In my last post, I discussed some of my favourite general books on archaeology and the prehistory of mankind. Today, I am focusing on Australian Prehistory, beginning with three books by the celebrated paleobotanist, Mary E White. The Greening of Gondwana and After the Greening are the first two books of her trilogy on the evolution of Australia, the continent and its biota, over 400 million years, the third volume being Listen.. Our Land is Crying. They are all beautiful hardback publications with luscious glossy photographs by Jim Frazier! I am only discussing the first two, as those are the books we own.
The Greening of Gondwana by Mary E White Third Edition 1998
This book tells the story of Australia’s floral heritage from the earliest times, when all life was aquatic; the emergence of the first land plants, 400 million years ago; and the evolution of Australia’s modern flora and the Gondwanan broad-leaf conifer forests, when Australia finally separated from Antarctica 45 million years ago and moved northward.
There are over 400 wonderful photographs of fossils and living plants, as well as palaeographic maps, artist’s drawings and diagram and tables (Geological eras; Linnaean plant classification; Evolution of the plant kingdom; Australia’s fossil pollen record; and Fossil age and locality).
Part One starts with a description of the rocks of the earth’s crust; the dawn of life; the first unicellular life forms: the Western Australian stromatolites (fossil reefs of cyanobacteria, 3 500 million years old) and unicellular algae; and the formation of plant fossils (macro-fossils and microscopic spores and pollen).
The book then goes on to discuss the theories of continental drift and plate tectonics; Australia’s Gondwanan heritage; and the evolution of an Australian flora from the ancestral Gondwanan flora, which developed in isolation for 30 million years without any significant input from migrants, despite Australia’s proximity to South-East Asia.
While Eucalypts and Acacias predominate, 80 per cent of all the plant species and 30 per cent of Australia’s genera are endemic, accounting for the distinctive Australian character of the flora: its leathery, hard, spiny or reduced leaves, an adaptation to the low nutrient status of the Australian soils and the dry arid conditions called scleromorphy, these plants being called sclerophylls.
Australian plants also have many adaptations to fire: thick insulating protective bark or the shedding of outer layers of bark, so there is no build up of inflammable matter; new buds produced along the length of the stem after fire has destroyed the crown of the tree and underground lignotubers; and hard woody fruits and seeds, which can survive intense heat and often need the stimulus of fire to burst open and start to grow.
Part Two examines Australia’s fossil record in detail:
Life in the early seas (Cambrian, Ordovician and Early to Mid Silurian times);
First land plants of the Late Silurian and Early Devonian periods;
Giant club mosses of the Late Devonian and early Carboniferous periods;
Primitive seed ferns of the mid to late Carboniferous and early Permian years;
Glossopteris flora of the Permian period, when cool temperate swamps formed the early coal deposits and early gingkos, cycad ancestors, conifers and tree ferns were abundant;
Dicroidium flora of the Triassic period;
Age of the Conifers and the cycads of the Jurassic period;
Dawn of the Angiosperms (or Flowering Plants) in the Cretaceous Era; and
The sequence of events in the Gondwanan breakup and its effect on the flora.
Australia became an ark with a living cargo of Gondwanan plants (predominated by flowering plants) and animals (marsupials, monotremes, large monitors, penguins and emus, parrots and frogmouths, pollinating honeyeaters, Southern Frogs and Side-Necked Turtles) during the Tertiary period, moving northward and having no outside contact for 30 million years.
Specific families are discussed in the book:
Antarctic Beeches Fagaceae (genus Nothofagus);
Winteraceae, one of the most primitive angiosperm families alive today, which includes native pepper Tasmannia;
Proteaceae (Banksia, Proteas and Leucospermum, Persoonia, Telopea, and Macadamia);
Casuarinaceae (She-oaks, Desert Oaks and River-Oaks);
Myrtaceae (Eucalyptus, Leptospermums, Baeckea, Syzgium and Angophoras);
Salt bushes Chenopodiaceae;
Mistletoes Loranthaceae; and
Wattles of Mimosaceae (genus Acacia).
