On Monday, Martin Drury and I were very privileged to spend some time with acclaimed researcher and writer Bill Gammage.

Bill Gammage © Tracey Benson
Bill Gammage © Tracey Benson

We had a great time discussing his book The Biggest Estate on Earth. The book documents early European impressions of Australia, proving that there were existing sophisticated land management systems in place. The Allen & Unwin website states about the book:

Explodes the myth that pre-settlement Australia was an untamed wilderness revealing the complex, country-wide systems of land management used by Aboriginal people.

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.

What appeals to me greatly about this text is that Bill focuses on the historic evidence from the European context. I find it a highly ethical and appropriate approach, one that does not seek to translate an Indigenous perspective. Rather, he uses tangible evidence, through historical records, maps, paintings and drawings. There is something very refreshing in letting the documentation speak for itself. It was really wonderful to talk about the book as well as other shared interests – especially talking of favourite places in northern and remote Australia.

Bill and Marty discuss the mystery picture
Bill and Marty discuss the mystery picture

One of the pictures in the book is a bit of a mystery as Bill has not found the exact geographical reference point for a painting of Ginninderra Creek. The site is not far from our home, so we are enjoying the adventure of trying to work out the location of this work. These days the creek runs through suburbia, but the mountains in the background are still there!

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