Decline of availability of traditional food sources in indigenous Australia

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference paperChapterpeer-review


Following the arrival of Europeans in Australia (1800’s) the traditional way of life (hunting and
gathering) of indigenous Australians and their ecological systems, to which their life is intimately
intertwined, have been significantly altered. Indigenous Australians have a deep spiritual
connection to land, creation beings, plants and animals, interrelated stories, song and dance, and
have a dynamic relationship with their environment. The food resource inventory utilised by
Aboriginal Australians has narrowed substantially since pre-European times, having a major
influence on the subsistence patterns of indigenous communities. For example the Martu peoples,
from the Western desert of Western Australia, based their family group movementson the
availability of food, and on ritual, with hunting and collecting based on deep ecological
understandings, while refreshing and refining the hunter’s traditional ecological knowledge. Food
and water resources are utilised to maximise availability. Approximately 20 native mammal
species were available for Martu hunting in pre-European times compared to just five native
mammal species hunted in 1990. A 75% decline in the number of animal species hunted and 70%
of plant species gathered(Walsh, 2008) has occurred. In the tropical Western Kimberley Region
of Western Australian traditional food sources are both land and water based eg turtles, dugong
and sea bird egg collection; the spearing, poisoning and trapping of fish; and the gathering of
shellfish. The coastal Monsoon Vine Thickets, provide plant derived food sources, are managed
in a non-wasteful manner, while incorporating respect of spiritual beings. Many traditional food
sources are rapidly declining at a time when food scarcity and people’s traditional relationships
with their hunting and gathering lifestyles are under increased threat through land clearing and
rapid expansion of mining of resources.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFood and environmental security: imperatives of indigenous knowledge systems
EditorsD Das Gupta
Place of PublicationJodhpur, Rajasthan
PublisherMs Agrobios
Number of pages7
ISBN (Print)9788177545098
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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