The final chapters discuss Australia’s modern flora from the Quarternary period on, including vegetation types and a map (alpine, rainforest, wet sclerophyll, dry sclerophyll, woodlands, mallee woodlands and scrub, mulga scrub, desert and semi-desert, salt-bush scrub, grasslands and mangroves), as well as a brief mention of the intrusion of northern plants and animals, which came with man, especially after European colonization.
After the Greening: The Browning of Australia by Mary E White 1994
This book continues the story of Australia’s prehistory and the geological processes behind the rifting (160 to 45 million years ago), drifting (15 to 2.4 million years ago) and drying (2.4 million years ago to today) of the continent to become the driest vegetated continent on Earth.
Two thirds of the land is classed as arid and half is desert, yet it supports an amazing variety of desert-adapted fauna and flora. The last 2.4 million years are particularly significant, as they represent the Age of Man and a time when icecaps had a profound effect on the physical landscapes, climate and biota of Australia.
Aboriginal Australians arrived around 60 000 year ago, but the most dramatic changes have occurred over the past 200 years since European settlement, completely unbalancing our delicate ecological balance through grazing; clearing; and the introduction of feral rabbits, goats, horses, donkeys, pigs, buffalo, camels, cats and foxes, not to mention garden escapees and weeds.
The formation of the Great Dividing Range, Australia’s river system, the Murray Basin, the Great Artesian Basin, Nullabor Desert, Ayers Rock and the Olgas is covered, along with the adaptation of Australian flora to the changing climate; ancient weathered soils; droughts and flooding rain; fire; and salt.
The last part of the book discusses Australia’s vegetation regions in detail, as well as future challenges. Again, there is so much information, supported by beautiful colour photographs, maps, tables and diagrams.
The final book in the trilogy: Listen.. Our Land is Crying examines Australia’s environmental problems: land and water degradation, increased salinisation and desertification, decreasing biodiversity and habitat destruction, water pollution, the greenhouse effect and feral weeds and animals, suggesting possible solutions and highlighting the amazing unique wonders of our continent. While we don’t own this final book, we do have another of her glossy geological books:
Time in Our Hands : Semi-Precious Gemstones: Keys to the Geological Past by Mary E White 1991, which covers many of her previous topics, but mainly concentrates on the semi-precious gemstones of Lune River, Tasmania: the agates, onyx, carnelian and jasper, all forms of quartz gemstones made from silica dioxide, as well as petrified conifers and tree-ferns.
Now for some excellent books on aboriginal prehistory! One of the earliest books on Aboriginal origins and culture was the first edition of John Mulvaney’s The Prehistory of Australia in 1969, with a second edition in 1975. The following book is the third edition with substantial changes in content, while still retaining the orientation and much of the original structure of the earlier books, when Mulvaney was the sole author. John Mulvaney is one of Australia’s foremost prehistorians and John Kamminga, an expert on Aboriginal stone technology.
Prehistory of Australia by John Mulvaney and Johan Kamminga 1999
A very comprehensive guide to the Australian aborigines and their traditional way of life.
