The difference between the Aboriginal and Western science is best explained by Michael J. Christie in his article " Aboriginal Science for the Ecologically Sustainable Future " (1). According to Dr. Christie, " Aboriginal Science is a mode of knowledge which has evolved to allow human beings to fit into, rather than outside of, the ecology ". The Western science on the other hand evolved in a world which " placed humanity apart and above the natural world, and in command of apparently inexhaustible resources. In our early days Western science appeared to need no ecological constraints, and it quite naturally expanded along all the directions which improved our potential to exploit the physical world for our comfort and wealth.
The absence of ecological constraints meant that Western management of land inevitably led to land degradation and extinction of species either through direct eradication or through whimsical introduction of exotic ones. In Aboriginal view this is mismanagement which they said turned the 'quiet' country they knew and managed into 'wild' country (2).
In her book " Old Days, Old Ways ", Dame Mary Gilmore relates how Aboriginal management of land preserved the biodiversity of Murrumbigee, Wagga Wagga, Burnside regions and how this diversity was destroyed within few years by the European invaders (3). Her father tried to preserve at least part of the Aboriginal emu sanctuary in Wagga Wagga, but his efforts were lost to developers. He was motivated by what Dame Mary called his " great longing for the conservation of the wild " and not by material or financial gain. My feeling is that Dame Mary's father was motivated by an ethic akin to the Aboriginal land ethic Deborah Bird Rose speaks of in " Exploring an Aboriginal Land Ethic "(2).
The 'land ethic' is an extension of ethics that prompt individuals to co-operate with fellow members of their community to include soil, waters, plants and animals in the boundaries of the community. Ethics are essential for any community to function peacefully and therefore exist.
The existence of land ethic within Aboriginal society meant that the overwhelming majority would respect and protect the variety of all life forms, that is biodiversity, on their lands. Policing to protect the environment was therefore possible. In Western society people with a land ethic are a minority, that is why it is difficult to protect the environment and police the existing environmental laws.
The difference in approach to the environment means that the two societies developed different forms of management of land.
The articles " Save our species " (4), and " Salt of the Earth " (5), are but two of the numerous articles recently published which illustrate the effect of European land management. " The Waripiri and the Rufous Hare - Wallaby "(6), and " Looking after the land at Uluru "(7), shows how Aboriginal management restored the health of the environment in the two national parks.
It is now recognised within Australian society that biodiversity, i.e. healthy natural environment, is essential in the maintenance of human life on earth and European scientists have acknowledged that the preservation of biodiversity is vital for an ecologically sustainable society (8).
It is also recognised now that Aborigines " were botanists and ecologists, thoroughly conversant with ecological zones, serial succession and climax vegetation" (14,p.38), and that the Australian biodiversity as we know it, including wilderness areas, came about as a result of Aboriginal land management (13).
The Mabo judgment (9) and the restoration of land ownership to Aboriginal communities under the Native Title and various State and Territories Land Rights Legislations (10,11,12) is a matter of justice.
The recognition that Aboriginal management of lands is vital to the preservation of our biodiversity, shows that we, as a society, do gain in practical terms from the implementations of Aboriginal Land Rights (13).
11 th of April, 1996.
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text marked up by Sarah Peckham. Last updated: 21/3/01