‘The Biggest Estate on Earth’

I remember when I first read Jacke & Toensmeier’s ‘Edible Forest Gardens‘. Above and beyond the immediate excitement I felt at getting involved in such projects myself was the vision proposed in the section ‘Gardening The Forest’, where the authors suggested that when European colonialisation occured the inhabitants of North America (in this case those inhabiting the broadleaf temperate forests of the East coast) were in fact cultivating the land in a multi-generational, hyper-broad scale — um… ‘agriculture’ — and were not the ‘hapless, noble savage at odds against a brutal wilderness’ that the social darwinist within us would like to think, or has assumed, for ages now….

It seems so obvious looking at it. Of course they’d have an encyclopedic knowledge of and intimacy with their environment. Of course they would cultivate the land… Of course!

For years my main motivation in its study was the vision of human culture, human settlements of the future where food forests and other complimentary systems are not only further implemented but already thoroughly established — a world where not only has once degraded land been regenerated back to states of robust health, but where it has been done with the needs of humanity in mind. Imagine a village, a town, a city, where for generations its inhabitants had been diligently cultivating woodlands of species they knew to be of great benefit. All spare space within the metropolis and entire surrounding countryside has been planted to a rich, mixed, multi-tiered woodland, with each species therein a familiar plant ally chosen for one of many valuable and well utilized characteristics — its fruit as food, its leaves as medicine, bark for tanning, roots for dye, fibre for cordage, fodder for stock, timber to build with…. From the tallest trees to the most ephemeral, herbaceous ground covers the whole environment a home for fully and semi domesticated animals, long free from the torturous constraints of batteries and pens, each also bringing their own particular functions and effects to the melange of phenomena. It’s in a world like this where there are literally hectares of Human Supportive Woodland per capita that our food security may be met largely by a walk through the woods. Local, organic, nutrient rich, health inducing even by default, these are the visions that keep me excited, inspired and hopeful. Visions of a Humanity in tandem with natural function. Humanity as natural function. It now seems increasingly clear, with more and more studies like those of Bill Gammage that this is in fact not just a most appealing vision of a potential (fingers crossed!) future, but also one very closely resembling that of our not too distant past.

I highly recommend Bill Gammage’s ‘The Biggest Estate On Earth’.



5 thoughts on “‘The Biggest Estate on Earth’

  1. Definitely worth a read.

    The complexity of the management systems as presented in the research are quite staggering, with carefully crafted habitat templates to ensure access to a wide diversity of food years round, maintained by a fire management plan which boggles the mind (some vegetation structures could only be maintained when burt every 1, 2, 3, 5, 10, or 25 years).

    I loved reading about how inseparable the spirituality and ecological land management were. i.e. Songlines in which a certain animal couldn’t be killed were very often the perfect habitat for that creature, therefore providing a wildlife sanctuary for numbers to retreat to and expand from depending on the seasons.

  2. In 1984 and ’85 I had the pleasure and honor of working for 100 days each year on a series of 6 Natural History shows for Australian Broadcasting. We worked all of the country and with an assortment of Aboriginal people.

    It was incredible to camp out on Traditional Landowner property that was even off limits to all Australians. I learned about an assortment of herbal treatments while staying in the bush with these folks. In the Kolberg Peninsula we speared seafood and worked the tidal flats collecting oysters and sea slugs. In the Tanami Desert we participated in prescribed burns that allow numerous win-win events to converge. The sharp and spiny adult spinifex grasses are unedible yet provide great cover and nesting habitat for numerous species. So the grasses are burned in square blocks in a hop-scotch sort of pattern. This allows for squares of adult spinoff ex to remain standing and the prescribe burned squares quickly become lush green blankets of fresh edible forage for everything around. While the burning is taking place raptors fly be read in circular patterns to stay on the leading edge of the fire to capture fleeing small birds, lizards, grasshoppers and an assorted array of other insects. The fires also seemed to create their own weather system launching ‘willy-willy’s / dust devils 50+ feet in the air.

  3. After reading this I definitely now look at Australian landscapes with greater perspective of why it is the way it is and better ways to manage the different systems.

    I highly recommend it!

  4. This book is along the same lines as _1491_ and _1493_ by Charles C. Mann, and _Tending the Wild_ by M. Kat Anderson. Fascinating perspective. I look forward to getting my copy.

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