George Walford: In Harmony with Nature

Writing on Australian history R. Hughes records the readiness of Australian Aborigines to burn off square miles of territory for the sake of catching a dozen or two small animals, at the cost of destroying all slow-moving creatures in the area. He also gives the background to the practice (shared with other foraging peoples) by the Iora aborigines of infanticide and senilicide. Nomadic life and the absence of any substitute for mother’s milk meant they could maintain only a strictly limited number of children; others they had to dispose of, either by crude abortion or infanticide. Old people, although respected for their wisdom and knowledge, received similar treatment when they lost their teeth and mobility. [1] Since forest fires, floods, hurricanes, avalanches, elimination of weaklings by predators, volcanic eruptions, death and disease all come as natural phenomena we can fairly describe this sort of behaviour as living in harmony with nature. But the phrase is not usually taken in this way.

[1] Hughes R. 1987 The Fatal Shore; a history of the transportation of convicts to Australia, 1787-1868 London: Collins Harvill 16-19.

from Ideological Commentary 54, Winter 1991.