Leichhardt: A Scientist in a Strange Land

The use of Leichhardt’s research in the Jangga Native Title claim

“…we found wells of the natives, not a foot deep, but amply supplied with water…” “Near the scrub, and probably in old camping places of the natives, we frequently saw the bones of kangaroos and emus.” “The natives had, in my absence, visited my companions …making them presents of emu feathers, boomerangs, and waddies.”

Leichhardt diary entries, 26 and 27 February 1845

How has the research undertaken by Leichhardt helped communities today? One example has been the use of his work in supporting Aboriginal Native Title claims. His journals from the 1845 expedition are full of commentary on Aboriginal use of the landscape, and demonstrated that local Aboriginal populations had long held a strong spiritual and physical attachment to the land that he and his team traversed. The British notion of sovereignty over the Jangga lands in 1788 had made the assumption that the land was not previously occupied. Leichhardt provided accounts of hunting and gathering, and general accounts of the use of places within the Jangga landscape, such as wells, camps and fish weirs. He also made comments on the material culture of groups such as the Jangga, and his careful observations helped to demonstrate how the Jangga used plants and animals and other materials for the manufacture of tools. Leichhardt’s observations reflected the oral histories of the Jannga people, observations that were mirrored in accounts in the 1870s and 1880s of the nature of Aboriginal society and a continuous association with the land.

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