Chapters cover the following topics:
Diversity of surviving traces: Surface artefacts; shell middens; caves and rock shelters; earth mounds; ceremonial mounds and rock arrangements; stone and ochre quarries; rock art sites; stone hunting-hides and bird and fish traps; scarred trees; hatchet-head grinding localities; and human burials;
Dating the past;
Changing Australian landscapes: Topography, climate, vegetation, cleaning the land, fire-stick farming, water resources and carrying capacity of the land;
People, language and society: Population estimates, language groups, social organization, the Dreaming; and culture areas;
Subsistence and reciprocity: Mobility and seasonality; Animal and plant food: bulbs and tubers, starch extraction, seeds and the farming debate; Material culture : travelling light, hunting weapons, skin cloaks, bone and stone implements, and stone hatchets; Reciprocity and cultural diffusion; and Aboriginal trade in pituri and greenstone;
Seafarers from Sundaland (South East Asia and Indonesia) to Sahul (the super-continent of Australia and Papua New Guinea) during the fluctuating sea levels of Pleistocene;
Extinction of the Mega-Fauna;
Initial colonization, migration theories and Pleistocene settlement: Kow Swamp, Lake Mungo and Tasmania;
Conquest of the deserts: Willandra Lakes; Lake Mungo; Menindee Lakes; Lake Eyre; Nullabor caves; the Pilbara region; and Central Australia;
Pleistocene artefacts : Wood, bone, and stone tools;
Holocene stone tool innovations;
Coastal aborigines: Kakadu; Aurukun and Weipa; South-East Queensland; Sydney; South Coast of NSW; and South-Western Australia;
Regional challenges and responses: The Snowy Mountains; Murray River societies; the arid zones; trade and exchange networks; and technological developments;
Island settlement of the offshore islands and Tasmania; and a major section on
- Panaramitee style of engraving from western NSW to Eastern South Australia and northwards to Alice Springs;
- Simple figurative motifs of South-eastern Australia: Simple outlines or stick figures with solid or linear infills and simple geometric designs and stencilling eg the Southern Highlands and the Grampians;
- Engravings and pigment art of the Sydney region;
- Art of Tropical Australia:
1. South-East Cape York: Laura: Quinkan country and Jowalbinna: engravings and painted figurative and non-figurative art; and Koolburra Plateau;
2. Kakadu National Park: Succession of styles and X-ray painting;
3. The Pilbara: Burrup Peninsula engravings;
4. Victoria River District;
5. Kimberley region: Bradshaw figures and Wandjina paintings;
6. Asian and European Newcomers: the Trepang industry; Macassan sites; Chinese and Arab traders; and the Portuguese and Dutch explorers;
This book is an indispensable guide to aboriginal prehistory, especially if travelling around Australia, which we did in 2008!
We found the next set of books by Josephine Flood, another prominent archaeologist, very useful in our travels as well:
The Original Australians: Story of the Aboriginal People by Josephine Flood 2006
This book tells the story of Australian Aboriginal history and culture from their distant beginnings to the present day. She writes for the general public and uses history and culture to answer some of the major questions about the genetic origins of the First Australians; their lifestyle, culture, religion and beliefs; their impact on the megafauna and the Australian environment; and modern problems, including the stolen generation; land rights; the challenges of contemporary aboriginal communities (lower mortality, poverty, poor health, education, alcoholism and drugs etc) and future directions.
European discovery of Australia and encounters between the aborigines and Dutch explorers, Macassan traders and Captain Cook;
European colonization and its impact on the original inhabitants, including disease, kidnapping, the treatment of women, confrontation and conflict and severe depopulation between 1820 and 1920;
Indigenous life at first contact: Spirituality; totemism and animism; the Dreaming; Songlines; oral traditions; language (of which there were 250 different language groups); medicine men and women healers; shamans and sorcerers; childhood; initiation ceremonies; marriage and sex; other ceremonies, burials and fertility cults; the wisdom of the elders; law and order; and economy and exchange networks;
Aboriginal origins over the past 50 000 years: Physical characteristics; patterns of settlement; climate change; environmental impacts: the extinction of megafauna and use of the firestick; new technologies and diets; rock art; and language; and
Assimilation and modern day problems and challenges.
Archaeology of the Dreamtime: The Story of Prehistoric Australia and Its People by Josephine Flood 1995
This book covers many of the above topics.
Part One examines stone and bone tools; the first boat people; routes to Australia; migration; life and death at Lake Mungo; the Australoids of Keilor, Kow Swamp and Willandra Lakes; genetic evidence; the peopling of Australia; early sites throughout Australia; Pleistocene rock art: petroglyphs (engravings) and rock paintings, with a discussion of all the major art sites in Australia; and the extinction of megafauna.
