Bushfires Rage Because Whitefellas Don’t Know How to Manage The Australian Landscape

SO much of Australia is needlessly and brutally incinerated every summer. News reports focus on homes and lives and the brave fire crews. But, what about the native fauna and flora? It wasn’t always this way, and it shouldn’t be so. As West Australian David Ward explains…

BEFORE Europeans arrived, Noongar people managed our south-west dry forests and woodlands very well without fire trucks, water bombers, helicopters, television journalists, concerned politicians, the Conservation Council, hundreds of firefighters, or the Salvation Army to give them all breakfast. They did this by burning frequently, in most places as often as it would carry a mild, creeping fire.

Even where there were no Noongars, most of the bush would have burnt frequently by unimpeded lightning fires, trickling on for months. Such large lightning fires continued up to the 1920s, before there were any Bushfire Brigades. They could travel a hundred kilometres before autumn rain doused them. Most of the landscape would have burnt as often as it could carry a fire. Fire suppression and exclusion are unnatural, new fangled notions.

Frequent fire made the bush safe, and promoted grass for yonka (kangaroo), and a host of bush tucker plants. It produced byoo, the red fruit of the djiridji, or zamia. Frequent light smoke germinated seeds, and provoked flowering of kangaroo paws and balga grass trees.

Kangaroo paws and byoo are increasingly rare, under a muddle headed advocacy which claims that we should exclude fire from large bush areas for long periods. This phoney idea makes the bush very dangerous, as we have recently seen. Fire cannot be excluded indefinitely, and the longer it has been absent, the fiercer, and more damaging it will be.Zamia

Ecomythologists claim that, left alone, the litter will all rot down to enrich the soil. The truth, as any Perth Hills resident will testify, is that there is some decay in winter, but the summer blizzard of dead leaves, bark, and capsules is far greater, so litter builds up. After twenty years or so, there is a mulching effect, and build up ceases. However, by then most wildflowers are smothered and straggly, and most of the nutrient is locked up in dead matter. Frequent, mild fire releases the nutrients, sweetens the soil, and prunes the plants. Gardeners will appreciate that.

In the 1840s, the early West Australian botanist James Drummond wrote, “When I was a sojourner in England, I never remember to have seen Australian plants in a good state after the second or third years and that, I think, is in a great degree owing to their not being cut down close to the ground when they begin to get ragged; how for the pruning knife and a mixture of wood ashes in the soil would answer as a substitute to the triennial or quaternal burnings they undergo in their native land, I am unable to say, some of our plants never flower in perfection but the season after the ground is burned over…”

There are many historical references to frequent, widespread burning by south-west Noongars. In 1837 Lt. Henry Bunbury mentioned “…the periodical extensive bush fires which, by destroying every two to three years the dead leaves, plants, sticks, fallen timber etc. prevent most effectually the accumulation of any decayed vegetable deposit… being the last month of summer… the Natives have burnt with fire much of the country… ”

In 1975 Mr. Frank Thompson was interviewed about his memories of fire near the south coast, before the First World War. He said “You see, the Natives …they used to burn the country every three or four years… when it was burnt the grass grew and it was nice and fresh and the possums had something to live on and the kangaroos had something to live on and the wallabies and the tamars and boodie rat …It didn’t burn very fast because it was only grass and a few leaves here and there and it would burn ahead and… sometimes there’d be a little isolated patch of other stuff that wasn’t good enough to burn the time before, but as it burnt along perhaps there might be some wallabies or tamers. Those animals didn’t run away from fire, they’d run up to it and you’d see them hopping along the edge of the fire until they saw a place where the fire wasn’t burning very fierce…”

It is hard to imagine wallabies hopping along the flame front of the recent Karagullen fire, looking for a way through. Long fire exclusion is causing fires of unprecedented ferocity, and many avoidable wildlife deaths. The longer fire has been excluded, the longer the bush takes to recover when it is eventually, and inevitably, burnt.

Over the last decade, research in south-western Australia by the Department of Conservation & Land Management (CALM) and Curtin University into fire marks on hundreds of balga grasstrees has confirmed traditional two to four year fire in dry eucalypt areas. Ridges with pure jarrah burnt every three to four years, slopes with some marri every two to three years, and clay valleys with wandoo every two years. There would have been thousands of small refuges, in rocks or near creeks, which would have burnt less often, perhaps never. Recent fierce fires destroy these, and the fire sensitive plants they protect. The ecomythology of long fire exclusion over large areas, is destroying the very plants and animals it claims to care for. Equally guilty are those ‘talking heads’ in politics, and the news media, who unthinkingly promote ecomythology.

The oldest balga records go back to 1750, and show traditional frequent, mild fire until measles epidemics killed many Noongars in 1860, and 1883. In some places two to four year burning continued until the First World War. In others, it continued up to the 1930s, and even the 1950s. Some old Perth Hills families remember when any fire could be put out with wet bags or green branches. This is only possible when fires are in litter no more than four years old, with flames less than a metre high.

Far from destroying diversity, this frequent burning enhanced it, by creating a rich mosaic of different aged patches. Animals had both food and shelter, and wildflowers flourished. Today’s muddle headed blanket fire exclusion leads to an eventual single, blanket, fierce fire, which simplifies the ecosystem down to a single age.

By insisting, through our political representatives, that CALM burn the bush more often, and more patchily, we will make it safer, see more wildflowers, avoid most animal deaths, and avoid dense, choking smoke from fierce wildfires. We will have to live with occasional light smoke from prescribed burns. If most litter were less than five years old, smoke would be minimal, and arson would be futile. All it could cause would be a mild, creeping fire, which would benefit the bush.

Think of the savings and benefits by working with nature, instead of fighting it. No more squadrons of aircraft, anxious home owners, and choking smoke for a week or more. The police could get on with catching burglars. More young Noongar people should be employed by CALM to help manage the bush with fire, restoring their culture and healing their self esteem.[1]

Since David Ward shared that article with us in April 2005, historian Bill Gammage has published his book ‘The Biggest Estate on Earth’ in which he explains in more detail how the South West of WA was managed intensively and systematically through fire-stick farming and that a similar philosophy once extended to the management of the entire Australian continent.

According to Mr Gammage the aboriginal religious philosophy of totems basically meant that all things were responsible for others of its totem and their habitat. So, emu people must care for emus and emu habitat, and emus must care for them. The entire continent was managed under the same aboriginal law for similar biodiversity purposes; hence the idea of Australia being essentially managed as one big estate.

Indeed for indigenous Australians wilderness offered no cause for fond nostalgia, it represented a tract of land without custodians.

1. Noongars Knew Best by David Ward was first published at http://jennifermarohasy.com/2005/06/noongars-knew-best/

The image is of a Zamia palm with ripe fruit.

79 Responses to Bushfires Rage Because Whitefellas Don’t Know How to Manage The Australian Landscape

  1. Robert January 18, 2014 at 10:51 pm #

    A big and important subject, Jen.

    Burning and the timing of burns are tricky crafts, and may have to be learned anew and adapted to changing conditions (since stable climate is another ecomyth), but most of us who live in and around bushland get the need for burnoffs. You might have big populations (Chicago-Peshtigo 1872 – mid autumn!) or sparse populations (Vic 1852), but the most extreme fire conditions will give you an inferno. Starving the monsters of fuel is the first measure. (Both of the fires mentioned were the worst known on their continents.)

    Good seasons make the fuel for dry seasons, and there will always be more dry than wet over most of Australia. (The recent statements that spring fires in NSW are an oddity are just blatant lies, completely ignoring common wind and weather patterns for the state. Even late winter has brought major fires to northern NSW, going right back.) There have been only a few years without drought in some large part of the continent, and even in those years the abundant regrowth would have been hazardous in short dry spells. Exclusion may work in theory, and may even be suitable for some areas, but when conditions are as extreme as in eg my region in 1994 fire is irresistible. And those conditions are never far off. In fact, I didn’t like the feel of the last few days around here.

    It’s no use wanting to “protect species” if you allow feral dogs, feral cats and hot burns. You can have those three or you can have koalas. Take your pick.

