If we want to contain the fires of the future, we should look to the past – The Big Smoke

For thousands of years, the indigenous method of fire management ruled. But white settlement almost extinguished the practice, it is back with a new intensity.


I don’t know about you, but I am so, so tired. Not of the bushfires per se, but of the morons trying to profit from them. The politicians, but also the billionaires giving while forcing their ridiculous opinions on us.
I’ve said this before: the world has turned away from facts, science, and knowledge and towards feeling and bullshit, and even while people’s lives are burning to a crisp, we don’t seem to be able to turn back from that dead-end-street. I am a nobody, of course, but I will keep doing my darndest to counter misinformation and downright lies as long as I am able. In the case of the bushfires, that leads me back to where it all began: the arrival of Europeans in Australia in 1788.
When James Cook sailed past the east coast in 1770, he described that to his surprise there seemed to be ‘no underwood’ beneath the trees, who themselves resembled a ‘plantation’ in the way they were spaced out. There were lovely hills full of waving grass and all in all, the land looked like ‘a gentleman’s park’; green and pleasant. After Cook, generations of white observers, men like Eyre and Sturt and Mitchell, wrote about Australia in the same way.
Even Hunter, Macquarie and Oxley kept coming back to that same word: ‘park’. Of course, in the English understanding, ‘park’ meant something that had been painstakingly put together for rich people. There were no public parks yet in the late 1700, early 1800s, so the only people to know about parks were those who could afford to pay hundreds of gardeners to design and maintain them. And that confused the white visitors to Australia, because all they could see here were black people, people they considered wandering savages, dumb primitive barbarians who obviously needed our tutelage to even exist.
But now it seemed that these beasts had made parks. ‘It might seem a small jump to think this land man-made as in Europe. In fact, the leap was so vast that almost no-one made it. It required them to see Aborigines as gentry, not shiftless wanderers. That seemed preposterous’.

Within a decade of ‘Aboriginal people being prevented from operating their traditional fire regimes, the countryside was overwhelmed by understorey species. The land was no longer clean and well grassed and what had been productive agricultural land had become scrub’. And out-of-control bushfires became the order of the day.

The last sentences are a quote from a book everybody should read now, at least if you are interested in solving the problem of the bushfires. Bill Gammage’s The biggest estate on earth came out nine years ago, and was echoed and added to in 2014 by Bruce Pascoe’s famous Dark emu.
Both writers based themselves on early white sources to conclude that Australia was not and never had been a ‘wilderness’ full of naked ruffians standing on one leg. On the contrary, before 1788 this land was carefully managed with, amongst other things, firestick farming. The Aboriginal land management was collective and based on the Law, ‘an ecological philosophy enforced by religious sanction’. It compelled people to care for all of the worlds they inhabited and ‘leave it as they found it’. It was an active, not a passive way to run the country, the whole 7.7 million square kilometres of it, and more to the point: it worked.[…]

Read More: If we want to contain the fires of the future, we should look to the past – The Big Smoke

About agogo22

Director of Manchester School of Samba at http://www.sambaman.org.uk
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