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Country and garden. Ethnobotany, archaeobotany and Aboriginal landscapes near the Keep River, northwestern Australia. LESLEY HEAD, JENNIFER ...

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ARTICLE

Copyright © 2002 SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi) Vol 2(2): 173–196 [1469-6053(200206)2:2;173–196;023394]

Country and garden Ethnobotany, archaeobotany and Aboriginal landscapes near the Keep River, northwestern Australia LESLEY HEAD, JENNIFER ATCHISON AND RICHARD FULLAGAR School of Geosciences, University of Wollongong, Australia

ABSTRACT We examine spatial and temporal variability in Aboriginal plant use in the Keep River region, northwestern Australia, using ethnobotanical and archaeobotanical evidence. The concepts of country and garden, and domain, domus and domiculture (after Chase), are used to problematize important variables such as scale, boundedness and landscape transformation, and incorporate notions of social space. We focus on three main examples: yam patches, fruit trees and a modern domestic garden. The interplay between social and ecological processes, and the characteristics of human intervention, are examined in each case. In combination with archaeological data relating to fruit seed processing, we discern patterns of plant manipulation over a period of 3500 years, focusing on the changes associated with European arrival. KEYWORDS domiculture ● Holocene orchards ● yams



human impact



hunter-gatherer



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■ INTRODUCTION Several decades of research have shown us that hunter-gatherer interactions with the environment do not provide clearly delineated contrasts with agricultural ones. Hunter-gatherers display many characteristics that were previously seen as being confined to agriculturalists. For example, they are active and knowledgeable environmental managers; transform environments in both deliberate and unconscious ways at a variety of scales, including through the use of fire; have intimate attachments to particular places; and plant, replant and nurture seeds and tubers in places they and others refer to as gardens or orchards (Jones, 1975; Williams and Hunn, 1982). Thus, while in the past we might have found it relatively easy to differentiate between hunter-gatherer space (mobile, engaged with at a landscape scale, minimally modified) and garden (enclosed, planted, deliberately modified), this distinction is now difficult to maintain conceptually. The conceptualization of country (as Australian Aboriginal space/place has been termed) as ‘nourishing terrain’ (Rose, 1996) has much in common with garden as idea, place and action (Francis and Hester, 1990). The demise of a dichotomized framework offers new challenges; more fine-grained analyses are demanded but the axes of variability are many. In this article we examine variability in Aboriginal interactions with plants in the Keep River region along two such axes. The first is spatial, but we extend the concept to include not only biophysical space but also social space. In Australia, there has long been recognition that hunter-gatherer use of plants is not just a matter of calories, but one important aspect of a broader package of interaction with social and ecological space (Chase, 1989; Clarke, 1988; Hynes and Chase, 1982; Meehan, 1989). Increased understanding of the contexts of Aboriginal use of landscape (e.g. Hallam, 1975; Haynes, 1985) has been an important complement to this work. Most recently Ngarinyin lawmen of the west Kimberley have explained the fruit trees guloi (Terminalia carpentariae) and golani (Vitex glabrata) as central visual metaphors for education/continuing culture and the common law of Wunan respectively (Goring, 2000). Our three contemporary examples – seasonal fruit collection and processing, yamming and a house garden – though a small and gendered subset of a wider suite of interactions, nevertheless show considerable variability and complexity in the scales of social practice involved. In this article we use the interplays between country and garden, and domain, domus and domiculture (Chase, 1989). This allows us to analyse important variables such as scale, boundedness and material transformation, without the false separation of ‘social’ and ‘ecological’ as distinct and separate categories of interaction. The second axis is temporal. We consider the time depth of these trajectories of interaction, and the issues involved in rendering them

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archaeologically visible. This takes us back from contemporary times through the period of initial European incursions into the area, for which both archaeological and ethnographic evidence is available, to the several thousand years before European arrival. For this period only archaeological evidence is available, and it is important to understand the nature of its (in)visibility. Despite many people’s best intentions, a holistic view of hunter-gatherer plant interactions remains difficult to access archaeologically. In archaeological terms, the material expression of gardens – fences, enclosures, proximity to houses, domesticated plants, cultivation – has generated its own literature and resulted in a de facto differentiation (e.g. Killion, 1992; Miller and Gleason, 1994). Since hunter-gatherers are presumed to bound and enclose spaces with complex social rather than material means, the archaeological manifestation of their plant use has most often been interpreted by default in subsistence or ecological terms. Although three broad temporal periods are identifiable and associable with different types of evidence – ‘prehistoric’ (archaeological evidence), ‘contact’ (archaeological and historical evidence), ‘present’ (ethnographic evidence) – we are concerned not to take this division for granted. In particular our evidence challenges notions that the transition from Aboriginal landscapes of prehistory to European dominated landscapes of the present day had a straightforward social or ecological trajectory. In one sense this can be seen as now a ‘widowed land’, in the sense proposed by Jennings (1975) for North America. While some present patterns of land use can be understood as modifications of older ones following the process of ‘widowing’, others are new configurations that cannot be characterized as remnants. Further, we will show that different aspects of human–plant interactions have different trajectories of change. Far from ignoring the ecological dimension, this type of study contributes to a new perspective on the non-human landscape itself. Different plant types, indeed, in the case of Persoonia falcata, different species, are shown to react differently to human intervention.