  2. Binny January 19, 2014 at 8:45 am #

    The (more or less) same observations have been made (and ignored) in North America and South Africa. In fact just about anywhere that has be colonised by the British, and their irrational fear of fire. It has got worse in recent decades, as the science of land/environment management has given way to eco-religion.

  3. Luke January 19, 2014 at 9:43 am #

    It’s much more than eco-religion – our forests don’t burn enough, northern Australia burns too much and too hot. But the our woodlands burn too little resulting in woodland thickening and shrub encroachment. Can’t blame greenies on all of that – it’s fanciful.

  4. DaveMyFace January 19, 2014 at 10:18 am #

    “Green ideas must take blame for deaths”


    Some have already forgotten the Kinglake area and the inquiry after the tragedy.

    Our National Parks and State Forests are a mess, with little concern for fuel reduction.

  5. Luke January 19, 2014 at 12:29 pm #

    It’s just a massive lie to think that greens influence fire regime over 7.6 M sq km. They don’t.

    If they did you wouldn’t have decades old features like the Pilliga Forest or the massive Tasmanian size Cobar woody weed patch. I hear the Cobar greens party are a pretty active lot 🙂

    Perhaps most whitefellas don’t how to manage what blackfellas created.

  6. gordon west January 19, 2014 at 1:06 pm #

    White man always burnt off every where as that was the farmers rule always,Never to let a build up of dry grass timber or whatever,every horseman had wax matches in his pocket and would drop a lit match every where he went as it would rid the bush of all dead grass & timber & create new growth,the indigenous people had the same affect when they lit a circle of fire to trap animals for food which all helped to keep the country free of horrific fires, But the modern day do gooders in the forestry or whatever band this practice,even banning wax matches,bringing in heavy fines for any one clearing around his house or whatever, all these greeny laws that prevented burnoff and stopped people clearing a boundary caused so much death and unnecessary traumas and great loss of tax payers money, plus the amount of people wanting to build homes in the bush,fires were of no concern or problem through all these past years as no one lived where these sensible burnoff occurred, Wake Up People and get rid of these lam brain controllers and start preventing any more disasters with True Common Sense, just like the grazier,farmer and all used to do !

  7. Johnathan Wilkes January 19, 2014 at 1:18 pm #

    I hear the Cobar greens party are a pretty active lot
    very droll Luke.

    I heard it here or elsewhere that clearing that scrub (or any srub) is not permitted? Or permits are almost impossible to obtain?

    Correct me if I’m wrong.

  8. DaveMyFace January 19, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

    The lessons have to be given to each new generation of bureaucrat.

    In 1961 after the Dwellingup bush fires which practically wiped out Dwellingup and Karridale, the Western Australia Forestry Commission committed to a 7 year fuel reduction burn cycle. 1/7 of total area to be burnt each year. This lesson was soon forgotten and the NEW Western Australian Department of Parks and Wildlife came in to control. Their explanation for prescribed burns is:

    1. to maintain biodiversity,
    2. to mitigate the severity of bush fires and to help protect lives and property by reducing the build-up of flammable fuel loads, and
    3. to rehabilitate vegetation after disturbance, such as timber harvesting and mining
    4. to undertake research on fire and its interaction with our environment.

    They is now no prescribed yearly cycle to reduce fuel. In fact parts of the area above was left for over 20 years. The new bureaucracy in the environmental sciences (all peer reviewed) bought in the new rules. And failed to learn from past lessons picked up by the whitefella.

    And back in 1939 Judge Stretton, writing in the report of the Royal Commission to inquire into the 1939 bushfires: here is his findings,

    ““There is one fundamental policy of fire prevention and of protection against fire. There is only one basis upon which that policy can safely rest, namely, the full recognition by each person or department who has dominion over the right to enter the forests of the paramount duty to safeguard the property and the rights of others. No person or department can be allowed to use the forest in such a way as to create a state of danger to others.
    If conformity to this rule cannot be brought about, the offender must be put out of the forest, or, in the case of a public department its authority curtailed, or enlarged so that the rule may be enforced, or voluntarily observed as the case may require.”
    The managers of forest land, be they government or private, have a clear responsibility to protect the community from fire emerging from their land. If they cannot do this, they must either be replaced by someone who can, or be given sufficient funding to do the job properly.”

    NSW over 10,000 people used to work in the forests prior to the 1980’s, in forestry, the electricity commission and saw-milling. Now logging is severely curtailed, and new areas added to state and national parks, the area is a constant fuel depot waiting for ignition.

    Once again no lessons learnt by the bureaucrats. Now the RFS is stretched to the limit because NO environmental agencies (infested with well meaning but naive people) are working on a 5 or 6 year fuel load reduction cycle.

    Whitefellas haven’t learnt off whitefellas, never mind anything prior to this. And now we have a new generation of environmentalists that have the likes of Tim Flannery shouting that Climate Change is increasing the risk of bushfires. Now they’ll all go out and try to reduce CO2 emissions to reduce bushfires.

    What a joke. Out with the OLD and in with the NEW (peer reviewed, scientists, expert etc etc)

  9. DaveMyFace January 19, 2014 at 1:40 pm #

    Also have a listen to this gentleman.

    David Packham, former deputy director of the Australian Counter Disaster College


  10. jennifer January 19, 2014 at 1:41 pm #

    What are the solutions? The guts of the above article was written by David Ward in 2005. But the Australian community seems more blinkered than ever when it comes to causes and solutions. How can we get some recognition of the need to move to active management and in particular resourcing for fuel reduction burns. How can we get some of the ideas in Gammage’s book reported by the MSM?

  11. DaveMyFace January 19, 2014 at 2:12 pm #


    I’m going to stick my neck on the chopping board here.

    But Gammage puts too much faith in this notion of systematic managing, cultivating, and conserving the bush by fire. It is grossly over stated. But Ward’s article is closer to the truth I think, especially in national parks.

    When you consider how much Australia has changed since 1780, this is the new distribution:
    1. Farmers and graziers own 135,997 farms, covering 61% of Australia’s landmass.
    2. National & State Parks have 9,300 separate parks covering 13% of Australia’s landmass.
    3. Commercial forestry have approx 19% of Australia’s landmass (Govt & Private).
    4. The rest is cities, private & government land not included above which covers 7%.

    But out of all this 80% of the worst bushfires have come from the Government owned sector. Surprising that with all that knowledge, research, facilities they can’t get it right.

    Put all National and State parks under firestick management of local aborigines or RFS with local knowledge and cut the green tape. Suddenly you would have an 80% reduction of bad or high damage bushfires. The private sector are obliged to care for their own, and should be held accountable, but mostly unnecessary due to the financial loss.

    Make this an active management plan with 5 year cycle of fuel reduction, not the tiny 4% burn done in NSW last year. That 4% makes some areas carry a 25 year fuel load.

    We are blind to the massive fuel loads building everywhere. They have to be reduced. They are still not doing it anywhere near a required minimum 7 year cycle.

    If 19% of our land area is causing 80% of the fires, then work on this 1st, and immediately.

  12. David Ward January 19, 2014 at 3:09 pm #

    Thanks for republishing my article, Jen. I have found the comments interesting. A few days ago I was in a hospital waitng room, watching a report on the Parkerville fire. An Aboriginal couple next to me were tut-tutting, so I commented that we needed to learn from Aboriginal fire management. They beamed, and agreed. They knew quite a lot about the subject, and mentioned 3-4 years as typical fire intervals in the jarrah forest in former days. This are exactly the intervals I have found by cleaning off old grasstree stems.

    After the Roleystone-Kelmscott fire a few years ago (over 70 houses lost?), we were visited by Mick Keelty, who had been given the job of reporting to the state government. I spoke to him, and found him a likeable character, with a good grasp of organisation. However, I am sure he would agree that he knew little about bushfire tactics and strategy.

    To devise bushfire tactics requires an understanding of bushfire behaviour, and to make strategy requires an understanding of bushfire history, geography, ecology and philosophy. Poor old Mick was out of his depth. People like Professor Bill Gammage and Professor Steve Pyne of Arizona would be able to help governments to see sense, and of course Aboriginal Elders should be consulted properly, not briefly talked to then ignored. I know from direct experience that some of them know a lot more about ecology than some academics.

  13. DaveMyFace January 19, 2014 at 3:09 pm #

    And one other point,

    Is get rid of the environmental GREEN tape associated with many of the government authorities today in regard to fuel load reduction.

    Here is a Tasmanian farmer who was refused permission to burn off because of parrots and wedge tailed eagles. He has now lost 95% of his property and ALL his buildings.

    The Green Tape blanket bans of fuel reduction burns on private property has to stop.


  14. Larry Fields January 19, 2014 at 3:31 pm #

    In 2005, I hadn’t yet come across your website. Thanks for reprising this informative article.

    We Americans are gradually coming to the realization that fire has a role to play in our ecosystems.

    Many moons ago, I had a Summer job fighting fires on the Kern Plateau, just South of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. In the overall scheme of things, it turned out to be relatively unproductive work.

    Typically, there would be a lightning strike on a remote ridgetop during a storm. One tree would be on fire, and that fire would slowly travel downhill in the slightly moistened duff. Scary stuff! 🙂

    From the ranger station in the desert town of Lone Pine, just East of the mountains, a modern helicopter would fly us in, with our low-tech shovels and Pulaskis. Then we’d put it out, and fly out. We had fantastic views from the chopper — at government expense, of course.

    On days when there were no thunderstorms, we did do some actual useful work — like cleaning out the crappers in public campgrounds.

    The big 1988 fire in our iconic National Park, Yellowstone, was a watershed event. After a lightning strike in the Spring, the fire managers decided to let it burn, thinking that rains would put it out in a reasonable amount of time. However that did not happen. Instead, the fire got very big, very fast. The Park Service ended up having a ‘white knuckle’ Summer. It was courage-of-your-convictions time.

    Everyone was pleasantly surprised when Yellowstone bounced back in its full splendor back a few years later. Here’s a retrospective news story about it.

    Yellowstone National Park recovers from 1988 fires

    Posted 8/13/2008 9:20 AM 

    By Bob Moen And Matt Joyce, Associated Press Writers

    YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. — If there is a place where heaven and hell meet, it’s here. Twenty years ago this summer, a series of wildfires burned 36% of America’s first national park, scorching huge swaths of pristine forest and killing scores of wild animals.

    Today, there is new life at Yellowstone National Park, as trees have taken root among the burnt logs that still litter the earth.

    The 1988 wildfires were not the ecological disaster many feared at the time. Far from destroying the park, the fires brought new life, cleared out the forest canopies and allowed new plants to bloom.

    Read more here.

  15. Debbie January 19, 2014 at 4:01 pm #

    @ JW. . .you are correct. . .it is a red/green tape nightmare to clear in the Cobar area.
    It is also a similar nightmare trying to manage the pigs, wild dogs, feral cats, invasive weeds etc.
    In a similar fashion to fire management. . .and paradoxically water management. . .nothing gets done until it’s almost impossible to do anything. . .and even then it is usually just nibbling around the edges of the problem.. .and reactive rather than pro active.

  16. Ian Thomson January 19, 2014 at 5:28 pm #

    We have seen a touring circus pass through here , ( Southern Riverina ) , and conclude that the “whiteman’s forests” , created and forested to produce timber, were “unsustainable” . The logging would have to stop one day anyway. So, tens of thousands of hectares were turned into National Park.
    More tens of thousands were turned into “Regional Parks”. A couple of months later, just before they all got off the grog at Parliament House in Sydney for the year they popped through a clear up Bill , turning another 70,000 plus hectares of State Forest in SW NSW to National/ Regional ? Parks overnight.

    Since then , we have had some sort of thing going on about, WHETHER, they should do a thinning trial.

    We have had another, ” urgent”, traveling circus conclude that gathering firewood from this Green monstrosity won’t work , because the firewood will “run out”. It was urgent because people could not properly access firewood , for last winter- It reported at the end of winter and recommended a gas main for Deniliquin, because firewood will run out.

    If the fire comes in a dry year, when all the water is racing past , to keep SA saltwater free and locals are not allowed to water anything , it will be terrible. Mathoura, Tocumwal, Cobram -Barooga, above all poor Barmah, will be annihilated. Along with the thousands of holiday makers trapped in there. Deniliquin is now half surrounded by the mess and dead wood and trash is everywhere.

    But, anyone who has read some of the nonsense Bob Carr and Bob Brown spout, would realise nobody should be living here at all.

    Climate change deniers and vested interests are , as usual, the baddies.
    If it is at this time of year, there will not be a single superb parrot unfried in the nest.

  17. John Cribbes January 19, 2014 at 5:52 pm #

    Re the Green influence on forest management.
    In 1984 to 1989 I attended the Victorian ALP’s Conservation & Environment Policy Committee. During that time I was Treasurer of the Conservation Council of Victoria and sat on its Executive Committee.
    Victorian Green N.G.O’s very much influenced ALP policy. Their aim was to lock up the forests so that they would grow “naturally”. Meaning, without fire.
    Check your history. Check out Mr Charles Edward Lane-Poole, the first Principal of the Australian Forestry School in Canberra.
    Lane-Poole was a European trained forester who opposed fuel reduction in forests. Read the Stretton Report – Lane-Poole advocated maintaining the forest canopy.

    Let us remember our flora and fauna when we discuss forestry management. If fires are so hot they destroy flora and fauna – and set them up for erosion – we have lost the plot.
    If we are to retain bio diversity we must avoid fires that are too hot.

  18. Debbie January 19, 2014 at 8:25 pm #

    Ian & John,
    I need that like button.

  19. Ken Stewart January 19, 2014 at 8:29 pm #

    I read Bill Gammage’s book and while I didn’t entirely agree with him he’s basically right. And David above is right too.
    North Stradbroke Island used to be a cattle station. There’s a dip and set of yards just off the road between Dunwich and Point Lookout. Until a couple of weeks ago the bush was so thick a bullock couldn’t walk through it let alone find grass to eat. Now 60% is completely burnt out, koala population especially devastated.
    We have to increase respect for fire but overcome fear of fire. And forest and park managers and firefighters have to learn how to manage fire. For over half my life I lived in sugar cane regions of NQ. Until green harvesting came in 20 years ago farmers burnt their cane blocks every day during the crushing, from June to November, which is the worst time for bushfires in Queensland. Believe me, a mature cane crop has an enormous fuel load, and a cane fire is a sight to behold. Occasionally fires got away and occasionally someone was hurt, but 99% of the time there was a clean safe burn. Fires were lit in late afternoon/ early evening when the wind had dropped and dew was settling, breaks were pushed, and then the downwind side lit a bit at a time allowing the fire to burn into the cane against the wind. Only when there was a good wide break on the downwind side was the upwind side lit. The fire would rage until it ran out of fuel and then suddenly would go out.
    My point: regular burning by people who know what they’re doing (get old cane farmers to train ’em), wide well maintained breaks, and mandated clearing and burning by private landholders as well as public, is essential. How to convince the public I don’t know, but first we have to convince the park and forest managers and their government masters.

  20. Debbie January 19, 2014 at 8:55 pm #

    Need the like button again!
    Thankyou Ken.
    The solutions are not particularly difficult. . . or. . . if you like. . . it isn’t rocket science! !!!!!
    Why we have NRM bureaucracies defending the indefensible is beyond crazy.
    The current management & legislation is CLEARLY not working!
    My area. . . only 2 hours north of Ian’s area. . . also has large acreage that is an accident waiting to happen.. . and it isn’t only human life and property that is in imminent danger.

