Samuel Bowles

Paper #: 15-05-016

Why was farming not practiced in Australia prior to European contact? It has been proposed that the geography of the continent precluded the kinds of food production that were practiced in nearby Melanesia. But much of Australia is well suited for the cultivation of the crops that were farmed elsewhere in the region, wild species of plants endemic to Australia were farmed elsewhere, many farmed species were extraordinarily footloose spreading throughout the region but bypassing Australia, and Australians had substantial contact with farmers from New Guinea where farming had been introduced at a time when the two land masses were connected by a land bridge. An alternative conjecture is that it was the absence of suitable institutions – and private property especially – that accounts for Australia remaining a ”continent of hunter- gatherers.”