■ COUNTRY AND GARDEN, DOMAIN AND DOMICULTURE Chase (1989) brought together Stanner’s (1965) explication of domain as a geographical area of legitimized use, and Giddens’ discussion of ‘practical consciousness’. ‘Domains then, as both knowledge (or “practical consciousness”) and territories of potential exploitation, are eminently social in their conception’ (Chase, 1989: 46). Developing an argument first made by Hynes and Chase (1982) for Cape York, Chase further conceived of ‘the interaction of hunter-gatherers with their physical domains as operating around a specific point in time and space which I refer to as a domus

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or hearth base’ (Chase, 1989: 48). Domus is distinguished from domiculture, the latter being the ‘knowledge and activity bundles which relate temporally to a specific habitat’ (Chase, 1989: 48). Here we use domus in the sense of interactions around specific points in time and space, rather than in the sense of a hearth base. The latter could be misleading when some of the interactions under discussion are well away from anything conceptualized as a hearth base. Since domus can apply across both space and time, it is useful to bring together both ethnographic and archaeological evidence. Archaeological evidence may be the only clue to the presence of old or abandoned domi. Domiculture, as the parcels of knowledge, strategies and actions, including those relating to the management of plants, which are applied to each domus, is discernible in different ways from ethnobotanical, archaeobotanical and ecological evidence, but each is valuable. As Gosden (1999) argued, attention to social dimensions of food does not mean ignoring the ecological or technical issues that archaeologists need to deal with. On the contrary, if we are dismantling binary divisions between humans and their environment, we must take plant ecology and biogeography seriously as a potential artefact. This thinking is starting to seep into scientific understandings, particularly when Western ecologists work closely with Aboriginal owners (e.g. Yibarbuk et al., 2001). Country, as elaborated by Rose, allows us to discuss broad-scale landscapes without losing the human engagement or its material manifestations. This is not, however, undifferentiated landscape: Country is a place that gives and receives life. Not just imagined or represented, it is lived in and lived with. Country in Aboriginal English is not only a common noun but also a proper noun. People talk about country in the same way that they would talk about a person . . . [It] is multi-dimensional – it consists of people, animals, plants, Dreamings; underground, earth, soils, minerals and waters, surface water, and air . . . . Country has origins and a future; it exists both in and through time. (Rose, 1996: 7–8)

Aboriginal people are widely reported as describing their burning activities as ‘cleaning up the country’ (e.g. Head, 1996; Jones, 1975; Yibarbuk et al., 2001). These ideas both complement and provide a counterpoint to the concept of garden, in which we consider domi of more intensified modifications, boundedness or patchiness, at various locations in space. We are concerned to explore these variables without simply transposing Eurocentric categories onto Aboriginal interactions. In a similar way to country, garden is simultaneously idea (‘the balancing point between human control on one hand and wild nature on the other’), physical place (‘with plants, materials,

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and objects arranged in space’) and action (‘intimate and direct involvement’, Francis and Hester, 1990: 2, 4, 5). The nature of those ideas, places and actions is not presumed here, rather their variability is the focus of interest. Concepts of garden and cultivation have frequently been used in the recent Australian literature, for example referring to fruit seed germination on the edge of campsites (Jones, 1975: 24), and places of yam cultivation (Hallam, 1989; Lucas and Russell-Smith, 1993). Similar references can also be traced to early historical and ethnographic literatures (Gott, 1982), albeit often ignored or rendered invisible in the complex process of colonization. This was partly to do with their gendered nature; the descriptions are overwhelmingly of women’s work. Even more fundamentally, the agricultural metaphor was central to the colonizing culture’s vision of itself and its civilizing presence; a process of conceptual dispossession attended the physical dispossession across much of the Australian continent (Head, 2000: chapters 2 and 3).

■ STUDY AREA AND BACKGROUND While the separation of ‘plant food use’ is logistically necessary here in order to discuss complex sources of evidence, it is not a stand-alone category either in our broader project or in the self-image of the Aboriginal participants. The areal focus of the study is the Keep River catchment in the northwest corner of the Northern Territory (Figure 1). Aboriginal groups with attachments to this area include Gajerrong, Miriuwong, Jamanjung and Murinpatha people. The region has a warm, dry, monsoonal climate with a distinct wet season between December and April, and annual rainfall of 750–900 mm. Most important land systems in the area are estuarine deltaic plains, open woodlands over tall grass sandy plains, and rugged sandstone and conglomerate hills with a series of more isolated outliers. Jinmium, Granilpi and Punipunil, the archaeological areas discussed below, are all examples of the latter. In the broader project we are examining both physical and symbolic dimensions of hunter-gatherer interactions with environment across a range of timescales from prehistory through to the present day (Fullagar et al., 1996; Head, 1994; Head and Fullagar, 1991). Our archaeological excavation strategy was designed specifically to confound any simple distinction between occupied ‘sites’ and an unoccupied outside landscape. We excavated sites along a continuum between occupied and painted rockshelters, through the interface between rocky outcrops and sandplains, and out onto sandplains with very sparse archaeological evidence of occupation. In a parallel study, an intensive programme of rock art recording and analysis was undertaken (Taçon et al., 1997).

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Pastoral incursions into this region were relatively late in Australian terms (1880–1890s). This period was sudden and violent, remembered in Aboriginal English variously as ‘the killing times’, ‘the quietening time’ and ‘station times’. The dispossession of Aboriginal people was mitigated by two further characteristics of the frontier: until at least the 1960s the pastoral economy was heavily dependent on Aboriginal labour, and the pronounced seasonality of the region meant that little station activity could take place in the intense wet season. During this period Aboriginal workers were laid off and were able to maintain many aspects of traditional activities (Head and Fullagar, 1997; Mulvaney, 1996; Shaw, 1981). The period is remembered with mixed feelings by older people. There was violence and dispossession, but it was still possible to maintain a connection with country, in contrast to the period since the late 1960s when people were forced to move to the nearby towns, mainly Kununurra. In 1987 a group of Aboriginal people had just received official permission to return to Marralam billabong, on Legune station, to establish an outstation. Our main Aboriginal collaborators were Biddy Simon, a Murinpatha woman born at Legune Station in the mid 1940s, and Polly Wandanga, a Jamandjung woman, probably 20 years older, who lived with her children at Legune at the same time, and their families. Biddy’s and Polly’s custodial rights to this country stem from this long period of historical association, as well as their marital and other kin relationships.