  21. DaveMyFace January 19, 2014 at 9:18 pm #


    Exactly right, I’m on the north of Brisbane and Noosa National Park is also a nightmare waiting to happen also. But this is their (Noosa’s) plan:

    “— Implement a fire management program on all areas of Caustis-Empodisma heathland and Baumea sedgeland along the coastal strip from Coolum to Noosa Heads which would cover:
    • minimum fire-free intervals of 8-10 years;
    • winter burn of low-moderate intensity between May and June; and
    • creation and maintenance of a mosaic of blocks containing regeneration (0-4 years), mature (5- 10 years) and senescent (>10 years) heathland communities.
    — Examine effects of fire management by maintaining up-to-date data on the status and size of the ground parrot population in the park at and after each fire.
    — Record information once a year at the same time.
    — Monitor plant and animal response to an increasing fire-free interval, particularly in fire-exclusion blocks greater than 15 years post-fire. ”

    They haven’t got a fuel reduction cycle in place. With the right conditions a lot of wildlife, infrastructure and property damage damage will be the result if a large bush fire goes though this area. But they have got many firebreaks and prescribed burning in place, but still a tinder box at the moment.

    The old cane farmers at Coolum used to burn off regularly durning the season, with never an out of control fire. These guys knew the local conditions, and one old retired Coolum cane cockie could manage the whole of the Sunshine Coast without a problem.

  22. Hasbeen January 20, 2014 at 12:11 am #

    We always worked on the system with a pastoral property burning was essential to control woody weeds.

    You would lock up about a quarter of the property for a year to grow enough grass & light stuff to carry a fire, & try to graze the daylights out of the surrounding stuff where possible, so there was nothing there to burn. You would then try to burn it in sections, over a few days, rather than have a big fire. If successful 4 years of saplings & other garbage would be gone, & only the odd tree effected.

    Without these burns you very soon had had the place return to useless scrub.

    Today there are so many city types on their tree change, on small blocks with toy stock, burning is a real problem. The moment there is the smallest smell of smoke, the local council is inundated with complaints from grannies, worried about their alpacas & angora goats. Of course every one of them is suddenly dying of asthma they didn’t have yesterday.

    I have a neighbor with 10,000 acres. Today he is surrounded on 3 sides by about 200 of mostly 1, 2.5, 5 & 10 acre blocks. He is supposed to notify all these before he throws a match anywhere, even if it is miles away. He is a pretty horrible bloke, but sometimes I can almost feel sorry for him. His dad & grandfather never had so much annoyance trying to run a few cattle. Perhaps that’s why he is a horrible bloke.

  23. spangled drongo January 20, 2014 at 11:13 am #

    Throughout most of the Holocene [and possibly during the ice ages] Australia had a lot more rain forest than today. As well as wet sclerophyll.

    This is not country that humans are happy to live in and for that reason Aboriginals chose to burn it where and when ever possible.

    Converting it to open forest was a win/win for Aboriginals as it was for the Europeans when they came along.

    Fire would always burn the fringes of almost fireproof rainforest and over time and continuous burning, particularly in very dry conditions, large areas eventually got transformed into open heathland and dry forest.

    This functioned much better as Aboriginal habitat, particularly in high rainfall, coastal areas that attracted denser wildlife, mainly because it eradicated the scrub tick that the Aboriginal was not immune to yet it allowed their weapons to be used to better kill wildlife.

    Reversing this process is incredibly slow even in higher rainfall areas but with the demise of dairy farming it was starting to happen but now with tree changers taking suburbia to these areas it is probably impossible.

    I have been able to prevent hot fires in these sorts of areas in recent decades where there is old evidence of many past fires but mine is only a small part of the overall picture and when I stop doing it my neighbours will again become vulnerable.

    In drier areas there is no avoiding wide firebreaks, regular burnoffs and paying strict attention.

  24. David Ward January 20, 2014 at 1:08 pm #

    Since about 1995 I have cleaned off hundreds of old grasstree stems, revealing fire marks going back to pre-European times. This evidence is denied by some ‘environmentalists’, but matches exactly with information from Aboriginal Elders, early settler families, and old documents.

    Here is one record, if anyone is interested. It is from wandoo woodland, in John Forrest National Park, near Perth (S 31 degrees 52.541, E 116 degrees 4.614). According to an old resident, the site was formerly grassy, so would burn often. Since fire intervals have got longer, the native grasses (mainly Kangaroo Grass) have disappeared – a loss of biodiversity. Fires were at:


    If frequent fires ‘destroy biodiversity’ the site would not have been declared a National Park. In fact it was noted for its wildflowers, and a special train line was built to take day trippers from Perth for a spring picnic in the hills. The National Park station was called Hovea, after the brilliant purple flowers. The engine drivers helped maintain frequent burning, and wildflowers, and Kangaroo Grass, by throwing shovels of hot coals in the bush.

    The occasional slightly longer intervals back in the 1850s are probably due to the death of the ‘bridya’, or Nyoongar fire boss for that site. After such deaths, there would sometimes be a dispute over who had the right to take over. The increase in fire intervals after WW1 is pretty certainly due to the anti-fire campaign by Charles Lane-Poole, Conservator of Forests. He was born in Ireland, and educated there and in France. He had little understanding of bushfire, but was influenced by his forestry mentor, Sir David Hutchins, who had tried to stop burning by villagers in India, and South Africa. Just before he died, Hutchins advised the New Zealand government to import elephants for logging in steep country.

  25. Gossie January 20, 2014 at 2:03 pm #

    Having been a forest worker I know that fire is the best and only tool to avoid/fight bushfires.
    The Aboriginals learnt what was the best practise over a long period of time,we then came along and said “nah,we know better”,and the result that large numbers of people have died and much of the nation’s treasure lost.
    Will we change our attitude,no,the govt science and vestid interests will make certain that a proper procedure for managing Australia won’t ever come into effect.

  26. Beth Cooper January 20, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

    Being ‘anti-fragile’ (Nassim Taleb) means observing natural history, what’s
    been around for yonks, survived the test of time, as Jennifer argues above
    concerning traditional practices, evolving from experience in managing fire.

  27. Larry Fields January 20, 2014 at 7:06 pm #

    Here’s my stooopid question of the day.

    It’s my understanding that the Nullarbor Plain in SA was once forested. Some claim that the change since then was natural: Ice Age to Holocene. I’m inclined to believe this explanation.

    Others claim that fire stick farming overkill in that area was to blame. Supposedly, this disrupted the local hydrological cycle, and the result is the present expanse of Mad Max country.

    What do you think?

  28. spangled drongo January 21, 2014 at 12:10 pm #

    Larry, if the Nullabor did have trees they were probably of a very stunted variety unless it was during a period of better rainfall.

    With its poor soil and continuous drought, I don’t think the old salt laden sea bed is good for much.

    But any firestick farming certainly wouldn’t have done it any good rainfall wise.

  29. Debbie January 21, 2014 at 2:02 pm #

    More like savannah than forests.
    But firestick farming would definitely impact.

  30. Johnathan Wilkes January 21, 2014 at 6:01 pm #

    “Others claim that fire stick farming overkill in that area was to blame”

    They would have soon realised what was happening and stopped burning.
    Periodical burning could not have happened on the whole of the Nullarbor all at once or often enough to kill the lot. It’s a big place.

  31. redress January 22, 2014 at 10:13 am #

    David Ward January 20th, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    In the writing of “A History of the Millewa Group of River Red Gum Forests” prepared for State Forests of New South Wales by Peter Donovan, April 1997, my family was contacted by the author to give first hand evidence of the history of the area and also to provide photographs of the forest.

    Photographs of logging taken in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s [by the family], were used in the report.

    Photographs of the park like appearance of the forest were not, and neither was the confirmation of first hand selective burning by the local aborigines during the above period…….by my family and by the descendents of the traditional owners with home we put the author in touch.

    But then the author states unequivocally that:

    “Finally, it must be said that this project, along with those giving the history of several Cyprus Pine forests, was designed to serve the needs of State Forests.”

    I congratulate you on your studies………..it is refreshing to see an inquiring mind look at this correlation between oral history and solid science.

  32. Mark Poynter January 22, 2014 at 5:36 pm #


    You included the following information in one of your earlier posts:

    “When you consider how much Australia has changed since 1780, this is the new distribution:
    1. Farmers and graziers own 135,997 farms, covering 61% of Australia’s landmass.
    2. National & State Parks have 9,300 separate parks covering 13% of Australia’s landmass.
    3. Commercial forestry have approx 19% of Australia’s landmass (Govt & Private).
    4. The rest is cities, private & government land not included above which covers 7%.”

    I wonder where you get this from, because your supposition that ‘commercial forestry’ land comprises 19% of the Australian land mass is way-over-the-top.

    If you look at the Federal Govts’ State of the Forests Report, you’ll see that plantations and multiple use public forests account for only 7% of Australia’s forests and woodlands, which are only a minor subset of Australia’s total land mass. There are more privately-owned forests but most are unsuitable for commercial forestry for a variety of reasons.

    In fact, given the unsuitability of around half of the public multiple use forests, and the vast majority of private forests, it is generally accepted that only around 5% of Australia’s forests and woodlands are capable of supporting çommercial forestry. This would be an even smaller proportion of Australia’s land mass which is how you seem to like to compare things.

    I think you’ve made the common mistake (or tactic?) used by ENGOs who just regard any forest outside of a designated reserve as being commercial forestry land. In reality though, forest has to be have suitable tree species of usable size, be practically accessible, and relatively close to processing infrastructure. The vast majority that isn’t already reserved doesn’t meet these criteria.

  33. hunter January 23, 2014 at 10:56 am #

    The real lesson is that the modern enviro-concerned is simply wrong. They are dangerously wrong, damaging the environment, and putting people at risk.

  34. Luke January 23, 2014 at 11:07 am #

    Hunter opines from the US of A – ignoring who really manages the Australian land mass. More rightist nonsense.

  35. David Ward January 23, 2014 at 12:03 pm #

    Thanks, Redress, for some sane, kind words. I have long believed that ecology is not simply a branch of biology, but must also include humanities such as history. Landscape ecologists like Zev Naveh in Israel, and Francoise Burel and Jacques Baudry in France, also embrace this concept of ecology. You can’t understand a landscape unless you understand it’s history, especially what humans have done there in the past. Some local ‘natural scientists’ reject this as ‘anecdotal’ or ‘grey literature’. Perhaps they are describing the colour of their minds.

    P.S. Hello Luke. Glad to see you are still at it. Have you read Alain de Botton’s Consolations of Philosophy? It’s worthwhile.

  36. John F. Hultquist January 23, 2014 at 3:52 pm #

    I live in central Washington State. We get cold winters and hot summers. Local precipitation is about 8 inches (20 cm) but nearby mountains get much more. Streams through our area produce wide swaths of riparian vegetation. Much of that produces lots of fuel. After years of fire suppression it is not now possible to burn this out. Too many rural homes and other structures. I am slowly cutting the brush down but vegetation is relentless.

    The current strategy is explained as the “Firewise” program. An example:


  37. jaycee January 23, 2014 at 6:12 pm #

    Oh, Jennifer!…What has thou done?
    And you ; a biologist!

  38. Larry Fields January 23, 2014 at 6:38 pm #

    Two skeletons from Tree Kangaroos have been found in a cave under the Nullarbor in WA. Where there are Tree Kangaroos, there are trees! Savannah? Woodland? Forest? Dunno.

    Moreover an Ice Age can affect climate and vegetation — even in landscapes at low latitudes that aren’t covered by mile-thick ice sheets.

  39. spangled drongo January 24, 2014 at 6:46 am #

    Thanks Larry. That’s amazing. How long ago were they alive and kicking?

  40. Stewie January 24, 2014 at 8:40 am #

    Great work David.
    The use of the term ecology has bothered me for years, as in essence it seems more a theoretical science, with no beginning and no end. To me ecology, like the word environment, means everything. It therefore, especially when politics is involved, allows for easy cherry-picking and due to paucity of information and public ignorance, bias is easily applied.
    In Victoria under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act the description of fauna finishes with the words “except human beings”. In terms of ecology, I believe this is wrong and eliminates the consideration of aboriginal influence on flora and fauna in an evolutionary context, which as you point out, is deeply important to understanding the present. Seperating humans from the faunal hierachy has religious roots I believe, no different to today, where AGW is a new religion.
    The rewriting of environmental legislation in the early 1990’s, both here and the U.S. (Al Gore), saw the driver of environmental management underpinned by ecology. I see this as a sort of legal/ political trick. A position is taken where until enough is known about the ecological circumstances of a species, human interaction is minimised, if not eliminated. And this is how fuel reduction is retarded or stopped, especially when species labelled endangered are said to be present.
    Surely nobody will ever no the exact complete ecological dynamics at play in the environment, which ultimately must be at a global scale. You would sooner come up with the answer to, how long is a piece of string?
    Biology seems to be the proper or more useful reference.

  41. David Ward January 24, 2014 at 10:59 am #

    Yes Stewie,

    Bushfire debates usually involve such words as environment and biodiversity. The use, or misuse of words is an important part of philosophy. The admittedly long-winded English philosopher, Robin Collingwood, wrote that a scientist who has never philosophized about science can never be more than a ‘second-hand, imitative, journeyman scientist’ (The Idea of Nature 1945).

    Long ago (1689), John Locke wrote that ‘Vague and insignificant forms of speech, and abuse of language, have so long passed for mysteries of science; and hard and misapplied words, with little or no meaning, have, by prescription, such a right to be mistaken for deep learning and height of speculation, that it will not be easy to persuade either those who speak or those who hear them, that they are but the covers of ignorance, and hindrance of true knowledge.’

    Environment simply means ‘surroundings’, yet we see TV and newspaper prattle of the domestic environment (home?), educational environment (school or university?), legal environment (law?) etc. I have even heard a medical lady talk of ‘this environment’, which I assume means ‘here’. Does ‘that environment’ mean ‘there’?

    Let’s not even start on ‘biodiversity’. I had hoped that Dr Kevin Gaston, of Exeter University, had dealt it a death blow when he wrote that ‘Biodiversity is an interdisciplinary concept, appearing in various guises as a biological concept, a measurable entity, and a social/political construct’. Yet journeyman scientists and journalists alike continue to sprinkle it through their papers. I once counted fifty mentions in about ten pages. By God, John Locke was right.

  42. David Ward January 24, 2014 at 11:44 am #

    And so are you, Stewie.

  43. Stewie January 24, 2014 at 2:45 pm #

    Thanks David.

    Of course when does politically biased or misleading reporting become fraud? And if it is fraud and has caused ineffective management of bushfires, contributing to the death and maiming of people, killing of many millions of f & f species and the destruction of much private and public property, should they be held responsible to a degree?

    An extract from Oikos Journal ( http://oikosjournal.wordpress.com/2011/11/03/is-scientific-misconduct-especially-rare-in-ecology-and-evolution/ ) Lund University, Sweden.

    ‘I’d like to think that ecologists and evolutionary biologists are, as a group, especially honest and ethical, even for scientists. But there’s a little part of me that worries that we’d never know if that weren’t true. Because detecting fraud is even harder in ecology and evolution than in other fields, and because potential fraudsters will know that and so will be less likely to be deterred by the possibility of being caught.’

    The Royal Commission following Black Saturday did not include the ecological management of fire, which I find a little surprising.

  44. David Ward January 24, 2014 at 6:33 pm #

    Oikos is an excellent journal, with contributors who actually think for themselves. Some other journals of ecology remind me of Pravda, and seem to publish papers by people like Dr Lysenko. I know something of the matter, because I had an uncle, with a beard, who could speak Russian, and used to read Pravda in public places, just to disconcert people. This was back in the 1950s.

    In answer to your question, yes, they should be held responsible. Mick Keelty had an opportunity to raise this matter in his report on the Roleystone/Kelmscott fire, but failed to do so. I live at Roleystone, and our local Council has asked for comment on a proposed Urban Forest Strategy. I support more tree planting in urban and suburban areas, but their consultants have, unbelievably, proposed using native species such as jarrah, marri, and wandoo. Several of us have pointed out that these species drop vast quantities of leaves, bark, twigs, and capsules, which will burn like napalm on a summer’s day. I hope the council listen, and won’t be swayed by the hare-brained argument that these species are native, and so preferable to non-flammable exotics like poplar, liqidambar, or American pin oak.

