A recurring question throughout Aboriginal history is the question of why Aboriginals never adopted an agricultural way of living – at least until the first settlers came to Australia. The problem of this question is that it will always be difficult to even think about trying to find out the reasons why something did not occur – it falls under the realm of speculation and downright fantasy. It renders the purported problem to be moot and academic.
It’s a question that’s just as futile as if whether the families of yesteryears, say, in the 1800s, ever imagined that we would be able to create a device that regulates irrigation as it detects its environmental surroundings… simply put, the best answer would be that they just didn’t, due to more pressing needs.
But now that we have access to all these technological advances, we have seen the advent of said device coming to fruition beyond all of our ancestors’ wildest dreams – you only need to go to The Smart Future (via thesmartfuture.net) to see the latest in smart technologies to do so.
It’s fundamentally unfair to expect that history would unfold in one culture as it would for others in the exact same fashion – it’s just as big of a fallacy as believing that everybody is equal. It just isn’t true at all.
That’s not to say that Australian societies failed to make progress, because each society progresses due to its own unique set of circumstances, without having to make any value judgements.
That being said, let’s examine three possible reasons why agriculture was never adopted by the Australian Aborigines – this won’t be a dissertation, but rather an overview for what these reasons may be.
The Problem of Australian Ecology
You know what they say about Australia – something is always out to get you. If it’s not the harsh, arid, and extreme environment and climate, then it’s the flora and fauna that have developed unique and deadly ways to survive. And that’s just one aspect. Go ahead – try to farm in the arid grasslands or extreme desert environments. The chances of the most highly skilled farmers using the latest implements to farm in these environments and succeeding are slim to none – only the introduction of irrigation in recent years has begun to change things, and as it is, it’s only a matter of time before underground water sources dry up. In more ways than one, the ecology of Australia then and even now presents a huge challenge to agriculture.
Historically Low Population Density
Australia then was composed of small scattered societies – it’s hard to make innovations and share knowledge about something as complex as farming techniques in the desert when societies are scattered among remote areas, coupled with the barrier of languages. Furthermore, it’s just as hard to come up with technological innovations from primitive implements when societies are this far apart from each other. Therefore one could imagine that this low density, paired with Australia’s size and ecology, was just too much for Aboriginal societies to take up such a structured, ordered, and disciplined endeavor such as farming.
The Problem of Isolation
Innovation and improved agricultural practices take thousands of years to evolve to a level that can support entire societies – it took so much time to spread from the Near East, to Europe, and to the other corners of the world. Such that when it did reach the outskirts of the world, the practice of farming was already very highly advanced, and whose beginnings are unrecognizable from the primitive farming methods they once came from. And the remoteness, therefore, of Australia then, as it is now, definitely has played a part in why Aboriginal culture hadn’t taken up agriculture – just because of its sheer geographical isolation.
One need only look to New Zealand as to a perfect example of why the native Polynesian populations there never took agriculture up, too – even if the pastures are aplenty, and rivers are flowing with milk and honey, it was just too remote and so far out of any path that no one found it useful until the turn of the 19th century.
Thus, Aboriginal Australian societies never took up farming until the 19th century due to a stitch in time, because until that moment of introduction, the areas and societies living in it were perfectly suited for hunting and gathering societies to thrive and flourish in otherwise adverse conditions.