Part Two looks at climate changes and rising sea levels; the arrival of the dingo; food resources: Bogong moths; yams; eels and fish traps; processing toxic cycads; and aboriginal trade, religion and art over the past 1000 years.
At the back is a reference list of all the different Pleistocene artefacts, their location and dates.
The Riches of Ancient Australia: An Indispensable Guide for Exploring Prehistoric Australia by Josephine Flood 1990
This book certainly lived up to the claim of its subtitle, especially on our 2008 travels around Australia, although we discovered that many of the sites described were no longer accessible to the public, due to cultural sensitivities, and many had a policy of ‘No Photography’. After a brief introduction to Australian prehistory over the last 60 000 years and a discussion of Australian rock art, each state is explored in detail.
We used this book at the following places:
1.Lark Quarry dinosaur footprints
Quinkan country at Laura:
The Gugu Yalangi Galleries; Split Rock; Giant Horse site and Mushroom Rock; and
Jowalbinna.3. Riversleigh megafauna
1.Kakadu National Park:
Nanguluwur (Xray style); and
Ubirr;2.Victoria River District
1.Chamberlain Gorge, El Questro
2.King George River and Mitchell Falls, Kimberley Plateau:
Gwion Gwion figures 20 000 years old; and the more recent Wandjina figures;3.Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek
4.Burrup Peninsula engravings: Over 10 000 engravings of humans, animals and geometric figures up to 20 000 years old;
5.Stromatolites of Hamelin Pool, Shark Bay;
Naracoorte Cave megafauna: This is a model of a Diprotodon, the largest marsupial ever! Victoria:
2.Condah fish traps
We have also used this book at other times:
Carnarvon Gorge and Kenniff Cave, Mt Moffat, in Queensland; and
Mt Yarrowyck, Armidale;
The Warrumbungles; and
Bawley Pt, NSW, with its giant shell middens;
and will definitely be consulting it before our trip to Lake Mungo, Willandra Lakes and Menindee Lakes at some stage in the future!
After our big trip around Australia, my appetite for further knowledge whetted by the large amount of rock art seen, we bought the following books:
Lost World of the Kimberley: Extraordinary Glimpses of Australia’s Ice Age Ancestors by Ian Wilson 2006
We particularly loved the tiny exquisite and ancient Gwion Gwion Figures, also known as Bradshaw Figures, of the Mitchell Plateau in the Kimberley area! It was so exciting searching and finding these delightful artworks under rocky overhangs at the King George River area en route to Mitchell Falls. Because we had limited time, we splurged on a helicopter ride out over the stone circles on the plateau (photo below) and north to the sea, where we saw a mother and baby dugong, then followed the King Edward River back past huge salt water crocodiles lazing in the sun and the Lower Falls to the Upper Mitchell Falls, where we disembarked to explore the falls. Because we had not walked in, we easily lost the track on the way out, circumnavigationg the area and finding ourselves back at the falls, so if we ever returned to explore the Lower Falls (which we would love to do!), I would definitely use a helicopter both ways! Apparently, there is a huge body of Gwion Gwion artwork at the Lower Falls, where the salt water meets the fresh water! Given that it is probably very unlikely that we will get back there, it is great to have this book! Ian documents the history of the discovery of this amazing artwork and describes the different artistic styles of Kimberley Rock Art:
Archaic Epoch: Cupules; Grooves; and Stencils;
Bradshaw Figures: Sash Figures; and Tassel Figures;
Clothes Peg Figures: Stick figures; and
Aboriginal Epoch: Clawed Hands; and Wandjina Period.He examines the huge range of art sites and paintings, musing on the lifestyles, artefacts and clothing depicted, as well as their origins, not to mention the more enigmatic paintings of reindeer and high-prowed boats, which look very similar to those of the Ancient Egyptians!
Rock Art of the Kimberley by Mike Donaldson and Kevin Kenneally 2007
A record of the proceedings of the Kimberley Society Rock Art Seminar back on 10th September 2005, this book contains chapters by different contributors on a wide variety of topics.
