We tend to cherish our natural areas and believe that the more natural they appear the better; indeed we work hard to return landscapes to their “natural” state. Further, we can particularly value the most natural spaces in our environment as primeval, pristine wildernesses to be untouched, unsullied by human hand.
Yet Bill Gamage’s work (The Biggest Estate on Earth – How Aborigines Made Australia, 2011) leads to a different conclusion about the nature of the Australian landscape and wilderness: that dense bush wilderness is a modern creation no more than 200 years old.
His understanding is that aborigines managed and indeed domesticated our landscape on a grand scale thinning the bush and reducing the danger of wildfire. Their landscape was open woodland not unlike an English park thus maximising their chances of survival. When the aborigines were forced to withdraw from the land the thick bushland vegetation moved in changing open landscapes that had existed for thousands of years.
Perhaps the natural bush of our dreams is our own creation. We therefore need to think carefully about the nature of the bushland we are protecting – is it no less a creation of European settlement than the urban environment we often decry?
Review by Julian Sheen, November 2013