Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Kangaroos and flooding rains

Browsing around, I found a reference to the current shortage of kangaroo meat. I can't give a link. It's not on line.

Apparently, with the ending of the drought, the kangaroo population has spread across the countryside, making it harder for shooters to find them. There are also problems in some cases with access because of boggy ground.

I had this filed away as a possible quirky story, then realised that it actually illustrated something that I have talked about from time to time in my discussions on Aboriginal Australia. Most recently in Environment and the distribution of Aboriginal languages in NSW I said in part:

Australia is a very dry continent, marked by periodic droughts and floods. The inland rivers of the Murray- Darling Basin including the Murray have all stopped flowing for periods in recorded times. This affects not just water for human consumption, but also the vegetable and animal food supplies on which the Aborigines depended.

It seems that the size and distribution of Aboriginal populations were broadly related to what we might think of as the carrying capacity of the country in bad times. However, this relationship was a variable one. Among other things, the human birth rate cannot be exactly matched to changing conditions. It seems likely that populations expanded during prolonged good times, then contracted.

We have some evidence for this from the Murray River with its high population but smaller river dependent language territories. There skeletal evidence from burials shows signs of periodic malnutrition.

Elsewhere in inland NSW, Aboriginal populations concentrated near water during dry periods, expanding across land at other times to take advantage of newly available water and food resources.

This traditional pattern of population concentration during dry times followed by dispersal is well documented. Now if you look at the story about kangaroo meat you can see why.

If you are an Aboriginal hunter who wants to add some kangaroo to the diet, you have to roam more widely. Your ability to roam is supported by greater access to water, as well as the new supply of things like various grass seeds that add to the diet. Kangaroo and man thus move in interlinked ways and for the same reasons.

Part of my continuing fascination with history is just how the little bits fit together.

We have records from Aboriginal protohistory, that often very short time when traditional life and European observation over lapped, of sometimes large gatherings of Aboriginal people. While I haven't checked dates and then related them to the local climate, I am sure that you will find a close correlation between such gatherings and wetter periods when people could spread. Another small building block in my continuing attempts to tell the story of at least Aboriginal New England as a living story.

During the week, I discovered that my post on the distribution of Aboriginal languages was picked up by the Workers Bush Telegraph. I quote:

an interesting article by jim belshaw who studies our histories and languages from an academic view.

but don’t let that put you off, he is easily readable.

here he looks at the nsw language groups (map included) and how and why they are situated where they are.

I really was very flattered. Apart from the praise, it gets one of my stories (as a sometimes historian, I do think of myself as a story teller) to an audience that I would not otherwise reach.

I have been deferring telling the story of the Red Kangaroo, a rare tale of warfare and intrigue from pre-European New England, until I had done more background work. This story, popularised in Ion Idriess's The Red Chief: As Told by the Last of His Tribe, would actually make a rather good film script.

Mmm. More to do! 

No comments: