The Fires/Fire

Care for Land
Change the Culture

Understanding where we are helps us understand who we are. There is no scope for culture without that understanding. These notes were made in relation to the recent fires in The Blue Mountains.

The recent fires in The Blue Mountains reminded me of the stories of Burke and Wills' exploration of the interior, of how the explorers perished despite moving through a land that had fed and nourished a people over the ages, and we scoff now at their arrogance and innocence.

We scoff as if now we understand the nature of the landscape. We imagine we have learnt to live here.

Sadly, Bourke and Wills' arrogance remains our arrogance. We think we understand where we are, but we fail to learn. We continue to fail to listen.

There are voices still, prepared to speak when we are ready. We imagine we have lost that knowledge, but it is there still.

The indigenous people of Australia know that all land is in need of constant care. If it is neglected when it burns it burns savagely. When the canopy burns, you have serious erosion of the ecosystem.

The idea of 'Wilderness' and 'National Park' is a western construct. Where we see pristine wilderness, the aborigines see a rubbish tip, a site of neglect. The culture of the heroic 'fire fighter' has taken root in Australia. We need to take stock. We need to pause and adjust our thinking.

The aborigines see themselves as carers of the land.

In the indigenous experience, flames are brushstrokes. The landscape is painted by all the colours in the fire palette. Like colours are cool so there are cool fires which brush the loose grass. There are fires for particular species of tree. There are fires that lick along the ground and leave time for the native animals to find refuge. There are fires that assist in germinating the seed at the right time. There are warm fires, fires not only lit in winter to clear ground litter, but also fires for each week, for each kind of valley or mountain top. Fires make the green shoots the wallabies come to feed on.

I was in Central Australia recently. Every evening the hills surrounding the town had scattered fires burning. It was a daily routine for the locals, like we might watch the news on TV. They go outside and tend to the landscape. It's a cultural activity. The fires never roared. They whispered in the dusk. They crackled softly and collectively they gave a different account of the landscape.

In those parts of Australia which have not interfered with the traditional use of fire, there is a balance still. We must learn that, particularly in light of the bigger picture.
We need to turn things around.