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■ COUNTRY AS GARDEN I: YAMS Yams were of particular interest in this project because of their centrality in debates about (1) domestication, including the conceptual domestication of environment (Yen, 1989); (2) the extent to which collection and harvesting processes contributed to environmental modification (Jones and Meehan, 1989); and (3) their relationship to the conservation status of firesensitive monsoon rainforest vegetation. The two most common yams found in the Keep River region, indeed across northern Australia, are Dioscorea transversa (long yam, dangar) and D. bulbifera (round yam, garok) (see Appendix 1). At present, these are only occasionally collected for food, for example for important ceremonies, or when people ‘get a taste for’ yams. As a general part of subsistence, yams, like other carbohydrate staples, have mostly been replaced by shop-bought alternatives (Head and Fullagar, 1991). The continuing cultural significance of yams is indicated by the prestige that senior women gained from working with researchers visiting yam patches. In negotiations to visit a set of yam patches, there was much discussion about the proper order in which they should be approached. Yam digging is one activity of several incorporated into a day out. ‘End of the road places’, including the site of Mumburrum, were only visited on the insistence of the researcher, and are not routinely visited. People’s conceptualization of what constitutes the ‘end of the road’ would change over time and with different modes of transport. Eight yam patches were visited by the authors with Biddy Simon and Polly Wandanga in 1997 and 1998. Each patch was in a named location (Figure 1), some of which were located along a dreaming track and incorporated into the associated stories (Fullagar et al., 1996). Each of these patches can be seen as a domus, in the sense of a spatial interaction point. The process of locating and digging yams was observed and recorded, together with notes of the plant species and environmental characteristics of each site. With one exception, yam habitat was found on rocky, welldrained slopes in patches of monsoon rainforest. The exception was on flat sandy country surrounded by eucalypt woodland. For Biddy and Polly, distinguishing a ‘yam patch’, or area of yam habitat, was an obvious and straightforward task. Both women remembered places in terms of the quality of their yams, and remembered their location in relation to other known places and resources. During the dry season when the yam vine loses its leaves, finding the actual yams requires expertise in recognising the thin dry stem above the ground. Dangar has a smooth blackish stem, while the garok stem is grey and rougher. This is somewhat easier during the wet season when the dangar stem is brown and striped, and the garok stem is white. Digging yams is a labour-intensive process as the tubers of both species may be located up to 1.5 m below the ground surface. Both a large crowbar

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and small axe were used to lever rocks and cut away roots. The most striking result of the collection process was the large deep holes created (Figure 2). It is estimated that anything up to 300 kg of stone and dirt were removed to retrieve an individual yam. This included rolling large boulders and rocks down the hill. Most of the smaller rocks and tree roots removed were placed carefully to the side and behind the digger, creating a ring of rocks around the hole. All sites except one had evidence of previous yam holes, the amount of sediment or leaf litter infill varying with the time since they were last dug. Biddy discussed these old holes a number of times in terms of people having used them over long periods of time: . . . you look all them hollow, all them hole, that where people bin sittin down, down old time . . . they bin sitting down and coming in from all around . . . (22 June 1998).

The process of yam digging is likely to have had an impact on the soil profile at these locations. Digging may promote the incorporation of organic matter and water into the soil profile by enabling these to collect in the holes where yams had been replanted. More importantly, digging might also increase the depth of soil on the slope as surface sediments collect in old yam holes. These holes may be the opposite of garden mounds; instead of hilling up the soil profile as done for tuber horticulture in other circumstances, the creation

Figure 2 Yam holes at Baranda site B, dug at an unknown time prior to 1997 fieldwork (photo: J. Atchison)

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of holes in a sloping environment creates a deeper stone-free soil structure for the replanted yams to grow in. One site, Milyoonga, rises from the low-lying coastal plain as a steeply sided rocky ridge forming several hills with outcropping microcrystalline rock suitable for flaking. At several places on the hillsides there are areas of stone flaking and quarrying, with many large cores and flakes. Samples of sediment collected from the pits where Biddy Simon dug yams in June 1996 contain flakes and cores, together with unflaked silcrete fragments suitable for flaking. Although Aboriginal people no longer quarry stone from Milyoonga, quarrying and manufacture of stone tools must have been common in the past, as indicated by the amount of flaking debris on the hill slopes and around the base of the ridge. Of particular interest is the apparently symbiotic nature of yamming and quarrying. Although good quality stone is exposed at many places, digging for yams also involves excavation and stockpiling of larger previously flaked stone and other unworked blocks potentially useful for flaking. Some large blocks and boulders had rolled down the hill, and others were piled close to the yam holes. We suggest that these rock piles provided ready access to flaking stone but were largely formed in the course of yam excavation by women. The quality of yams was often proportional to the difficulty of extracting them. Quality is assessed through shape, sweetness and stickiness. At Baranda site A, where yams were most easily and efficiently dug, Polly commented that she did not like the yams from this site because they were too long and skinny, and gave up digging for them quite quickly. At Baranda site C, however, a single yam was pursued for over three hours. On every occasion where it could be retrieved, the top of the yam was broken off and put back into the recently dug hole. On some occasions a few handfuls of dirt were also thrown in on top, however the hole was never fully filled in. Biddy commented: . . . when we break it [the top part of the yam] we put ’im back, let ’im grow a couple of years and when he grow the seed, he grow some more . . . (7 August 1997)

On one occasion at Koolarl, a D. bulbifera vine had bulbils present. Biddy collected these and took them back to camp at Marralam. A number of D. bulbifera are currently growing beneath the larger trees in her garden at Marralam. The question of people’s contribution to the maintenance of yams within rainforest patches through mechanisms such as that described above is of particular interest as yams were missing from one of the sites, Mumburrum. They were remembered by the women to have existed there at some time in the past, a conclusion supported by the presence of old yamholes. Several factors appear to have contributed to yam decline. One is the impact of cattle, which graze in all of these areas and trample stems. The other is

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changing patterns of collection by Aboriginal people; regular use of yam patches appears to contribute to yam quality through the action of turning over the soil and rocks. These are understood as domicultural processes that enhance the collection of both yams and stone for flaking. Removal of these domicultural influences contributes to yam decline, as seen today in places that are rarely visited. The places that are most often visited currently are on the way to or from hunting or fishing areas. Yam/quarry patches and associated human activities display attributes of both garden and country. They are discrete and distinctive physical places, distributed patchily within the broader landscape on the basis of geology. Yet, linked both geologically and in story, they constitute nodes of intensive human labour (domi) that are named and incorporated into broader understandings of country.

