A writer challenging the ‘official’ history of Indigenous land management shared his work in Wagga on Saturday.
Bruce Pascoe, an award-winning author and great-grandson of an Aboriginal woman, helped start the Gurandgi Munjie project, aimed at recovering the continent’s traditional plants and agriculture.
Speaking to a group of agriculture students, Mr Pascoe said he had found references in diaries by early Australian explorers of vast cultivated fields of yams and grains across the continent, which were soon destroyed by settlers’ sheep and cattle.
In stark contrast to the history taught in schools, the author believes there was a great network of nations growing crops and managing animals on the continent for many thousands of years.
Mr Pascoe said he had found a reference in Sir Thomas Mitchell’s Journal of an Expedition into the Interior of Tropical Australia where they rode through nine miles of stooped grain that was described as “an English field of harvest”.
What’s more, Mr Pascoe believed the first bread-like food may have been made in Australia.
The First Australians would extract grain from grasses and grind it into flour, he said, with a stone grinding dish dated as about 37,000 years old by archaeologists found to contain this specific kind of flour.
“The only thing they could have been doing is making bread,” he said.
“I couldn’t believe that Aboriginal people were the first people in the world to make bread.”
Mr Pascoe grows grain and makes bread from indigenous grasses at his home near Mallacoota in remote north-east Victoria, while others grew yam daisies, a root vegetable with seven times the nutrients of potato.
While Australia has “a blindness to history”, according to Mr Pascoe, maybe food is the way to bridge the gaps between the two versions of history, he said.
“You can’t eat our food if you can’t swallow our history,” he said.
“It’s soft history, we can talk about food, talk about farming and break bread at the table together.”