The career of a museum-based anthropologist is diverse, involving the curation of artefact collections, organising exhibitions, answering inquiries and conducting fieldwork. Clarke started work at the South Australian Museum over 30 years ago; during that time his role changed from museum assistant, to collection manager, registrar, curator and head of anthropology. There are many ways to explore a culture other than your own, and Clarke chose ethnobotany as the 'window' through which to gain insights into Aboriginal Australia.
Ethnobotany is a diverse field that is concerned with investigating the relationships between human cultures and the flora. In the past, it was mainly used by European scholars who studied the societies of hunter-gatherers and non-Western horticulturalists; today it is increasingly being used to document aspects of the lives of Indigenous peoples existing in a postcolonial world. The author argues that we can better understand a people if we know how they see and use plants. In Discovering Aboriginal Plant Use Clarke dips into his field journals to provide a rich account of journeys, as both anthropologist and ethnobotanist, that span the temperate, arid and tropical zones of Australia and neighbouring landmasses. He describes the cultural and natural heritage of each region, and the plants used by Aboriginal people.
Part One SoutheasternAustralia
1.Adelaide Plains - The Museum Crypt - The Value of Collections - FibrousBulrushes - Yam-daisies as a Staple Food
2. TheLower Murray Missions and Spirit Beings - Beyond the Mission Sedges for MakingArtefacts - Flax-lilies for Medicine and String
3. SouthEast of South Australia and South West of Victoria - South of the Coorong -East of the Glenelg River - Muntrie, a Food for the Future - Grasstrees,Multipurpose Plants
Part Two Arid Interiors
4.Eastern Central Australia - Northern Flinders Ranges - Cooper Creek andDiamantina River - Western New South Wales - River Red Gums - Pituri andTobacco as Narcotics
5.Western Desert - Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands - NorthernGoldfields - Great Victoria Desert - Eremophila, a Strong Medicine - Spinifexfor Making ‘Bush Araldite’
6.Northern Deserts - The Centre - Across the Tropic of Capricorn - Batwing CoralTree, with Soft Timber and Hard Beans - Capers and Other Related Wild Foods