Such a selection, it must be acknowledged, reveals many biases and assumptions.
It is an unfortunate fact that although Australia’s First People have occupied Australia for around 65,000 years and Europeans for only 250, the outstanding historical figures of the past reflect the traditions of the now dominant European culture. There is no doubt that, historically, the knowledge informing science and technology gave Europeans practical advantages over other cultures. Even in the 19th century this was taken as an indication of moral superiority. Today it is recognized that possession of such knowledge and skills does not infer moral favour or privilege. Only in recent times has a concerted effort been made to assemble and explore the depth and range of Aboriginal botany (see Plant use (tools & society) and Plant use (tools & medicine). Today the history of 50 millennia of Aboriginal-plant interaction on the Australian continent is therefore largely lost along with the names of individuals.
Australian Aborigines were the product of the land with bodies and nomadic lives that were adapted to the climate and seasonal sources of food (see Natura). Their small extended family groups were most efficient with few children, few possessions, and maximum conservation of energy. European culture was grounded in large settled communities living in artificial man-made urban and rural environments with agriculture, domesticated animals, and increasingly energy-hungry systems of transport and manufacture (see Agraria and Industria ). We have discovered that the material benefits that flowed from the advancement of science and technology have not all been beneficial.
How many Europeans can name a single pre-European settlement Aboriginal? This sad situation reflects arrogant European indifference and persistent lack of cross-cultural communication. The opportunity to engage with Aboriginal plant knowledge has now all but passed. The article on Bennelong and Boongaree was included as a sad commentary on circumstances that have been repeated across the world when Europeans have encountered indigenous people. In 2019 Australian Aboriginals were still seeking recognition in the country’s constitution.
The emphasis in this series of articles is on plant science and horticulture as it sprang from western culture, ancient Greece, Rome and Islam, passing to colonial Europe and the British empire before landing in Australia. This reflects the cultural influences and geographic location of the author.
This article here sets the scene for the series of more detailed accounts that follow, placing the various personalities within their historical context and explaining why I think that they are important.
The final article on ‘plant science people’ extends the coverage of personalities from a dozen or so people to over one hundred.