Sunday, 21 May 2006

Ochre Arch History Part 4 - Pre European Settlement

Pre arrival of the Aborigines
There is general consensus that the Aborigines arrived on the Australian continent somewhere between 40-60,000 years ago and that during this period there has been a major decline in the species of very large mammals, or megafauna. There is great debate as to the cause of the extinction of these megafauna species, ranging from the impact of early people of Australia hunting them to extinction and / or using fire to alter the environment, to significant climatic changes over the period (especially a very intense dry spell around 26,000 years ago), through to the effect of new animals coming into Australia as we drew ever closer to south-east Asia (including disease or infestation bought along with the invading species).
Allan Savory in his book “Holistic Management – A New Framework for Decision Making” (ISBN 1-55963-488-X) makes the following comments on Page 6. “By the time humans acquired the use of fire, and our technology had grown sophisticated enough to enable us to reach and settle new continents or isolated islands, we were capable of inflicting enormous damage. Within 400 years of their arrival in New Zealand, the Maori had exterminated nearly all the flightless birds, including 12 different species of the giant (550 pound) moa, and decimated much of the seashore life. Following the arrival of the Aborigines in Australia … over 80 percent of the large mammalian genera became extinct. The fires deliberately set by the Aborigines when hunting, or to limit the extent of uninhabitable rainforest, led to a dramatic increase in soil erosion, the abrupt disappearance of fire sensitive plant species, and a dramatic Increase in fire-dependent species, such as eucalypts. In North America, over 70 percent of the large mammalian genera became extinct following the arrival of Native Americans around 12,000 years ago.”
I have included the above purely to make the point that the environment on and around Ochre Arch has changed (possibly) quite dramatically throughout the millennia. I am not attempting to attribute blame for this change. Let's not forget that since the arrival of European settlers there has been a decline of over 25 % in the number of ALL mammal species in Australia.
For those interested in learning more about the species of Australian megafauna that are now extinct I strongly recommend you spend a few minutes checking out the web address Imagine having 2 tonne wombats and marsupial lions roaming around!
Local Aborigines
Ochre Arch is in the South West Slopes region of NSW, and from an indigenous Australia perspective falls within ‘Wiradjuri country’. Wiradjuri refers to the Aboriginal language that was, and is still, spoken by the various family or kinship groups throughout the region and is said to mean ‘people of the three rivers’; with those rivers being the Macquarie, Lachlan and Murrumbidgee. I know little of the history of the Wiradjuri people but understand the land area they occupied and their impact declined significantly between 1830 and 1850 in connection with the territorial spread of the early settlers. This period ties in with the establishment of the Pinnacle Run mentioned in a prior blog. The Aboriginal communities nearest to Ochre Arch that I am aware of are at Forbes and Cowra.
We have found a couple of artefacts on Ochre Arch, and as I’ve mentioned in another blog we renamed the property from to Ochre Arch following a visit from Aboriginal archaeologist Sue Hudson in September 2005. Sue discovered that the natural ironstone arch in one of our creeks had been mined by Aborigines for ochre.
I contacted Sue Hudson to find out a little more about the Wiradjuri language. She informed me that:
1. 'Wiradjuri' is still spoken and it is offered a language course out of the Australian National University in Canberra.
2. 'Wiradjuri' refers to a language group. This means that all of the people in the area spoke it but it differed from place to place in that you can understand what they are saying but it sounds different. Similar to what occurs in the counties of England; for example Yorkshire compared to London.
3. Language groups are distinct but in areas where there are adjacent language groups bits of each language can be understood by neighbours, For example, the English spoken by the English from England compared to Welch from the Welch in Wales. Some neighbouring Aboriginal language groups are Wiradjuri, Wongarbon and Gamaroi.
4. Aboriginal groups are not referred to as tribes - there are no tribes as such. There are family or kinship groups within each area. For example, those living around Grenfell would be related to one another, some close, some distant. Their marriage partners came from groups such as, say, Peak Hill, Cowra or Condobolin that would meet at social/ceremonial occasions. Their system of who could/couldn't marry is very strict and is called 'moieties'.
5. An excellent publication to learn more about Aborigines is "The World of the First Australians" by RM & CH Berndt.
When Jan and I were visiting Wallace Rockhole in the Northern Territory recently the local tour guide, Ken, made a comment about land connection and Aborigines that is worth mentioning. Most of us who live in Australia speak of ‘owning the land’ whilst the Aborigines believe they ‘belong to’ the land. A very different perspective indeed.
Link to Ochre Arch History Part 1
Link to Ochre Arch History Part 2
Link to Ochre Arch History Part 3
Link to Ochre Arch History Part 5

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