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192 pages, 285 x 210 mm, c. 70 colour plates and 30 b&w photos

9781877058684, $39.95, Hardcover

Philip A. Clarke

Available: Out of Stock

This book explores the impact of indigenous people upon the European discovery of Australian plants, spanning the period from the expansion of world exploration in the seventeenth century to the beginning of systematic scientific studies in the late nineteenth century. Explorers were amazed at the unique plants and animals they encountered in the 'Great Southern Land'. This land of gum trees and kangaroos became known as New Holland, then later as Australia. Back in Europe, scholars craved for exotic specimens to challenge the ways in which they, as scientists, ordered the natural world. An imperative for British colonists was to discover and secure natural resources of economic benefit to the Empire. It was hoped that in colonies, such as New South Wales, there might be plants that would come to rival crops like maize, potato and tobacco, gained from the Americas. Observations of Australian Aboriginal hunting and gathering practices provided Europeans with important clues concerning the productivity of the land. As a settler society, British colonists tried many of the plants that Aboriginal hunter-gatherers had utilised for thousands of years. The adoption of Aboriginal plant uses general occurred in times of hardship.

British colonists who came in 1788 to establish themselves in the 'new' country of Australia found indigenous land 'owners' to be both a physical threat and an important source of information about the environment. Europeans investigating Australian plants on the expanding frontier of settlement were impelled to engage with indigenous people who were being progressively dispossessed of their land.

Throughout the nineteenth century, professional plant hunters sent out from Europe were on the frontline of the scientific and horticultural discovery of the world's flora. Many of them were explorers in their own right. Plant hunters were a hardy breed of men primarily employed to make collections of dried and living plants in the fledging colonies and to send them back to Europe. They went on expeditions into the vast unknown, where they encountered indigenous peoples who had little or no direct prior experience with Europeans. Plant hunters led exciting but dangerous lives on the fringes of the empire, a few of them dying while field collecting. Rather than being university-based scholars, most were trained in the more practical field of horticulture. In addition to the professional plant hunters, a broad spectrum of settlers also became involved with the collecting of Australian plants. Most collectors, whether professional or amateur, worked under the direction of botanists and merchants back in Europe.

Aboriginal guides accompanied plant collectors into the field. By their hand came many of the plants that were pressed and dried as herbaria specimens. As hunter-gatherers, they had bush skills that were derived from their extensive environmental knowledge and first hand experience of the Australian flora. In the published accounts of the colonial period, indigenous people working with European explorers and plant collectors have too often been portrayed as silent partners. In order to readdress this imbalance, the present work investigates the role of particular Aboriginal groups and individuals in the botanical discovery of Australia.

The bulk of this book is a detailed description of the interaction between particular plant collectors and Aboriginal people through the nineteenth century. There are chapters on the work of George Caley, Allan Cunningham, Von Mueller and the resident plant collectors in WA, SA and Tasmania. There are chapters on the inland explorers Leichhardt, Burke and Wills.

ISBN 9781877058684, $39.95 hardcover, May 2008