Australia in the 1770s


Medicines


Like Indigenous peoples across the world, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were reasonably healthy, given the vast amount of food available before the British arrived. They were vulnerable to snake and spider bites, jellyfish stings, burns from fires and broken bones from falls. Eye infections were sometimes a problem, as were wounds from war and tribal conflicts.

Remedies varied according to the botanical region and the needs of the group. A variety of plant leaves and roots were commonly used to heal the sick and broken bones. Wild herbs, animal products, particularly animal fats, steam baths, clay pits, charcoal and mud massages and ceremonial rituals were used to provide relief from pain and to hasten the healing process.

Plants were used to treat colds, stomach wounds and heart ailments. The leaves of the paperbark tree were used to treat colds and those of the melaleuca were used to treat colds and flu. In Victoria, aromatic plants such as river mint and old-man reed have been used for coughs, colds and chest complaints. On the Murray River, hot ashes were used on human limbs for snake bites.

Oils such as goanna oil and eucalyptus oil were also used in some regions as a healing agent. Newborn babies were rubbed with oils to make them stronger. In Arnhem Land, small balls of white clay and pieces of termite mound were eaten to stop diarrhoea and stomach upsets. Many of these remedies continue to be used today.


A snapshot of 1778

  • January
    • Captain James Cook began his third Pacific expedition in the ships HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery.

  • February
    • France entered the War of American Independence.

  • June
    • Spain declared war on Great Britain.

  • July
    • Louis XIV of France declared war on Great Britain.

  • November
    • Captain James Cook was the first European to sight Maui Island of the Hawaiian Islands.

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