The editor, Mike Donaldson, writes an overview of the Kimberley area: its geology, past climate changes and sea level rises; early European discoverers; the different art forms (cupules; engravings; stencils; beeswax figures; stone arrangements and paintings); the materials used (ochres, charcoal and clays); the subject matter (Gwion Gwion and Wandjina figures; animals; and fighting scenes); and finally, the topic of repainting rock art sites, particularly pertinent to the Wandjina art work.
The latter is further discussed by Donny Woolagoodja, a Worrorra elder and artist, while Denis Callaghan discusses the natural deterioration of rock art sites and Ian Crawford describes the 1960s field work on Wandjina art.
Jim Ross examines evolution and genetics, the migration of the original aboriginal ancestors, climate change, current dispersal theories and the peopling of Australia.
Sue O’Connor describes the different rock art sites and occupation sites in the Kimberley, while David Welch focuses specifically on the Bradshaw Figures.
And finally, Philip Playford explores the aboriginal rock art in the limestone ranges of the West Kimberley: Geike Gorge, Wandjina Gorge; and Tunnel Creek, another area we visited in 2008. Again, beautiful photos and an excellent record of the rock art of the Kimberley region.Mike Donaldson has since published a three-volume series on the prolific rock art of the Kimberley :
Kimberley Rock Art -Volume One: Mitchell Plateau Area, released in April 2012;
Kimberley Rock Art -Volume Two: North Kimberley, released in October 2012;
Kimberley Rock Art -Volume Three: Rivers and Ranges , released in April 2013.
See: http://www.wildrocks.com.au/ for details.
Mike Donaldson has also produced a lovely book on the rock engravings of the Burrup Peninsula:
Burrup Rock Art : Ancient Aboriginal Rock Art of Burrup Peninsula and Dampier Archipelago by Mike Donaldson 2010
I would love to see this book one day, as we were so impressed with these ancient petroglyphs, of which there are over 10 000, up to 25 000 years old, at Deep Gorge, near Karratha, Western Australia, and so little is known about them. When we first started looking, all we could see were huge mullock heaps of red rock, but once you have spotted the first engraving, they suddenly become obvious, covering most of the rocks and depicting animals, birds, marine animals, geometric symbols and strange looking figures. Here are some more useful websites:
Rock Paintings of Aboriginal Australia by Elaine Godden and Jutta Malnic 2008
Another terrific publication on aboriginal art work throughout Australia and the stories behind the paintings. It discusses the materials and techniques used and their deterioration and conservation. It then focuses on a few specific areas: The Kimberleys, Cape York, Arnhem Land and the Central Australian Deserts, with superb photographs of the art work throughout.
Journey in Time: The 50 000 Year Story of the Australian Aboriginal Rock Art of Arnhem Land by George Chaloupka 1999
This book explores the 50 000 years of Australian Aboriginal rock art of Arnhem Land: its depth and complexity, aesthetic achievements and the life of its creators. This fabulous book is so comprehensive and has wonderful photos.
The introduction starts with a world perspective and a description of :
Rock art in Australia ;
Rock art dating;
Arnhem Land Galleries;
The Land Gulbok: its physical characteristics and climate;
The People: their totemism, language groups and clan territories; and
Aboriginal Dreamtime Stories and mythology, illustrated by examples of the artwork.
There is a large section on the rock art sites; the materials and techniques used; the aboriginal view of the art; a non-aboriginal sequence of the rock art; and
The different art styles and periods:
Pre-Estuarine : 50 000 to 8000 year ago:
Large Naturalistic Figures Complex: Large naturalistic human figures and large naturalistic animals, including a thylacine (photo), a long-beaked echidna and a tapir-like Palorchestes, now extinct, and a Tasmanian devil, no longer found on the mainland;Early X-Ray paintings;
Post-Dynamic Figures: Progressively stylised artwork representing boomerangs, fighting picks, spears and spear throwers, and yam figures.