  45. spangled drongo January 24, 2014 at 8:53 pm #

    David, I have been fire-proofing through planting native rainforest trees in dry forest areas which I suspect previously had either dry or wet rain forest growing and so far, after a couple of decades, it seems to be working.

    That might work in your area too but those exotics would as well. The rainforest trees are not deciduous and don’t grow as big but may not accept your colder weather.

  46. David Ward January 25, 2014 at 10:04 am #

    Thanks Spangled,
    I don’t think rainforest trees would grow in our Mediterranean climate, but your idea is a good one for areas where they will grow.

  47. Hasbeen January 25, 2014 at 11:52 am #

    Don’t forget folks, the aboriginals only succeeded in their land management so well, because they had a number of advantages.

    1/ No federation. They did not have their land management dictated from Canberra or Sydney.

    2/ No communication. Same advantage as No. 1.

    3/ No universities, so no know-nothing academics pontification some fool theory from above.

    4/ No NGOs, so no WWF/Greenpeace in the governments ear with green stupidity.

    5/ No thousands of tree change city types building McMansions “among the gum trees”, restricting the intelligent use of fire.

    And last nut by no means least, no ABC pushing every fool academic & NGO theory upon a gullible public.

    Get rid of these impediments, & our land management would be free to flourish.

  48. Rob January 25, 2014 at 11:55 am #

    Back burning/hazzard reduction is an important tool to reduce fuel loads but to say the aboriginals managed the land with it isnt correct, it was just their style of slash and burn. Firstly they took as much food from the environment as they could with their wooden and later subcontinental indian stone tools then they burnt the rest to kill what was left. Once the burning was done they moved on until the forest and animal populations naturally recovered.

  49. Larry Fields January 25, 2014 at 7:18 pm #

    Comment from: spangled drongo January 24th, 2014 at 6:46 am wrote:
”How long ago were they alive and kicking?”

    A new Pleistocene tree-kangaroo (Diprotodontia: Macropodidae) from the Nullarbor Plain of south-central Australia

    Prideaux, G.J. and Warburton, N.M. (2008) A new Pleistocene tree-kangaroo (Diprotodontia: Macropodidae) from the Nullarbor Plain of south-central Australia. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 28 (2). pp. 463-478.


    “This paper describes a new tree-kangaroo of the extinct genus Bohra (B. illuminata sp. nov.). Its remains were collected from a diverse middle Pleistocene fauna preserved in caves recently discovered beneath the Nullarbor Plain of south-central Australia. The adult holotype and juvenile paratype are represented by associated cranial and postcranial material. They confirm that two previously known species, B. paulae and B. wilkinsonorum, which were described on the basis of disparate parts of the skeleton, are congeneric. While Bohra is closest in morphology to the extant tree-kangaroo genus Dendrolagus, it shares several similarities with Petrogale (rock-wallabies). This is consistent with recent molecular studies that suggest that tree-kangaroos and rock-wallabies share a common ancestry.”


    “Pleistocene” means 1.6m to 10k years old.

  50. spangled drongo January 25, 2014 at 9:31 pm #

    “This is consistent with recent molecular studies that suggest that tree-kangaroos and rock-wallabies share a common ancestry.”

    I can believe that. Our rock wallabies can just about climb trees. But tree kangaroos are possibly nearer to opossums.

    Anyway, that’s a broad spread of time, 1.6m to10k y ago for trees to be on the Nullarbor so I suppose it’s possible.

    Thanks for that, Larry. I had never thought of the Nullarbor as a place for a forest and the tree roos today are restricted to a small area between Cardwell and Cooktown, a long way from there.

  51. jaycee January 26, 2014 at 7:40 am #

    “3/ No universities, so no know-nothing academics pontification some fool theory from above.”

    Comment please, Jennifer ?

  52. Debbie January 26, 2014 at 10:40 am #

    If I may. . .
    I will comment from my perspective. . .but not for Jennifer of course.

    If you take that number 3 comment out of context it could appear to be offensive and disrespectful to ALL academics.
    However, if read it in context with the numbered comments directly beforehand ( ie from above) that point out that management has been centralised/ bureaucratised and that there is a lack of practical experience and local knowledge in management/process/rules/regulations in areas such as bushfire management. . .that does not mean that ALL(!) academics are ‘no nothings’.
    What it means is that the centralising academic theory is not working in practice.
    I understand the frustration that underpins that number 3 comment. . .however it’s not because I think that ALL(!) academics are ‘no nothings’. . .and nor did I interpret that comment to mean that ALL(!) academics are ‘no nothings’.
    Hope that helps?

  53. jaycee January 26, 2014 at 4:39 pm #

    Thank you, Debbie, for clearing up THAT confusion…

    “3/ No universities, so no know-nothing academics pontification some fool theory from above.”

    Comment please, Jennifer ?

  54. jaycee January 27, 2014 at 9:11 am #

    I don’t know what the above is supposed to mean…code, I guess!…But on this fire-stick business…of course, “in the olde days”…when one had VAST areas of complete forest…chockers w / bio-diversity (it’s not a dirty word!)…a tribe or two of “black-fellahs” could burn out a couple of hundred square miles and it would hardly be felt!…and with the surrounding “reservoir of flora / fauna AND microbiology” recovery was only a few years away. Now…if one was to “fire-stick” (and they do anyway) one would be torching remnants of bush and scrub.
    In doing so, not only is the flora burnt, but also the fauna and the insects and the fungi and micro-organisms…and since there already is a break in the chain of bio-diversity, there is not the native animals nor reservoir to re-stock any recovered flora that you all wax so lyrical about!
    Oh my God!…The Lichen!..Won’t anybody think about the Lichen ?!!
    But hey!..Jennifer!…here I am preaching to the converted!…you know this already, don’t you…you got the Phd….you got the “no-nothing pontification” under your belt!…my apologies,

    I’m being disingenuous here..I really was talking to your acolytes…as you can read..they are just “skimmers” looking at the easy stuff…the surface material…but YOU know and it is THAT which disturbs the muse of your knowledge…I wonder if you are not betraying your education, your qualifications, your disipline by obfuscating and letting these “unfortunates” wander into areas where only the most dexterous Googlers and Wikists can survive?
    I worry about your soul, Jennifer.

  55. jaycee January 27, 2014 at 9:14 am #

    For your edification…

    Empty Park – Vacant Heart.

    I am going to ask you to think outside the square…to imagine, or rather to concentrate on the erroneous peception that when we see bushland, either from the window of our car or on a walk in a bushland park, we believe that because we see what appears to be thick overstorey and understorey foliage there will be a full list of fauna to partake of the verdant growth…particularly in a nature reserve. But because of a series of events, both natural and human intervention, the biodiversity “chain” that supported and nourished the “circle of life” within the world of these bushland parks has been broken and the gaps between the links that held one species to the next are too far apart to support a healthy body of life….So we sometimes have an empty woodland…an empty park, a vacant heart.
    Two creatures who are suffering from a destroyed food-chain are the wombat and the pygmy possum.
    Climate Change has already brought about extreme weather conditions measured by the number of extreme weather records broken in all parts of the globe. Here, in the mallee we have a combination of events that have driven the wombat to a point where it is found to be starving to death in it’s own heathlands because of a dearth of native grasses off which it habitually feeds. If such a large mammal is suffering so tragically, then you can imagine the plight of the tiny Pygmy Possum. For a creature 6.5cm. in body w/a 7.5cm. tail it has to be one of the most difficult mammals to spot at night-time….and one of the most vulnerable to feral attack.
    The biodiversity these creatures need to survive is under constant attack…ergo, these creatures are under constant attack…There is no point feeling sympathy unless we are prepared to give safe harbour to many threatened species here in the mallee..We have to demand a withdrawl from the habitats of these creatures of the destructive mechanisims that tear these lovely animals apart.
    From the clumsy lumbering of the loveable Wombat to the supremely vulnerable Pygmy Possum, a creature so small one could simply crush the life from it’s tiny body with ease, yet has the capacity of all soft-bodied mammals to wrench the heart-strings in sympathy for it’s slowly destructing environment.
    It is up to us as we view from vehicle window, or idlyic stroll in passing the bushland on either side of the road, to decide if we have the heart to insist on a healthy environment for these creatures to just live their normal lives or wether we will be callously content with a future driving through an empty park , with a vacant heart.

