PASSAGES TO THE NORTH-WEST PLAINS P.1
THE COLONIAL DISCOVERY AND OCCUPATION OF
… they may rather be likened to a lake, interspersed with islands clothed with wood; or in other words they form one great vast plain, in which are insulated woody spots … [from a hill] we could see, even to the horizon, immense plains of the greatest verdure without a tree upon them. … I have never seen aught like them, and can only compare them to the boundless savannahs or pampas of America,
- W H Breton 1833: 104, 106, describing the south-east quadrant of the Liverpool Plains.
The first colonists were told that the Commeroy [Gamil’raay] would come down from the North and sweep them away ...
- William Ridley 1873: 291.
Much has been said of our dispossessing the blacks of their land, but this did not inflame their minds against Europeans, [as] generally speaking they were glad of settlers residing amongst them, for the sake of obtaining bread, tea, sugar, rum, tobacco and clothing, which were procurable, in exchange for game, going on messages, for postage departments in the bush, and various other employments for which they were admirably adapted.
- L E Threlkeld.
... the Governor [Ralph Darling] is afraid the people in England will laugh at him for declaring war against the blacks.
- Robert Scott, 1826.
This paper brings together the doings of Aborigines, colonial explorers (who often used Aboriginal guides), the colonial landholders, and convict workers.
Among other things, I explain that much of the Liverpool Plains was naturally treeless and that most of the rest was open woodland. The extensive wheat farming that began at the end of the 19th Century did not, in this part [repeat: in this part] of New South Wales (NSW), require massive forests to be cleared. Such forest (thick scrub) as there was could usually be worked around. There was some tree-clearing but it was not massive.
I also examine why so few Aborigines seem to have lived on the rich Liverpool Plains; and whether the clashes between Aborigines and colonists in the middle and upper Hunter Valley in 1825-26 really constituted a “general rising” by the Aborigines.
1. In his Australian Papers, ed. Gunson 1974: 57.
2. Scott, letter to his sister, 22 September 1826, quoted in Milliss 1992: 60. The Governor had actually told London that the Hunter Valley Aborigines were 'a few naked Savages who, however treacherous, would not face a Corporal's Guard' (Darling to Hay, 11 September, HRA xii: 575).
3. The modern practice is not to use apostrophes in place-names.
4. NB: I do not deny that many trees were removed. If one compares a satellite map, eg Google Map, of the region, one can easily see large cleared areas that on Lang’s map (2008) show as woodland. Cf Lunt et al. 2006: 9: “we suggest that [only] 1–3 billion large trees have been cleared from the Murray–Darling Basin, rather than the 6.3 billion large trees suggested by Walker et al. (1993)”.