Ngarkat Optimism in the Barren and Unproductive Murray Mallee

I’m currently reading a rather dry but illuminating paper called, “The Biological Survey of the Murray Mallee South Australia” (Foulkes and Gillen, 2000). I stumbled upon it looking for literature on native plant species found in the Murray Mallee. Under the “Land-Use History” heading (Foulkes and Armstrong) I found two interesting, if contrasting quotes:

Explorer, Edward John Eyre, speaking of the district to the elusive Ngarkat people: “to the
native the most valuable and productive for here the wallabie, the opossum, the kangaroo rat, the bandicoot, the liepoa [mallee fowl], snakes lizards iguana and many other animals, reptiles, birds etc abound”. To which Foulkes and Armstrong (2000) respond, “This indicates that the standard of living must have been reasonably high.”

This contrasts a rather cocksure statement by none other than Charles Sturt, who laid eyes on the region during his 1829-30 expedition: “[the Mallee is as] barren and unproductive as the worst of the country we have passed through”.

It’s amazing how the same landscape can mean such different things to different people from different backgrounds with different interests. It still happens today. When I tell people about the Mallee a pained look casts over their face. “How boring”. “There is nothing there”. “It’s dry and lifeless”. Perhaps. But, once upon a time, the region was foraged and hunted by a small, but well-fed tribe of aborigines. They saw something in it that the Europeans didn’t. And lived there, in relative peace, for 40-50,000 years (Foulkes and Armstrong, 2000). Mind boggling number, isn’t it?

Source: Foulkes, J. N. & Gillen, J. S. (2000). The Biological Survey of the Murray Mallee. Biological Survey and Research Section: Heritage and Biodiversity Division: Department for Environment and Heritage, South Australia.




One thought on “Ngarkat Optimism in the Barren and Unproductive Murray Mallee

  1. Isn’t it interesting to hear the reaction people have to things outside their conscious mind? When I tell people that we live with animals moving in and out of our house (virtually at will) they act surprised and pitying, but I have encountered many native species at close range, interacted with them and learned a lot about their behaviour at first hand without leaving the comfort of my home; to me that’s a rare privilege.

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