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A huge official volume on Technology in Australia, 1788–1988, has been taken to task in a well-respected science journal1 for incorrect inferences regarding Australia’s Aboriginal people. The book had said that prior to European arrival, Aborigines showed ‘very little evidence of technological ingenuity’ and apparently implied that Aborigines could not cope with modern science and technology.

Such views still permeate our culture to a great degree and are, of course, consistent with evolutionary notions that some races are less evolved. But because Aborigines are in fact the not-so-far-removed descendants of Noah, one would expect to find evidence that such views are false.

The journal’s article, Learning from the first Australians, points out that those views are actually easy to falsify. Aborigines long ago invented devices such as the boomerang, the woomera (a throwing stick with a notch at the end to hold a dart or spear) and other implements which require a degree-level knowledge of physics to understand the way they operate. Having migrated to an extremely harsh country, they acquired wide technological knowledge of the uses of native plant and animal life, and remarkable orientation skills and survival know-how.

In spite of socio-cultural handicaps (particularly in that part of Australia’s history when social Darwinism distorted attitudes to non-Europeans) an Aboriginal born in 1872 (David Unaipon) ‘invented a device for converting curvilinear into straight-line motion’ and obtained an Australian patent for a commercial application. He had also predicted the invention of the helicopter 16 years before the first one was built. Decades later, another Aboriginal was honoured as Inventor of the Year for a variable radio transmission system. The article states: ‘The histories of these two inventors and of other Aboriginal scientists should dispose of the notion that Aboriginal people cannot cope with Western science.’


Reference

  1. New Scientist supplement ‘Science & Education in Australia and New Zealand’, May 23, 1992, p. 4.

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