  56. Debbie January 27, 2014 at 1:40 pm #

    So Jaycee?
    Are you saying that David Ward is wrong. . .that the first Australians were wrong. . .or what?
    No one here is advocating that we destroy ‘lovely animals’. . .this post is commenting on the management of bush fire risk. . .and it also highlights that when it isn’t managed properly those ‘lovely animals’ are just as vulnerable as everything else.

  57. jaycee January 27, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

    Debbie, if anyone thinks we can resume “fire-stick” management in all but the most limited locations, then yes they are wrong…..just like running an untrained or unhealthy body in a marathon, if there is no “fat” or “muscle” to restore burnt energy, then disaster will occur. The natural environment is already stretched beyond it’s limit in most areas…a policy of “destroying the village to save the village” will not be of much use to anyone.
    Best restore and re-tree before “managing” it.
    Anyway, stop “verballing” me..I did not say the “first Australians” were wrong at all..I said they had a greater “pool” of diversity to play with…as for Mr. Ward..he too was correct when he stated ; “Noongars Knew Best”….” Knew” (past tense) being the operative word.

  58. Debbie January 27, 2014 at 4:22 pm #

    Who is advocating a return to fire stick management or a slash and burn technique?
    And who was advocating we stress the environment or indeed for vacant woodlands?
    You seem to be doing a great job of missing the point ‘re this post which is about managing risk from bushfires. . .for all species.
    Also. . .if I was trying to ‘verbal’ you . . .you would know . That isn’t something I am interested in doing.

  59. jaycee January 27, 2014 at 4:55 pm #

    “…By insisting, through our political representatives, that CALM burn the bush more often, and more patchily, we will make it safer, see more wildflowers, avoid most animal deaths, and avoid dense, choking smoke from fierce wildfires. We will have to live with occasional light smoke from prescribed burns. If most litter were less than five years old, smoke would be minimal, and arson would be futile. All it could cause would be a mild, creeping fire, which would benefit the bush. ”

    Debbie, Debbie, Debbie… Pleeessse..don’t make me say it!

  60. cohenite January 27, 2014 at 8:30 pm #

    jc says:

    “Climate Change has already brought about extreme weather conditions measured by the number of extreme weather records broken in all parts of the globe. ”

    Complete and utter garbage.

  61. Stewie January 27, 2014 at 10:07 pm #

    Some detail about the pygmy possum you mention.

    A friend of mine, now deceased, new Mt Hotham well (a population of possums are there). He was the road builder (parts of) and snow clearerer way back. A good bushman, loved the mountains, an expert prospector and an advocate for fuel reduction burning. He took the first skiers into Hotham and new your little possum well. In fact, he got a call from some uni student in the 1980’s?, hearing about Fred’s knowledge of the area and of the flora and fauna. Fred was more than happy to show her where the possums were and did. She returned to Melbourne, wrote a paper on the possums, which was the beginning of the management plans to protect this species. Fred never received any acknowledgement for his efforts. Is that stealing intellectual property?? Do you know her JC?

    So the possums are living in the basalt screes. These basalt screes got hammered in the 1939 fires. As a reminder, as you know all (ALL) the snow gums up there are multi-trunked. They have suckered after the 39 fires. Before the fires, as Fred explained, all the trees were big thick single trunk trees. Old, old trees. Fred explained the fire travelled from Noojee to Hotham in 2 hours. The possum population was seriously affected. There were other populations of possums in many of the basalt screes that lay scattered around Hotham and Feathertop and Dargo High Plains. Many of the screes are off the plateaus a bit, over the edge. They were obliterated in 39. The ones on top survived.

    Fires, or lack of them is one predominant problem (Maybe that’s what you mean by ‘destroyed food-chain’?). Numbers of Aboriginal tribes made annual excursions to Hotham to feast on the Bogong moths. They would have burnt as they went. And that plateau country would would have constricted them to similar routes chosen. They burnt regularily. That’s why the snowgums were so big. Aboriginals virtually fire-proofed the high country up there. For some bizzare reason the dept. virtually excludes fire from the alps. Says its to fragile or unique or something. Maybe its the possum. That could be ironic.

    Fuel JC. It can make a fire very, very angry. I stood on top of the very summit of Hotham with Fred and 2 dept fire managers. You could see in some directions for hundreds of miles. I asked Fred what it looked like from here after 39 fires. He waved his arm across the horizon and said it was all gone and nearly all incinerated. He said nothing was left down there and it nearly had all crowned. Absolutely no greenery.

    Brushed tailed Rock Wallaby populations were also desimated, never to return. They live in steep country too, where this inferno raced up and baked them.

    Next predominant problem dogs, foxes and cats, and skiers. The first three not only eat them (probably think they’re tasty), I would imagine they would seriously affect population despersal. You know what that countries like JC. They’d get picked off easy, don’t you reckon.

    You been up there JC? You sound like you get around. Hows the fact that those plains up there, including Hotham sit on 600, 800 feet of basalt. They were once giant lava flows and now they’re alps. Amazing.

  62. jaycee January 28, 2014 at 6:32 am #

    Stewie…1939 was along time ago…1980’s were a fair while ago and while the indigenous people operated a sytematic “burn” in “the good ol’ days”..they weren’t to know what burning was doing to the microbiology and they operated on natural selection operatives and chance.
    I don’t think we moderns have the depth of bushland, nor the breath of time to play such chancey games…are you a gambling man, Stewie?…..I mean : to gamble with your grandchildren’s future just to satisfy your own theories?

  63. jaycee January 28, 2014 at 6:51 am #

    cohenite….: ” Complete and utter garbage. ”

    You wish!…trouble is coh’…you’re as tad like old Admiral Nelson, looking through his blind eye and seeing nothing…You can Google all you like and live your life vicarioulsy through a PC. monitor…but I am seeing things “on the ground”…as I said a while ago…you’re hoping, I’m seeing!
    Go in peace bro’.

  64. cohenite January 28, 2014 at 7:57 am #

    Well. present evidence, jc for your assertions about extreme weather, from “on the ground”.

  65. Stewie January 28, 2014 at 8:35 am #


    ‘1939 was a long time ago’.

    Was it? You serious? As mentioned in previous posts, evolutionary ecology is a very important consideration in understanding the biology of modern natural settings, cycles, processes, etc.

    What was the systematic burning by Aboriginals you refer to? I think you mean intentional. Calling it systematic makes it sound like they controlled all their fires. Maybe at times they could and did but clearly they couldn’t have alot of the time. If you think that is the case, then you are unaware of the volatility and ease in which fire spreads through many plant communities. Aboriginals were on foot not firetrucks and the landscape is just as rugged as today. The scrub can make it a real hassle to get through. Slows you down big time. They burnt it out the way. Do you think you could have stopped them doing this by citing your belief in AGW. They would have thrown you in. Some may have then eaten you.

    I am no expert on these matters but your ignorance is obviously breathtaking. Have you been out in the mountains much? Are you doing a TAFE course? Do you know alot of scientific names? I guess you read alot, surf the net.

    More fuel, more fire, more heat, more microbiology dead. Don’t you get that? Gambling has nothing to with it. Gambling with wildfire will burn your butt.