■ COUNTRY AS GARDEN II: FRUIT COLLECTION AND PROCESSING Fruits by their nature provide abundant but short-term food resources. In this area some plants fruit late in the dry season, for example various species of Ficus. However, the peak period for fruit availability, for species such as Buchanania obovata, Persoonia falcata, Planchonia careya, Terminalia ferdinandiana and Vitex glabrata, is just as the first rains are arriving, usually November–December (Appendix 1). We focus here on two main fruits, Buchanania obovata (Murinpatha name: kilen, common names: bush mango, wild mango, green plum) and Persoonia falcata (Murinpatha name: kathan, common name: wild pear). As will be seen, there is little evidence from the ethnobotany alone of specific domicultural processes, but we return to that question later when we consider the archaeology. Kilen is the most abundant and favoured fruit that we have observed. Its trees are today scattered widely throughout the savannah, but also occur in clusters that offer particularly abundant sources of fruit. The green grass coming up after the first rains is a sign that the kilen is ‘cooked’ (ripe) (26 November 1989). As Biddy Simon expresses it, by Christmas there is lots of plant tucker still around, but it becomes scarcer as the grass grows up through the wet season. By the time the grass is as high as a person, and starting to go to seed, the tucker is all gone (Biddy Simon, 7 June 1987). Depending on the timing and intensity of the monsoonal rains, the time of kilen ripening can be a period of restricted access around Marralam. Over a period of several weeks observed in December 1987, rain gradually cut off the road within a kilometre or two north and south of the community. Eventually vehicular access was only possible along this short stretch of road, and along the all-weather airstrip. Foraging on foot took

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place from these base points. Kilen was collected enthusiastically by family groups including men, women and children. The small green fruits about 2 cm long were collected from the ground and picked from the trees. Billycans and bags were filled within minutes. Kilen is a particular favourite with the children, who each gathered their own supply in whatever container was handy. Some individual trees were noted as having particularly sweet fruit, and returned to specifically at intervals of several days. While the fruit can be eaten raw straight from the tree, it was also processed by women back at the camp. On a large flat rock, one fruit is added at a time with the left hand, while the right pounds the whole mass with a largish hammer stone. Sometimes sugar is added (Figure 3). The black (because of the seeds) and green pulp is then eaten by the handful, the larger seed fragments being spat out. The fruits are also laid out on canvas to be dried, and pounded several days later, although the drying can be problematic if it is raining every day. In this form the cake of dried fruit would last some time. Biddy and Polly have also referred to kilen as having been dried out and stored before pounding in olden times (15 July 1997).

Figure 3

Polly Wandanga processing kilen, December 1987 (photo: L. Head)

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Over several weeks of this observation, kilen was an important part of the rhythm of community life. It was collected on most days, and was the focus, but not the only purpose, of trips. Other plant foods collected included the tuber of Brachystelma microstemma (marai) and seeds of Brachychiton species (koorgal). Ducks, geese, kangaroo and goanna were hunted on the same trips while vehicular access was still possible. This became more difficult as the rains confined people to within walking distance of the camp. Pounding of fresh or dried kilen became one of the activities pursued by women on most days, the sound ringing across the camp. For the children kilen provided a favourite snack food that they could independently access whenever they felt like it.

■ GARDEN AS COUNTRY: BIDDY’S GARDEN Biddy’s garden at Marralam was established as soon as the houses were built, in 1987. Each house is surrounded by a wire fence with several gates, providing a clear delineation between inside and outside space, and protection from horses and cattle. Further internal delineation is provided by painted stones around individual garden beds. Both outside and inside the fences, the camp is cleaned with fire to keep away snakes and burn rubbish. Biddy planted maylumal (Typhonium bulbiferum) and marai during the wet season at the end of 1987. These and other plants were collected from the bush several kilometres away. She rarely bothered with weeding, leaving all the growth to keep the little saplings ‘cool’. They were joined the following dry season by introduced plants both edible and ornamental – mango, cashew, bougainvillea and chilli pepper, and later by cumquat and bamboo. The plants have been added to over the years. Among those we observed being planted are Dioscorea bulbifera, referred to above, and Nauclea orientalis (Leichhardt pine) seedlings, collected from a rainforest patch visited in 1993. The garden provides a place of work and socializing, both requiring shade. It is important for the care of children. It is managed using both fire and water. A windmill pumps water from a bore into a tank, and supply is virtually unlimited when the pump works. This watering creates work in its turn – Biddy has often been reluctant to leave the camp for more than a few days because the garden needs to be watered. Investment in gardens can also be seen to reflect the influence of station times, when Aboriginal women, employed as domestics, often worked in the kitchen gardens. For example an older woman, now deceased, who was asked to describe the original pastoral homestead, referred to the tidiness and cleanliness of the gardens, the tomatoes and cabbages that were grown, and the meathouse and nanny–goat pen (16 June 1987).

