Victorian Volcanic Plains Conservation Management Network

Raising awareness about the value and use of native grasslands, seasonal wetlands, grassy woodlands & other ecosystems on the Victorian Volcanic Plains

The earliest land management of the grasslands

Here are some notes from talks given by Bill Gammage and Bruce Pascoe at the Lake Bolac Eel Festival on the weekend. Thanks to Donna for taking the time to provide these notes. It is great to have others input into this website and I would love to be sent more articles and photos.

biggest estateBill Gammage and Bruce Pascoe were the guest speakers at the Lake Bolac Eel Festival on the weekend. They both spoke about the contents of their respective books. Bill on the way Aboriginal people used fire as a land management tool, which meant they never saw the devastating wildfires we are all too familiar with today. Bruce spoke about the agricultural farming system, which was applied to the land to create an extremely productive country.

This agricultural system was not understood or applied by the early settlers and now we have many areas across the country that produces very little. Both topics presented were intimately entwined, making for a thought-provoking 2 hrs for many people who hadn’t heard of the research by these two authors.

The source of information for both men’s research seemed to mainly be taken from records during the time of settlement; notes in journals, painted and drawn images, surveyors records. With these snippets of information, plus Bill’s and Bruce’s natural curiosity, their knowledge of culture, and their wonderful understanding of the Australian natural environment, they gained a valuable insight into a critical time of change for all our native plants and animals. The information they’ve uncovered is fascinating. Hearing this information for the first time would have most people stunned as to why we are only finding out about this now.

…”a fire a day keeps the bushfires away” says Bill. Burning was an intricate system, but a system none-the-less. Fire was not dependent on chance but on policy. Every square inch of the land was burnt, or not burnt, for a reason. Which made the country look beautiful and useful, a description commonly used in settler’s journals was ‘a gentleman’s park’. But this ‘park’ was not natural but made. Fire controlled fuel, created diversity, balanced species, and ensured abundance so resources were easy to locate. It created paddocks without fences.

Bruce told some great stories which were found in the journals of explores at the time of settlement; Charles Sturt, Lieutenant Grey, Issac Beatty and Thomas Mitchell, were amongst the people who described amazing and often vast areas of Aboriginal agricultural fields. From many of these areas we now get very little, if no productivity.

One of Bruce’s examples of this lush agricultural land was the area between Melbourne and Melton. At the time of settlement the soil in this area was described as being so soft it would run through your fingers. The area was terraced to stop the soil washing away. This area was abundant in native root vegetables such as Yam Daisies. With the introduction of sheep to this land the soil was compacted in under a year and has remained that way ever since. We have much to learn about this country, our Traditional Owners, and our native plants and animals.

The information both Bill and Bruce have uncovered about this country demands our history books to be re-written. This country before settlement was a country we all need to acknowledge and be proud of. The land management system used by Aboriginal people is a system we need to understand.

Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe was  short-listed for 2014 Victorian Premier’s Award for Indigenous Writing

The Biggest Estate on Earth by Bill Gammage won the 2012 Prime Minister’s Prize for Australian History in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards


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