Carbon and Cultural Landscapes of Mithaka Country

Thursday 30 June 2022 – 11:00 – 12:00 AEST

Dr Duncan Keenan-Jones, Joshua Gorringe and Jacob Birch

Beyond sustainability: Australia’s First Peoples and the agricultural paradigm shift.
Jacob Birch (Southern Cross University)

Sustainability is about maintaining an equilibrium, or a status quo. However, Earth’s life support systems have been so rapidly degraded by anthropogenic activities over the last 50 years, that the baseline that we now measure ourselves against is utterly unrecognisable in comparison to the baseline that favoured the emergence of agriculture (1). Furthermore, sustainability doesn’t address the fundamental paradigms that have accelerated this degradation – colonisation, industrialisation, and globalisation (2). Indigenous peoples around the globe have borne the brunt of these paradigms, and in the process have lost that balance with nature which enabled vibrant diversity to flourish, along with self-regenerating, resilient and adaptive food systems (3). However, we now have a chance to re-engage with these ancient food systems and bring them into a modern context, whilst addressing some of the systemic challenges we face as a society. Upon the rangelands and grassy plains of northern NSW and southern QLD, First Nations people are working to revitalise their ancient food economies and are bringing back knowledge and practice around their traditional grains and cereals. The grasses that produce these grains are long-lived perennial plants adapted to drought, flood, and fire; they are habitat-forming, carbon-sequestering and soil-stabilising. There is an opportunity here to ‘green-wash’ and ‘black-clad’ this emerging industry for the sake of sustainability and maintaining the status quo. However, there is a greater opportunity to progress from globalisation to Indigenisation as we use this emerging industry to investigate how we can develop a new paradigm that brings Indigenous ontologies, epistemologies and axiologies into a modern context; thereby bringing greater equity, accountability, respect, care, diversity, vibrancy, and happiness to benefit all peoples of Australia, First Nations and New Nations.

Diaz, S., Settele, J., Brondízio, E. S., Ngo, H. T., Agard, J., Arneth, A., Balvanera, P., Brauman, K. A., Butchart, S. H. M., Chan, K. M. A., Garibaldi, L. A., Ichii, K., Liu, J., Subramanian, S. M., Midgley, G. F., Miloslavich, P., Molnár, Z., Obura, D., Pfaff, A., Polasky, S., Purvis, A., Razzaque, J., Reyers, B., Chowdhury, R. R., Shin, Y.-J., Visseren-Hamakers, I., Willis, K. J., & Zayas, C. N. (2019). Pervasive human-driven decline of life on Earth points to the need for transformative change. Science, 366(6471).  

Erickson, B. (2020). Anthropocene futures: linking colonialism and environmentalism in an age of crisis. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 38(1). https://doi.otg/10.1177/0263775818806514

 Ellis, E. C., Gauthier, N., Goldewijk, K. K., Bird, R. B., Boivin, N., Diaz, S., Fuller, D. Q., Gill, J. L., Kaplan, J. O., Kingston, N., Locke, H., McMichael, C. N. H., Ranco, D., Rick, T. C., Shaw, M. R., Stephens, L., Svenning, J.-C., & Watson, J. E. M. (2021). People have shaped most of terrestrial nature for at least 12,000 years. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – PNAS, 118(17).

The cultural and carbon landscapes of Mithaka country: a pilot
Duncan Keenan-Jones (The University of Queensland), Joshua Gorringe, Shawnee Gorringe (Mithaka Aboriginal Corporation), Harald Hoffman, Patrick Moss, Beijia Tang, Jennifer Silcock, (The University of Queensland), Jacob Birch (Southern Cross University), Robert Henry, Michael Westaway (The University of Queensland)

This project aims to develop a method of farming Indigenous foods and medicines that is inspired by past Mithaka-managed ecologies and that could be applied in many parts of Australia’s arid interior. Ethnohistory accounts and pollen cores reveal that the Mithaka people and their neighbours in the Channel Country of far west Queensland were employing sophisticated adaptations to the region’s boom and bust intermittent water flow prior to and during colonization. Populations far larger than expected for this very arid region were encountered by explorers, which included accounts of village sites. Mithaka-managed farming of Indigenous foods and medicines has the potential to store more carbon in and under the landscape – leading to the production and sale of carbon credits – and to create employment for traditional owners on country and in regional areas. By documenting its carbon storage and environmental and cultural significance, the project will help to protect the land, water and culturally significant sites of Mithaka country.