TUMBY BAY - Scientists tell us that the first humans were hunters and gatherers who lived in roving bands. They cooperated with each other in their pursuit of game and bush tucker.
Through experience they learned where game was to be found and where and when certain native foods were available.
The area over which they roamed was probably not viewed in territorial terms and was more than likely shared with other roaming bands.
We know this because hunter and gatherers were still active in the early twentieth century, including in the Australian deserts and the lowland forests of Papua New Guinea.
It is doubtful whether any of these people saw the territory over which they ranged in terms of land ownership. There was the land and they lived on it - and that was all that needed to be known.
Owning land was unnecessary. If you told those ancestors that their descendants are now claiming traditional “ownership” of those lands you would be met with lack of understanding of such an alien concept.
Rather than being owners of the land, those ancestors regarded themselves as custodians with a responsibility to preserve and nurture it.
Rather than ownership in its modern manifestation this is what their descendants’ mythical and spiritual links to the land really means.
These descendants claim that their relationship with the land is “loving, reciprocal and engaged”. They accuse non-Indigenous people of lacking this sort of empathy.
Instead of something to be cared for, listened to, deeply respected and nurtured, “country” is seen by many non-Indigenous people as a resource to be exploited and controlled.
This exploitative attitude towards land is not that old in historical terms. It wasn’t until humans became sedentary agriculturalists about 10,000 years ago that the idea of land ownership first took root.
The idea of sovereignty and the need to protect territory flowed from that change.
That large areas of land could be defined as private estates would have left those early hunters and gatherers totally flabbergasted.
They would also probably be appalled at the carnage that has been wreaked on the land, and the people who occupy it, in the interests of exploiting concepts of sovereignty.
So too would they be shocked to see how land ownership has been concentrated in the hands of relatively few people and how many of their descendants have been rendered as landless serfs forced to work for the benefit of a minority.
The corporate world, dedicated to the protection of sovereignty and the generation of incredible profits, would also be well beyond their understanding.
As would the concept that trees and plants in the landscape can be preserved for the exclusive use of individual people. How on earth, they would wonder, can anyone ‘own’ a tree?
Equally would be their amazement at the increasing paranoia that ‘land’ as both a sovereign asset and a valuable commercial commodity has induced in their descendants.
No more has this paranoia been evident among the nations of the world than in the last 100 years or so.
In Australia we now worship the concept of border protection and perpetuate the most appalling treatment of many of our fellow human beings who suppose they can come in rickety boats to flee from danger or to share the bounty “our” land provides.
Seventeenth century British philosopher Thomas Hobbes said that life without good governance and security would result in “continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
This has been misconstrued by some people to support the view that our modern lives are far preferable to that of, for instance, nomadic hunters and gatherers.
Having been fortunate enough in my earlier life to encounter the surviving remnants of some of these nomads in Australia and Papua New Guinea, it is apparent to me that this characterisation is flawed.
The lives of these nomads were, in fact, communal, abundant, pleasant, fulfilling, gentle and, in many cases, imbued with a longevity that was enviable.
Compared to the anxiety ridden, depressed and often seemingly pointless lives of modern humans, uncivilised life had a lot going for it.
Had we maintained that lifestyle and not let our greed for land and its bounties overwhelm us we would probably not now be looking at the potential demise of our planet.
Perhaps that oft derided concept of Utopia – a mythical paradise where people live in harmony with nature - is not a bad idea after all.