Aboriginal Principles For Sustainable DevelopmentPublished: 2009
The Australian Aborigines sustained their societies on their island continent into our days for at least 40,000 years, possibly as long as 60,000 years. This makes their society model both one of the earliest we know and their sustainability record possibly the longest that we have evidence of. In contrast, the Western exploitation or mining paradigm has brought Australian society to a perilous state in less than 200 years. Insights into how one of the Aboriginal peoples organised their societies to survive on a naturally fragile continent therefore has a value – also for societies today, because the Australian continent can be seen as a bellwether for the planet as a whole, which arguably is rapidly becoming more fragile. By deriving the governing principles behind the Australian Aboriginal gardening paradigm the paper aims to contribute to the reform stream in the sustainable development debate.
Sustainable development has become an arena where people bring already existing political and philosophical outlooks to a debate characterised by fundamental dichotomies. This paper presents an analysis of ten Australian Aboriginal law stories to derive a range of principles for how the Nhunggabarra people of Australia sustained their society against three such dichotomies: ‘holism vs. fragmentation’, ‘strong’ vs. ‘weak’ SD; and ‘growth vs. no-growth’ economy. The Aboriginal sustainability model is possibly the oldest we have some evidence of, with a successful track record of several tens of thousand years. It is a surprisingly ‘realistic’ model; neither representative of strong SD, nor does it give arguments to no-growth proponents. The paper argues against a common perception that modern industrialised societies cannot learn from indigenous societies: It is a matter of perspective. Although many practices and solutions are not viable for our time, we can learn from the principles and the governance models as a whole. The Nhunggabarra society model provides a set of such principles, with a sustainability track record. Australia, therefore, has two models, the Aboriginal and the industrial, both implemented on a continent, which can be seen as a bellwether for the planet as a whole – a unique learning opportunity for the discourse on sustainable development.