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Australia’s First Naturalists: Indigenous Peoples’ Contribution to Early Zoology

When we speak of Australia’s early Naturalists and Zoologists, we often think of Joseph Banks and his fellow scientists. But the very survival of the aborigines depended on an intimate knowledge of all living things. Shown in rock art, the local people understood where certain animals and plants were to be found, when they were to be found and how they were to be treated.

The first settlers treasured the unusual flora and fauna; they wanted to classify it and saw it as a prize. Aboriginal people valued animals for food, the symbolism and inter connectedness they represented. Some of the animals they perceived as being non-human people. When samples of flora, or animals were sent to England with their Aboriginal names, they were almost always given a scientific name.

As the population of Australia increased, so some species of birds and mammals were being decimated. These were often associated with sacred symbols or food for indigenous people, but the thirst for knowledge and fame kept the scientists busy. They often sought the help of Aboriginal guides who went on several expeditions, many of which are described in Australia’s First Naturalists with intimate knowledge passed on.

Australia’s First Naturalists is a fascinating look at the developing colony and how the environment was described, although the true nature of the caretakers of the land was not really understood. Such practices as burning the land to restore it and moving about to allow the land to recover, were not fully understood. The intimate knowledge of the land passed on by stories, song, and dance, was again not fully understood.

Australia’s First Naturalists is a beautifully illustrated book, with many original plates and articles used which covers the periods from pre-Settlement to Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land and Sea Managers and enhances our knowledge of the story of early Australia.

Author Penny Olsen & Lynette Russell
Publisher National Library Of Australia
ISBN 9780642279378
Distributor NLA
Released may 2019