The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines made Australia

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Allen & Unwin, Oct 1, 2011 - History - 384 pages
2 Reviews
Across Australia, early Europeans commented again and again that the land looked like a park. With extensive grassy patches and pathways, open woodlands and abundant wildlife, it evoked a country estate in England. Bill Gammage has discovered this was because Aboriginal people managed the land in a far more systematic and scientific fashion than we have ever realised.

For over a decade, Gammage has examined written and visual records of the Australian landscape. He has uncovered an extraordinarily complex system of land management using fire and the life cycles of native plants to ensure plentiful wildlife and plant foods throughout the year. We know Aboriginal people spent far less time and effort than Europeans in securing food and shelter, and now we know how they did it.

With details of land-management strategies from around Australia, The Biggest Estate on Earth rewrites the history of this continent, with huge implications for us today. Once Aboriginal people were no longer able to tend their country, it became overgrown and vulnerable to the hugely damaging bushfires we now experience. And what we think of as virgin bush in a national park is nothing of the kind.

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User Review  - Polaris- - LibraryThing

Bill Gammage's book was kindly leant to me by a new found friend while I was away in Western Australia. Unfortunately, owing to the many wonderful distractions one encounters during a family reunion ... Read full review

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This book opens entire new imaginings. For instance, while Gammage doesn't say Aboriginals designed new living areas and left old ones to fallow after being burned, you can almost discover this yourself. It seems the Australian Aboriginal became so professional with the creation of new lands for community living, remnants of the activity simply don't exist. It seems they were so adept in moving, they actually moved the entire biota of a region and set it all down again in an adjoining region, leaving the past which generates naturally. Movement did not occur overnight, but over wondrous times of living, playing with family and loving every day. Whether over decades, dozens of decade or some other term, quickly frequent or infrequent, we may never know. But they seemed to bring all their animals by creating new parks with favoured flora. The only problem with Bill Gammage' book is that you become so totally immersed and when you finally surface nothing else looks the same. The modern world becomes a burgeoning behemoth of an oil driven garage filled with garden apparatus, tools, bulldozers, tractors, mowers, diggers and every other, farming, gardening and environmental engineering implement you hideously come across. Suddenly you can't write anything worthy of what you've witnessed through your remarkable imagination accessed through reading 'Biggest Estate...'. Nothing less than wondrous. 


Why was Aboriginal land management possible?
How was land managed?
Appendix 1 Science historyand landscape
Appendix 2 Current botanical names for plants named with capitals in the text

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About the author (2011)

Bill Gammage is a historian and adjunct professor in the Humanities Research Centre at the Australian National University. He is best known as author of the ground-breaking The Broken Years: Australian Soldiers in the Great War.

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