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Attwood (1989: 60) discussed how nineteenth-century missionaries in southeastern Australia tried to change Aborigines by ‘transforming their traditional sense of space and time’. Gardens were an important part of this process, involving as they did both enclosed and controlled space, and an agricultural sense of time, in which one invested labour for returns in the future. These efforts were by no means entirely successful, partly because they were directed at Aboriginal men, who regarded digging and gathering as women’s work, as it had been previously. Mission-dwelling Aboriginal people expressed customary understandings and uses of place both by moving on and off missions for holidays in the bush, and by co-opting mission spaces for their own purposes. In constructing a garden at all, Biddy is reflecting a number of influences on her life, as well as the pragmatic need to create a cool outdoor place for her extended family. In bringing bush plants back to her garden, Biddy seems to us to be actively maintaining connections with different parts of country; she remembers and talks about when and where she got them. Nor is it only food plants that are grown. As in many parts of northern Australia, bamboo and other similar reeds provide spear shafts for fishing. From her garden, Biddy observes many details of her environment, such as the number and type of birds visiting the adjacent billabong. Although this looks like an enclosure of space, a creation of ‘inside’, we interpret it as just another aspect of Biddy’s close engagement with country. Plants are often referred to in relation to their smell, e.g. ‘smellem from long way’. Country also talks: ‘Listen all the sugarbag [bush honey] singing out’ in reference presumably to the bees. Since country has an active presence, and is engaged with using all the senses, it must also be part of domestic space. In a physical sense, while the garden is enclosed and connotes the sedentary side of this lifestyle, it has also depended on a high level of mobility. Plants have been collected from sites tens of kilometres away, and those purchased from the commercial nursery in town connect Biddy and this place with the multinational horticultural industry. The interpretation that notions of country are being incorporated into new spaces and configurations has been commented on elsewhere. For example, Jones (1975) documented Arnhem Land people establishing ownership rights over introduced watermelons that had grown up on old camp sites. Various plants and animals introduced into Australia by European settlement were absorbed into existing indigenous world views. As with Biddy’s garden, it remains to be seen what sorts of changes occur in the future, as new generations with different experiences of country become the elders. Domicultural practice is clearly evident in the creation and maintenance of a garden such as this. Less obvious is the way it becomes absorbed into broader ecological change, with, for example, bees and birds transferring pollen and seeds in both directions.

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■ CHANGES OVER TIME: THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL RECORD The archaeobotanical record we focus on in this article is that of seed remains from excavations at three rockshelter sites, Jinmium, Granilpi and Punipunil (see Figure 1). The full detail of this record, which extends back at least 3500 years, is not presented here. In order to examine the relationship between the ethnographic, ecological and archaeological evidence, we concentrate here on the part of the archaeological record that relates to the very end of the prehistoric period, extending through into the time of European colonization. Surface sediments both adjacent to and distant from excavation sites were sampled to provide modern non-cultural comparisons with the archaeological seed assemblages. Off-site assemblages contained high proportions of grass seeds, notably Heteropogan contortus and Panicum species, and localized abundance of unburnt fruit seeds, Buchanania obovata and Terminalia latipes, depending on how close the samples were to source trees. The seeds were mostly whole and unburnt. In all pre-European archaeological levels analysed, almost all seeds were burnt. These assemblages were dominated by Buchanania obovata and Persoonia falcata seed fragments. Vitex glabrata and Terminalia latipes are also important but do not preserve as well. At Punipunil 2, an excavation spit interpreted to be a pit has high densities of both charcoal and P. falcata seeds. It appears to have been a cooking pit for some kind of cake or loaf made from the fruit pulp. The archaeological pattern of burning and fragmentation suggests that the seeds were cooked (or charred) and then smashed, most probably to extract the kernel. Pounding of B. obovata seeds has been recorded by Crawford (1982) (Appendix 1), and in this study, but in neither case was burning part of the process. P. falcata processing has been documented by several authors (Appendix 1). Cooking before pounding is mentioned in the context of improving the flavour (Crawford, 1982), but this would not necessarily lead to charring of the seeds themselves. Smith and Kalotas (1985) reported heating to facilitate pounding of the hard seeds, and this could be the mechanism. It is also possible that the fruits were first smashed and the hard seed coats discarded in the fire (a procedure described by Wightman (1998, personal communication), used to discourage ants in a camp site), but it is difficult to determine the exact order of processing events from the remains themselves. What is clear is that in the few hundred years prior to European colonization, each of these rock shelters was an important focus for fruit processing. We have a picture then of people collecting fruit across the landscape surrounding the rock outcrops, and returning to shelters to process it. We know this would have been at the beginning of the wet season, and we have an inkling that at least some of this processing was related to cooking of

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fruit cakes for longer term storage (or ritual activity; see golani in Goring, 2000: 322). This is a small and biased window on landscape interaction; the hard, charred seed coats of both these species clearly give them greater preservation potential than other types of fruit, let alone other types of food. Nevertheless, it is a window. The upper levels of archaeological sites, representing post-European removal of Aboriginal people from the landscape, show a marked and consistent decline in fruit processing. These are comparable to the contents of the non-cultural surface samples, with high proportions of whole and unburnt, rather than fragmented and burnt, seeds. The archaeobotanical record demonstrates that P. falcata and B. obovata were present at the three rock shelter sites to facilitate sustained fruit processing over several thousand years until sometime within the last one hundred years or so, when both declined rapidly. B. obovata is still collected, but is processed differently, i.e. without burning, and P. falcata is not now collected at all in this area. However, cessation of fruit processing as Aboriginal people were dispossessed is insufficient in itself to explain all these changes. To do this we need to bring ethnobotanical, archaeobotanical and biogeographic lines of evidence together.