  66. Debbie January 28, 2014 at 8:44 am #

    Jaycee, Jaycee, Jaycee…Pleeeeease. . .just go right ahead and say it (whatever IT is). . .no one expects you to NOT say what you think about current bushfire management.
    BTW. . .was your lifted quote from David Ward’s article supposed to be an answer to my questions about who is advocating firestick management, slash and burn, stressing the environment or vacant woodlands?
    I notice that Ward advocates in that particular quoted section that we would:
    ” avoid most animal deaths, and avoid dense, choking smoke from fierce wildfires.”
    You appear to be conflating the difference between uncontrolled, fierce wildfires (which are indeed devastating) and controlled/ managed/prescribed burns that create: “a mild, creeping fire, which would benefit the bush. ”
    Cohenite has also pointed out that your reference to CC bringing about record breaking extreme weather events is not supported re the occurrence of Australian bushfires.
    And seriously?
    What do you think this is proving?
    “gamble with your grandchildren’s future just to satisfy your own theories?”
    Most of what David Ward and Stewie have commented on are not just ‘theories’. . .they are examples of what has worked successfully in practice with suggested nuancing to cater for extra practical knowledge and understanding.

  67. jaycee January 28, 2014 at 11:05 am #

    But Debbie..what Stewie and Mr. Ward hve written of is mainly second or third hand or even further back anecdotal evidence..ie..;someone said about someone saying…

  68. jaycee January 28, 2014 at 1:37 pm #

    It seems obvious to me that while I am trying to give the readers here information, certain parties seem only keen to disparage such. In their keeness to slight my humble attempts to educate, they trip-up and confuse and contradict even their own information.
    I would humbly suggest those of you who are too keen to find fault, get your “act” together before you write, as it is becoming somewhat difficult to follow your arguements!

  69. Dr David Ward January 28, 2014 at 2:16 pm #

    Hello Jaycee,
    I must admit I find your views a bit puzzling. If you are interested in bushfire education, you may care to Google (curtin+library+ward+wungong). Let’s try to work together to find a solution to the bushfire problem, regardless of political orientation.

  70. jaycee January 28, 2014 at 6:14 pm #

    Hello Dr. Ward…I think we may be at either end of the rope as we seem to be at geographically different locations…I am in the SA. mallee. As you are probably aware, there has been so much clearing done in the mallee, the scope for “slow-burn” management is severely limited. Those here who seem to be forever seeking out the oracle or worshipping the idol want to lump all forestry in together.
    The sth-west West Aust’ still has vast (well, it did the last time I was there!) areas of native forest that may just be suitable for “slow-burn” tactics. Here in the mallee, there is discussion about re-seeding road verges with native grasses to replace wild oats and phalaris(sp.?) grasses, as the natives carry much less fuel-load per hectare.
    Myself, having just last week attended a scrub-fire nearby, I have taken photos of the flora damage and will follow through on regrowth in three-monthly stages…I expect the mallee to regrow, despite severe damage to the boles…however, the total destruction of the understory, means the micro-fauna and flora has been devastated….and there not being any great amount of remnant forest about (it is an old cropping area) I think they will take some time and may be of a more exotic composition.
    Climate-change has hit this area hard, being so close to the Goyder Line, the shift in average rainfall from a seasonal pattern to a more erratic pattern over the last several decades has made much marginal farming land now redundant….there is “nothing in the bank” as they say..and the chances of that improving are just that : chance.

  71. jaycee January 28, 2014 at 6:16 pm #

    Ps. I am not aware of YOUR “political orientation”, Dr. Ward, but myself, being a communist by inclination would welcome you and any here into a comraderie of union!

  72. Debbie January 28, 2014 at 6:39 pm #

    How did that scrub fire you attended start?

  73. jaycee January 28, 2014 at 7:11 pm #

    Some delinquent lit it…evidently…I heard today that a young fellow had been caught…but how much is true..I don’t know…it did appear to have been deliberately lit, as there were three locations near eachother!….although one CFS. official said he thought it was a “spot-fire”…but I doubt it.

  74. David Ward January 29, 2014 at 1:14 pm #

    You are right, I don’t know much about South Australia. I did note once that James Backhouse, an early Quaker visitor from England, made some comments on your state. In a book, ‘A Narrative of a Visit to the Australian Colonies’ (1843), he wrote:

    p.511 “We walked a few miles… on a plain…Some of the Kangaroo-grass was up to our elbows, and resembled two years’ seed meadows, in England, in thickness; in many places, three tons of hay per acre, might be mown off it.” December 1837, near Adelaide, South Australia.

    p.519 “Some of the hills, like the plains below, are covered with red loam, on which there is fine Kangaroo-grass, that is green, notwithstanding the thermometer has, several times lately, risen to 107 degrees in the shade.” December 1837, Mt Lofty Range, South Australia.

    p.522 “The surface of Kangaroo Island is woody, with grass, in some places.” December 1837, Kangaroo Island, South Australia.

    Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra) grows around the Indian Ocean, from Africa to Australia. Some people believe that it was introduced to Australia, long ago, by fire using humans. It needs burning every few years to maintain it, otherwise it smothers under its own thatch. Up to WW2 there were large areas of it in WA, but it has almost disappeared now. Pity, it’s a beautiful grass.

    Is it still widespread in SA? There must be elderly people in SA, including Aboriginal Elders, who have memories, perhaps from parents or grandparents, of its former prevalence, and how it was maintained.

  75. jaycee January 29, 2014 at 1:49 pm #

    David Ward….1837 !!…indeed it was an early observation, considering the colony was inaugurated in c. 1836.
    As to how widespread that “kangaroo grass” is…I wouldn’t know…not being a botanist, I would have to Google it…perhaps “Neville” ?…
    But I will tell you one little snippet of “lost info”…those “farmers” that were encouraged to the colony to clear and “farm” the land…were certainly no farmers in the true sense of the word…they were more like environmental storm-troopers…in that they used a “scorched-earth” policy which is ‘bearing fruit’ tragically, in these times.
    I am in the midst of looking at the water problems in our area…and I find that it is not only here that there is a problem…if one was to look closely at the draw upon the Murray River, you would see that almost the entire regional farming and town areas of Sth’ Aust’ is heavily reliant on the Murray. Now with the reinstatment of water allocations upstream…??

  76. David Ward January 29, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

    We seem to be the only ones left on this thread, so I will call it a day. Neither sharks, nor climate, nor water problems are in my field of expertise.

    I suspect that your early storm-trooper farmers found that the only way they could maintain the grazing was by doing what the Aborigines did for the kangaroos, that is, burn country as often as it would carry a fire. For Kangaroo Grass this is every 2-3 years. It crackles very nicely, so was fun as well as a source of food. Perhaps there are some old grasstrees in your patch which would tell an interesting tale. All you need is an angle grinder, and a good mask. Go for it – you might win the Eureka Prize.

  77. Debbie January 29, 2014 at 5:47 pm #

    I have to agree with David.
    You are introducing information outside of the specific topic of this post and then pretending that if people ask questions or offer information. . .that means they don’t ‘care’ enough.
    It’s also known as introducing a ‘straw man’ argument.
    The points made by David re the management of bushfire risk are practical and valid for much of Australia and do indeed include concerns about native flora and fauna.
    I have not noticed him advocating ‘scorched earth policy’ as a farming technique anywhere at this thread. . .which BTW does NOT happen anywhere, anymore in Australia anyway.
    Your comments about water and SA’s reliance on the Murray River are entirely irrelevant in relation to this thread and David’s area of interest and expertise.
    However, there are plenty of us here. . .including the owner of this blog. . .who do have an interest and expertise in that area.

  78. David Ward January 30, 2014 at 1:47 pm #

    Thanks for the sane words, Debbie. I sometimes suspect that sanity is a rare and endangered commodity in our society – er – sorry – social and political environment.

    If Jaycee is really interested in fire and Kangaroo Grass, there is some excellent work by Dr Ian Lunt in Australia, and by several South African scientists (they call it Red Oat Grass or Rooigras). Search by Google scholar.


  1. Jennifer Marohasy » Bushfires Rage Because Whitefellas Don’t Know How to Manage The Australian Landscape | Cranky Old Crow - January 26, 2014

    […] Jennifer Marohasy » Bushfires Rage Because Whitefellas Don’t Know How to Manage The Australian La…. […]

Website by 46digital