Australia in the Before Time


Technologies and inventions


The materials and technology Indigenous Australians developed were based on their local circumstances and varied greatly from one location to the next. People exploited their environments in very sophisticated ways based on their intimate knowledge and understanding of the raw materials available. While some tools, such as those made of stone, survive over time and have been kept as records, most items were made of perishable materials such as wood and fibre, and most of these have not been recorded.

Since 8,000 years ago, Aboriginal peoples in south-western Victoria lived semi-permanently in particular areas, and farmed eels for food and trade. The region that includes Lake Condah had an extensive system of rivers, swamps and wetlands that was a protective place for the shortfin eels to flourish before they travelled back to the Pacific Ocean to spawn. The Gunditjmara clan was able to trap and farm eels by inventing a channel system, using stone races, traps, handmade canals and stone walls. Canals were carved out of the basalt bedrock and were 300 metres in length. Once caught, the eels were smoked with blackwood trees. Eels were both a source of food and a currency for trading. Archaeologists have found evidence of hundreds of houses and more than 75 kilometres of handmade channels and ponds for farming eels. The housing consisted of semicircular stone structures with bark roofs, which were about three metres across.

Throughout the Aboriginal nations, stone was an important material. Axe hatchets were stone heads attached to wooden poles, used for cutting bark from a tree to make canoes, for making shields, spears and clubs and for cutting trees to collect honey and catch possums. Diorite, a green stone quarried in the Mount William area of Victoria by the Wurundjeri people, was used for highly prized hatchet heads. The Wurundjeri worked the quarry by digging deep pits to reach underground stone and by applying heat to the surface of the rock, which forced the rock to break away into pieces. A large boulder was used as an anvil to shape the stone into the hatchet head. Other Indigenous quarries included those at Melton Mowbray in Tasmania, Moore Creek near Tamworth in New South Wales and on islands in the north-east tip of Arnhem Land.


A snapshot of NaN

  • January
    • The Royal Society approached King George III for financial assistance to fund an expedition to observe the transit of Venus from the South Seas.

  • April
    • The ship HM Bark Endeavour (formerly the Earle of Pembroke) was commissioned by the British Royal Navy Board to undergo a voyage to the South Seas. She was to be captained by Lieutenant James Cook.

  • July
    • Cook was involved with fitting out HM Bark Endeavour while moored in Deptford.

  • August
    • Lieutenant James Cook left Plymouth Harbour for Madeira.

  • November
    • Cook wrote to the Royal Society complaining of the poor treatment he received from the Portuguese viceroy at Rio de Janeiro. The viceroy believed that Cook's real purpose was smuggling or piracy.

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