■ CHANGES OVER TIME: ECOLOGY The connection to a changing landscape is anchored by Atchison’s (2000) study of patterns of vegetation distribution and regeneration around the rock shelter archaeological sites. B. obovata persists in healthy populations at all sites, and no distinctive anthropogenic influence on these patterns was detectable, birds being an important influence on seed distribution. The spatial analysis did not distinguish concentrations of fruit trees (‘gardens’) separate from the topographic and moisture effects of the rocky outcrops. The decline in B. obovata in the post-contact layers of the archaeological sites is a decline in processing more than a decline in collection, since its archaeological visibility depends on the fracturing and charring of the seeds. Fruit cake processing for long-term preservation would have become less necessary with access to new foods such as flour. While we would not suggest there have been no changes in collection patterns, it is clear that B. obovata collection has continued in a variety of ways throughout the last hundred years. In contrast to B. obovata, P. falcata trees were not found within a 1 km radius of the Punipunil site, and its status is marginal at Jinmium and Granilpi. Atchison has argued that the removal and reduction of Aboriginal fire regimes have contributed to the demise of P. falcata. If high densities of P. falcata are dependent on cool, early dry season burns, or specific

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Aboriginal protection during the late dry season, the species would have been vulnerable to the intense, late dry season fires occurring under the European fire regime. This argument is supported by the healthier status of P. falcata around Marralam, which is subjected to more regular Aboriginal burning. Thus while older women retain knowledge of P. falcata as an important fruit, it is not present in sufficient numbers to stimulate the sort of collecting and processing activity that occurs for B. obovata. To the extent that country is a garden then, it is one in which the human interaction packages, including fire, need to be disaggregated, even to species level. It is well known that rocky outcrops characteristically support a large number of edible fruit species, and it appears on this evidence that species composition and abundance is differentially affected by fire. Although more detailed ecological studies are needed, B. obovata seems to tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions. P. falcata, on the other hand, is sensitive to change, particularly in relation to germination. P. falcata then provides a window onto what the rocky outcrops may have looked like when Aboriginal fire regimes were fully operational: a greater variety and abundance of edible fruit species constituting a human fruitscape. Such domicultural processes are not necessarily expressed in spatial concentrations in the same way that the yams were, but they are still extremely significant packages of interaction in rocky outcrops. Our interpretation here of the role of fire in fruit domiculture depends on the combination of three lines of evidence – ethnobotany, archaeobotany and biogeography – none of which are explicitly fire related. Conversely, to return to our point from the beginning of the article, long-term landscape and ecological change cannot be understood without including human interactions. Here the archaeology helps provide a human dimension to the ecology.

■ CHANGES OVER TIME: HISTORY AND MEMORY People’s memory of landscape changes provides insight into the environmental processes associated with pastoral colonization, as seen above, and also into the detailed knowledge and engagement they have with the landscape. In this respect, the research process itself is implicated in getting people back to country. In having reliable vehicles, paying people for their time and recognizing the value of older people’s (particularly women’s) knowledge, we provide a context that is not otherwise available to people. In the context of a long-term project, where we can be relied on to return every one or two years, people ‘saved up’ places to take us. Most of these were last visited 30 or 40 years ago when people worked on the pastoral stations. Their remoteness means that safe access was dependent on

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reliable vehicles and larger parties. Thus we and our Toyotas have become part of the process of change. For example, in September 1990, and again in July 1994 with Polly on trips to Nap Springs, northeast of Legune Station, Biddy tried to find a place where she had planted a type of round yam she called mindal, while on holiday when she was about 13, some 40 years earlier. As Biddy remembered it, they had planted a big mob of round yams there because they had too much to carry home (it was two days walk from Legune station) (27 September 1990). They said since they had planted it, it should be grown big by now, and were quite cross with themselves at not being able to find it (14 July 1994). A more widespread example, that Biddy and Polly have frequently sought over the years to show us, is called tchikaba, which they remember as being abundant in the sandy plain country, a ‘relative’ of the black soil plain’s maylumal. It has several small tubers about 2 cm in diameter, of which Biddy said, ‘we used to fill up tins, cookem up together, then smashem up’ (20 December 1987) to remove the bitterness. The seriousness of its absence can be judged by the fact that Biddy and Polly spent 30–40 minutes looking for it, sometimes on hands and knees, in a patch of ground about 20 m square. They did find one specimen on this occasion, but its shrivelled, grassy above-ground stalks precluded botanical identification. People persist with things that have a large harvesting effort more than they persist with things that have a large processing effort. We believe this is because collecting of a variety of resources provides a reason and means to get around country. These issues of change are bound up with people’s identity as good hunters and people who know their country. Biddy said she would like to eat more yams but the older women will not go and get them with her. When LH commented that potatoes are not so much hard work, she replied ‘I don’t need to waste my money on potatoes, I can just go la [to the] bush and get them’ (21 June 1987). The physical transformation of landscape, whether through yam holes, rock art or other manifestations, is associated with the memory of past activities and people. Both will fade over time if not maintained. Certain dimensions of this landscape show the characteristics of a ‘widowed land’ (Jennings, 1975), from which indigenous stewardship practices have been removed. However, to see the process of widowing as a total and instantaneous one is to miss the richness and detail of the processes involved. The variability demonstrated in this article shows that neither widowing, continuous cohabitation nor re-engagement affect the whole landscape in a single way. Interactions occurring at different spatial and temporal scales have a variety of outcomes for different species. What we see today is a complex weaving together of modes of engagement, with activities spread along the continua of intensive/extensive, mobile/sedentary,

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immediate/lagged and knowing/doing, rather than shrinking down to one end or the other, as we often understand ‘remnant’ hunter-gatherers to be doing. The challenge for us is to apply a similarly nuanced analysis to the processes involved in the apparent onset of fruit processing, about 3500 years ago.

Acknowledgements This study draws on a 13-year collaboration with Biddy Simon and Polly Wandanga of the Marralam community. We acknowledge their intellectual property and cultural knowledge. Because neither Biddy nor Polly is fluent in written English, they have not been included as authors on this article. We also thank Iza Pretlove, Eileen Huddleston and May Melpi for assistance in this work. Collaborators Paul Taçon, Ken Mulvaney, Sven Ouzman and Alan Watchman have discussed many aspects of landscape interaction with us. Initial funding for the project was provided by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, and later funding by the University of Wollongong (Research Centre for Landscape Change) and the Australian Research Council.

