and unacknowledged human influence in the distribution of Australia's native plants.

Maurizio Rosetto, a botanist with the Royal Botanic Gardens, launched a project to map DNA of the black-bean tree around Lismore, hoping to genetically trace its journey from the wet tropics to the North Coast's rainforest ridges. "

Aboriginal people spread native plants by hand: study

I dont know if the 'villages' in Victoria where permanantly settled or part time . During the winter they where supposed to be' more permanent' ; " During winter the Djab wurrung encampments were more permanent, sometimes consisting of substantial huts as attested by Major Thomas Mitchell near Mount Napier in 1836: "

Aboriginal Victorians - Wikipedia

Again we enter the issue of definitions , re. ' agriculture ' ... ' settlement ' ... etc .
May 2011
Rural Australia
I have already acknowledged in both of the previous threads that some indigenous Australian tribes practiced agriculture. We have more than enough evidence from early Australian explorers. That doesn't mean that ALL indigenous Australians practiced agriculture nor does it mean that they did it as early as some seem to think.
I suggest that if we move away from murnong agriculture in the coastal areas, we next examine the evidence of agricultural practice that follow the river systems of Australia.


The aboriginal grain belt as drawn by Tindale (See Post #11) seems to match those areas which are served by river systems, some of which are seasonal or intermittent. The River Basin and Drainage Division map substantiates the limits of this grain belt. It would be expected that agricultural practices would vary between places with permanent river water, and places with seasonal or intermittent water.

In addition to specul8's points above (especially the evidence of large scale food storage, the descriptions of the early explorers lend credence to large communities thriving on the inland river systems. In addition to the production of grains of various varieties, the activities of some of the societies included the farming of fish and eels.


Outside of the areas serviced by reliable or semi-reliable water systems, the evidence for the production of grain is available. For example:

Food Culture: Aboriginal Bread

In Central Australia, for example, native millet (Panicum) and spinifex (Triodia) were commonly used, supplemented by wattle-seed. Elsewhere pigwig (Portulaca oleracea), prickly wattle (Acacia victoriae), mulga (Acacia aneura), dead finish seed (Acacia tetragonophylla) and bush bean (Rhyncharrhena linearis) were mixed into flour.​
Reliance on the seeds became more pronounced in the Holocene – the recent, post-ice-age period - but some archaeological sites, such as Cuddie Springs contain grinding stones dated to about 30,000 years. These stones were used to grind wild seeds into flour which in turn was baked as bread. They were and continue to be found in large numbers on numerous Aboriginal sites across the country.​


I agree that it is most important to try and understand what the chronology of the available evidence is able to inform us about the development of agricultural practices that have been noted above. A great deal of time and many generations separate the people using the Cuddie Springs grindstones 30,000 years ago, and the people who had harvested the nine miles of stooped grain witnessed by Sturt.

Fish trapping was also an activity performed by the societies around rivers and water systems. Some dates can be estimated, such as the societry who existed at the Lake Condah 70 square Km eel traps, HOUSES, and its associated economy dated c.4000 BCE.


Comparison to pre-Bronze Age European society and its associated developments in farming, in agricultural practices and animal and fish farming might be interesting, so this suggests setting a date around 4000 BCE. Obviously, with the climatic diversity of the Australian continent, and its isolation from other societies, it would be difficult to make any generalisations and then compare these to what was going on in the rest of the world before the Bronze Age in regard to these activities.. Is there is a list of Pre-Bronze Age technological innovations somewhere? But if the comparison is to be made, then the comparison of the various societies about 6,000 years ago would represent a level playing field, and IMO an interesting exercise.
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May 2011
Rural Australia
Another issue and one not discussed widely in prior threads relates to:
Australian Aboriginal languages - Wikipedia

The Australian Aboriginal languages consist of around 290–363[1] languages belonging to an estimated 28 language families and isolates, spoken by Aboriginal Australians of mainland Australia and a few nearby islands.[2] The relationships between these languages are not clear at present. Despite this uncertainty, the Indigenous Australian languages are collectively covered by the technical term "Australian languages",[3] or the "Australian family".[a]

There are a number of maps available - here is a sample:
AIATSIS map of Indigenous Australia

Indigenous languages all come from same 12,000-year-old root, researchers say
Indigenous languages come from just one common ancestor, researchers say


Ad Honorem
Oct 2016
Here is a good documentary film; it is about the role Aboriginals played in the establishment of the colony in Victoria, in regard to transportation .

" The canoes were used to transport goods and people, including surveyors and explorers, stock, feed and food.

There was even a story of a piano being carted across a river.

"It was really an entrepreneurial opportunity for Aboriginal people in a time when there wasn't a lot of opportunity for them," Ms Horrocks said.

She said Aboriginal people learnt and found ways to adapt and flourish, particularly during the gold rush period in Victorian history, an opportune time to make money.

"Aboriginal people would just set up shop with a bark canoe at convenient crossing points and they would charge a fee to cross," she said.


Documentary explores the significance of Aboriginal entrepreneurship
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Jun 2018
New Hampshire
Dark Emu! Mwahahahahahahahaha Dark Emu! Hahahahahahahahahaha Dark Emu! Dark Emu! What a goofy name! Mwahahahahahahahaha Dark Emu *gasp* *snicker* mwahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!!!