We can all be grateful the devastating 2019/2020 wildfire season that ravaged major areas of Australia seems to have been extinguished by drenching rains. While the fire events were reported daily across the newsfeeds of the world, the voice and wisdom of the Aboriginal people within the country has arguably been under-reported. Here are three recent articles that spotlight the wisdom of those who have lived there forever as they would say, and used their knowledge of caring for the land in managing such hazards.
Until the latest New South Wales wildfires totally destroyed his property, Aboriginal Australian, Noel Butler and his wife held camps and workshops there on aboriginal culture, including a program for troubled indigenous youth. School groups would come to learn about native art, history and food. Fire was a key issue they would teach about.
Noel Butler notes that public officials today rely on massive controlled burns contrary to the way Aboriginal people have managed the landscape of Australia. “Fire in this place is our friend,” he says. “Fire has been used to maintain, to look after this whole continent forever. … Native peoples called them “cool burns,” low-intensity fires intended to balance the various plants and trees growing in an area. … How we maintain that balance is through fire, by not letting any one thing dominate something else,” explains Butler. “The eucalyptus shouldn’t be allowed to overrun all the other trees. If one shrub starts to take over a grassland, it should get burned back.”
This insightful article focuses on Shannon Foster, a knowledge keeper for the D’harawal people who are residents of the Sydney Basin coastal area of New South Wales. Country is personified within Aboriginal culture, she explains. “The earth is our mother. She keeps us alive … It’s the concept of maintaining country – central to everything we do as Aboriginal people. It’s about what we can give back to country; not just what we can take from it.”
“The current controlled burns destroy everything. It’s a naive way to practice fire management … Whereas cultural burning protects the environment holistically. We’re interested in looking after country, over property and assets. We can’t eat, drink or breathe assets,” declares Ms Foster. “Without country, we have nothing.”
In this richly-informative article, Murrandoo Yanner, a Gangalidda leader and director of the Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation in northern Australia, shares his traditional wisdom. As the story says, he is a man made for these times, declaring that the way forward is back … “If we can understand, learn from and imagine our place through the laws and stories of our ancestors then we will have true knowledge on how to live, adapt and survive in Australia, just as our ancestors did.”
Prepared by Alison Gardner, Editor, Pasifik Currents