2.Estuarine : 8 000 to 1500 years ago:
Early Estuarine Paintings;
X-Ray Art Complex: Humans and animals: fish; crustaceans; fishing spirits.
3.Freshwater Period : 1500 years ago to present day: Paintings of the contact period between aborigines and visitors:
Makassan fisherman from Sulawesi, Indonesia;
European explorers eg Ludwig Leichhardt; the riders and horses of the McKinley Frieze; and paintings of guns and a two-masted lugger.
Chinese gold diggers;
Buffalo shooters; and
Finally, there is a discussion of :
Particular motifs and themes: East Alligator Figures; Powerful Women; Human Sexuality; Dismembered Bodies; Dilly Bags and String Bags; Crocodiles; Turtles; and Ceremonies; and
Other art forms: Stencilling; Rock Engraving; Earth Art; and Stone Arrangements.
It finishes with appendices of neighbouring rock art (Kimberleys and Papua New Guinea); and a list of international rock art sites.
Given these unique and priceless art sites are outside and vulnerable to deterioration and damage, these books are so important as a record of the wonderful ancient legacy of Australia’s original inhabitants.
For more information about Australian rock art, another book, which we don’t have in our library, but is a classic in the field is: Visions From the Past: The Archaeology of Australian Aboriginal Art by Mike Morwood, an archaeologist, renowned for his knowledge of Aboriginal Art. See:
Australia’s Living History: Arts of the Dreaming by Jennifer Isaacs 2002
Another fabulous book, which celebrates the diversity and richness of aboriginal culture, art work and oral traditions and covers a very broad range of artistic expression.
After a look at the regional variations in cultural expression, a wide variety of aboriginal art is discussed:
Body Adornment and Ornamentation;
Ceremony and Dance;
Fibre Crafts: Spinning and natural dyeing; Basket making; String bags and nets;
Rock Engravings and Paintings: Techniques; Styles; and Regional Examples;
Papunya Painting of the Desert;
Contemporary Works on Canvas;
Carved Weapons and Utensils;
Future Directions for Aboriginal Art.
In the back is an appendix titled the Antiquity of Aboriginal Art.
My final book is also edited and compiled by this knowledgeable lady:
Australia Dreaming : 40 000 years of Aboriginal History Edited by Jennifer Isaacs 2005
For aboriginal peoples, their artwork is a proud expression of their heritage and mythology, the stories of the Dreaming, the subject of this lavish book. This first aboriginal history of Australia and its people is told through the traditional myths and legends of over 40 aboriginal storytellers from a wide cross-section of communities and areas, showing regional variations in the beliefs of different aboriginal groups.
The stories are accompanied by beautiful photos of the land, people and artwork and are divided up into different themes:
The Reality of Myth: Arrival of the First Australians and their way of Life; Megafauna; Rising Seas; and Volcanoes;
The Creation Era: Desert Ancestors and the Creation of the Desert Tors; the Origin of Lake Eyre; the Nullabor Plain; The Sky-Heroes of South Eastern Australia; The Earth Mother; the Great Serpents; the Wandjina; and the Creation Ancestors of NE Arnhem Land and North-Eastern Australia;
The Great Journeys: that of the Zebra Finch; and the Kangaroo and Euro;
Earth, Fire and Water;
Seasons: Lightning; Thunder; and Clouds;
Sun, Moon and Stars;
Cycle of Life: Men and Women; Birth of the Tribes; Early Years; Passage to Adulthood; Hunting and Food Gathering;
Death and the Spirit World;
Designs from the Dreaming;
The Visitors: Baiini; Macassans; and the Badu Islanders; and
The Invaders: First encounters with White Men; Violence; Spread of Disease; Vengeance of the Spirit Ancestors; and Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.
As my last book in my post, it is very fitting that aboriginal people should have the final word on their own prehistory!
Next week is the third and final post on history books in our library, covering the time since written records.