By Geoffrey Blainey
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Extra resources for Triumph of the Nomads: A History of Ancient Australia
There were giant emus and wombats. A species of rat kangaroo was as large as the present grey kangaroo. The largest kangaroos were about ten feet high; short faced, cumbersome creatures, they would have towered over the first aboriginals. The diprotodon was even heavier; nothing so large inhabited the islands from which the first aboriginals had sailed. Even today the skeleton of a diprotodon is impressive. A cemetery of these animals was excavated in the 1890s at Lake Callabonna, where they had apparently been trapped tens of thousands of years ago in a marsh of sticky clay, and one skeleton was carried bone by bone past the Flinders Ranges to Adelaide, and reassembled on its four legs in the museum.
Their roaming was based on wide knowledge 27 Triumph of the Nomads of plants and animals and seasonal gluts. They could acquire that knowledge and live that orderly form of nomadic life only after they had explored a region and found many of its foodplants, found axe-quarries and ochre mines, and closely observed the fish, animals and birds. Droughts or overpopulation were probably the main stimulus to their exploration and their occupation of new areas. v Small bands of nomads, coming together only during a seasonal abundance of food, were the typical economic organization when aboriginal life was recorded first by Europeans.
R. Brown used the word 'tribe' to denote the larger group which spoke a common language and the word 'clan' to describe the group which owned the territory. In general discussion 'tribe' is still a useful word, if it means nothing more than a band of aboriginals linked by social and economic ties. 28 The Discoverers The bonds which tied together a small mobile community probably varied greatly from area to area. The links might be of blood and marriage, or simply personal preference. M. J. Meggitt, observing desert peoples during the tail-end of their traditional life, noticed that brothers-in-law and their wives and children often lived and worked together; the women foraging together, the men hunting as a group.