When the first Aboriginal people arrived in Australia over 40,000 years ago they were among the most technologically advanced people in the world at the time having made several over the horizon sea voyages to reach here. Yet by the time of European contact Aboriginal people had made very few technological advances and were still using stone tools in a metal rich country.
Why was this? It certainly wasn't due to lack of intelligence. Aboriginal people had a rich culture, a complex social structure and advanced skills that allowed them to survive in hostile environments as well as the qualities we have mentioned on What Makes a good Australian Inventor. Indeed, many Aboriginal people placed among European implements quickly became very inventive (see for example David Unaipon in the box on the right). The complex question of what environmental conditions lead to technological advances and inventiveness in certain societies and why these conditions were not present in Aboriginal Australia is examined in Jared Diamond's excellent book, Gun Germs and Steel (see below).
Some notable Aboriginal inventions
- Stone tools - Aboriginal people are thought to be the first to use ground edges on stone cutting tools and the first to use stone tools to grind seeds.
- Boomerang - a throwing stick used for many purposes whose design allows it to return to the (skilled) thrower.
- Woomera - a spear throwing holder that acts as an extension of the arm thus allowing greater power and range for the spear. "Woomera" was adopted as an appropriate name for the rocket launching range and associated settlement in outback South Australia.
- Didgeridoo - a musical instrument whose sound is immediately recognisable. It first appeared 2,000 or more years ago and at the time of European arrival was used in the north western corner of Australia.
Guns, Germs and Steel
by Jared Diamond
This important book written by a person Professor Tim Flannery has called "the greatest living scientist" attempts to analyse why different societies and races developed in different ways. Why did certain societies excel in technology, inventiveness and the arts while others remained static for many centuries? What enabled certain races to over-run others. This is no simplistic racial supremacy polemic, but a serious scientific attempt to analyse what conditions allow certain peoples to flourish and what conditions might cause them to languish.
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