References Atchison, J. (2000) ‘Continuity and Change: A Late Holocene and Post Contact History of Aboriginal Environmental Interaction and Vegetation Process from the Keep River region, Northern Territory’, PhD thesis, School of Geosciences, University of Wollongong, Australia. Attwood, B. (1989) The Making of the Aborigines. Sydney: Allen and Unwin. Chase, A. (1989) ‘Domestication and Domiculture in Northern Australia: A Social Perspective’, in D.R. Harris and G.C. Hillman (eds) Foraging and Farming: The Evolution of Plant Exploitation, pp. 42–78. London: Unwin Hyman. Clarke, A. (1988) ‘Archaeological and Ethnobotanical Interpretations of Plant Remains from Kakadu National Park’, in B. Meehan and R. Jones (eds) Archaeology with Ethnography: An Australian Perspective, pp. 123–36. Canberra: Australian National University. Crawford, I.M. (1982) Traditional Aboriginal Plant Resources in the Kalumburu Area: Aspects in Ethno-Economics. Perth, Records of the Western Australian Museum No. 15. Francis, M. and R.T. Hester Jr, eds (1990) The Meaning of Gardens. Idea, Place and Action. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Fullagar, R.L.K., D.M. Price and L. Head (1996) ‘Early Human Occupation of Northern Australia: Archaeology and Thermoluminescence Dating of Jinmium Rock Shelter, Northern Territory, Australia’, Antiquity 70: 751–73. Goring, J. (2000) Gwion Gwion. Secret and Sacred Pathways of the Ngarinyin Aboriginal People of Australia. Cologne: Kønemann. Gosden, C. (1999) ‘Introduction’, in C. Gosden and J. Hather (eds) The Prehistory of Food. Appetites for Change, pp. 1–6. London: Routledge. Gott, B. (1982) ‘Ecology of Root Use by the Aborigines of Southern Australia’, Archaeology in Oceania 17: 59–67.

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Hallam, S.J. (1975) Fire and Hearth. Canberra: Australian Institute for Aboriginal Studies. Hallam, S.J. (1989) ‘Plant usage and management in southwest Australian Aboriginal societies’, in D.R. Harris and G.C. Hillman (eds) Foraging and Farming: The Evolution of Plant Exploitation, pp. 136–51. London: Unwin Hyman. Haynes, C. (1985) ‘The Pattern and Ecology of Munwag: Traditional Aboriginal Fire Regimes in North-Central Arnhemland’, Proceedings, Ecological Society of Australia 13: 203–14. Head, L. (1994) ‘Landscapes Socialised by Fire: Post-Contact Changes in Aboriginal Fire Use in Northern Australia, and Implications for Prehistory’, Archaeology in Oceania 29: 172–81. Head, L. (1996) ‘Rethinking the Prehistory of Hunter-Gatherers, Fire and Vegetation Change in Northern Australia’, The Holocene 6: 481–7. Head, L. (2000) Second Nature. The History and Implications of Australia as Aboriginal Landscape. New York: Syracuse University Press. Head, L. and R. Fullagar (1991) ‘ “We All La One Land”: Pastoral Excisions and Aboriginal Resource Use’, Australian Aboriginal Studies 1991/1: 39–52. Head, L. and R. Fullagar (1997) ‘Hunter-Gatherer Archaeology and Pastoral Contact: Perspectives from the Northwest Northern Territory, Australia’, World Archaeology 28: 418–28. Hynes, R.A. and A.K. Chase (1982) ‘Plants, Sites and Domiculture: Aboriginal Influence upon Plant Communities in Cape York Peninsula’, Archaeology in Oceania 17: 38–50. Jennings, F. (1975) The Invasion of America. Indians, Colonialism, and the Cant of Conquest. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Jones, R. (1975) ‘The Neolithic, Palaeolithic and the Hunting Gardeners: Man and Land in the Antipodes’, in R.P. Suggate and M.M. Cresswell (eds) Quaternary Studies. Selected Papers from IX Inqua Congress, Christchurch, N.Z., December 1973, pp. 21–34. Christchurch: Royal Society of New Zealand. Jones, R. and B. Meehan (1989) ‘Plant Foods of the Gidjingali: Ethnographic and Archaeological Perspectives from Northern Australia on Tuber and Seed Exploitation’, in D.R. Harris and G.C. Hillman (eds) Foraging and Farming: The Evolution of Plant Exploitation, pp. 120–35. London: Unwin Hyman. Kenneally, K.F., D.C. Edinger and T. Willing (1996) Broome and Beyond: Plants and People of the Dampier Peninsula, Kimberley, Western Australia. Perth: Department of Conservation and Land Management. Killion, T.W., ed. (1992) Gardens of Prehistory. The Archaeology of Settlement Agriculture in Greater Mesoamerica. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press. Lucas, D. and J. Russell-Smith (1993) Traditional Resources of the South Alligator Floodplain: Utilisation and Management. Volume 1. Canberra: Australian Nature Conservation Agency. Meehan, B. (1989) ‘Plant Use in a Contemporary Aboriginal Community and Prehistoric Implications’, in W. Beck, A. Clarke and L. Head (eds) Plants in Australian Archaeology, pp. 14–30. St Lucia: Anthropology Museum, University of Queensland. Miller, N.F. and K.L. Gleason, eds (1994) The Archaeology of Garden and Field. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

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Journal of Social Archaeology 2(2) Mulvaney, K. (1996) ‘What to Do on a Rainy Day. Reminiscences of Miriuwung and Gajerrong Artists’, Rock Art Research 13: 3–20. Rose, D.B. (1996) Nourishing Terrains. Australian Aboriginal Views of Landscape and Wilderness. Canberra: Australian Heritage Commission. Shaw, B. (1981) My Country of the Pelican Dreaming. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. Smith, M. and A.C. Kalotas (1985) ‘Bardi Plants: An Annotated List of Plants and their Use by the Bardi Aborigines of Dampier Land, North-Western Australia’, Records of the West Australian Museum 12: 317–59. Stanner, W.E.H. (1965) ‘Aboriginal Territorial Organisation: Estate, Range, Domain and Regime’, Oceania 36: 1–25. Taçon, P.S.C., R. Fullagar, S. Ouzman and K. Mulvaney (1997) ‘Cupule Engravings from Jinmium-Granilpi (Northern Australia) and Beyond: Exploration of a Widespread and Enigmatic Class of Rock Markings’, Antiquity 71: 942–65. Williams, N. and E. Hunn, eds (1982) Resource Managers: North American and Australian Hunter-Gatherers. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. Yen, D.E. (1989) ‘The Domestication of Environment’, in D.R. Harris and G.C. Hillman (eds) Foraging and Farming: The Evolution of Plant Exploitation, pp. 55–75. London: Unwin Hyman. Yibarbuk, D., P.J. Whitehead, J. Russell-Smith, D. Jackson, C. Godjuwa, A. Fisher, P. Cooke, D. Choquenot and D. Bowman (2001) ‘Fire Ecology and Aboriginal Land Management in Central Arnhem Land, Northern Australia: A Tradition of Ecosystem Management’, Journal of Biogeography 28: 325–43.

LESLEY HEAD is a teacher and researcher in cultural geography, archaeology and environmental change. Her most recent book is Cultural Landscapes and Environmental Change (Arnold, London). [email: [email protected]] JENNIFER ATCHISON is an environmental scientist interested in human environmental interactions and indigenous land management. She is currently working with Aboriginal people on wetland conservation agreements. [email: [email protected]] RICHARD FULLAGAR is an archaeologist currently working on projects in Australia and Papua New Guinea. He has published widely on stone tool function, subsistence and Australian prehistory. [email: [email protected]]

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Appendix 1

Main plant foods discussed

Adansonia gregorii Brachystelma microstemma Buchanania obovata

Bombacaceae

boab, bottle tree

Asclepiadaceae Anacardiaceae

green plum wild mango

Processing and comments

pith of fruit

Eaten raw, dry season

marai / wadjebut

tuber

Eaten raw, or roasted in ashes

kilen / djamuru

fruits

worri / n.r.

tuber of sapling

Eaten without processing, or pounded with sugar.‘The fruit may be sundried, hammered and then stored in a paperbark wrapping. It is then eaten with honey’ (Crawford, 1982: 55–6). Roasted in ashes

garok / mamunya

tuber

Dioscoreaceae

long yam

dangar / kagaoli

tuber

Moraceae

sandpaper fig

kadgee / n.r.

fruit

rock fig

kalwatbi / n.r.

fruit

Ficus platypoda Moraceae

Processing not observed in this study, but Crawford (1982: 45) recorded a process of scorching, slicing and baking in ashes to remove bitterness . Roasted in ashes Figs eaten when black, June to November Eaten raw, white fruit

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Dioscorea transversa Ficus opposita

Part eaten/used

Head, Atchison & Fullagar

Cochlospermum Cochlospermaceae kapok tree, fraseri cotton tree Dioscorea Dioscoreaceae round yam bulbifera

Murinpatha/ Jamandjung

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continued

Ficus racemosa

Moraceae

Livistona sp.

Murinpatha/ Jamandjung

Processing and comments

cluster fig, large-leaf rock fig

fruit

Arecaceae

cabbage tree palm njulwa

Nymphaea gigantea

Nymphaeaceae

giant water lily

dalandai / kayaiyi

pithy centre of young trunk seeds and stem

Not recorded as eaten in this study, but recorded by Crawford (1982: 46). Eaten raw or baked

Persoonia falcata

Proteaceae

wild pear

kathan / n.r.

fruit, but not the skin

Drying, grinding and baking of seeds. Seed head cooked in ashes. Base of stem peeled and eaten raw.‘The seeds are ground up to make a white flour, and this is cooked between lolord [Acacia dunnii] leaves’ (Crawford, 1982: 48). Processing not observed in this study, but Crawford recorded a detailed process further west at Kalumburu, where people ‘separate the skin from the fruit and the seed by squeezing it.The white flesh sticks tenaciously to the seed, and both can be swallowed whole. It is more usual to hammer them until well

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Appendix 1

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Appendix 1

continued Family

Common name

Murinpatha/ Jamandjung

Part eaten/used

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Processing and comments

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pulverized. It then has a stretchiness which resembles chewing gum, but the broken up seed shell gives it a very gritty texture. It is said that the flavour improves with cooking before it is hammered, and it could be prepared in the same way as mandjara [Vitex glabrata].The fruit may also be sun-dried, cooked in ashes, hammered and then stored in paperbark (1982: 46–7). Kenneally et al. described the processing sequence used by the Bardi people of the western Kimberley:‘The edible fruit [is] usually collected from the ground and eaten raw when ripe [yellow]: [or the] edible seed pounded, [and] mixed with water to make a black custard’ (1996: 171). Smith and Kalotas (1985) reported that

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continued Family

Combretaceae

Vitex glabrata

Verbenaceae

Araceae

black plum

paladji / n.r.

Processing and comments

fruit

because P. falcata seeds are so hard, they are pounded and warmed in hot ash. Eaten raw

marral / manmurin fruit

Eaten raw

maylumal / n.r.

tuber

malangan / poorgal

fruit

Pounding and baking to remove bitterness. A similar process was recorded by Crawford (1982: 41). Processing not observed in this study, but Crawford (1982: 71) recorded baking with hot stones in a hole lined with paperbark. When sun-dried, the fruit resembles a sultana and can be kept for a long time.

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Terminalia ferdinandiana T. latipes Typhonium liliifolium

cocky apple, native pear, mangaloo billy goat plum

Part eaten/used

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Lecythidaceae

Murinpatha/ Jamandjung

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Planchonia careya

Common name

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Appendix 1

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