Wood from the trees

WITH devastating fires bringing calamity to New South Wales and Victoria, PALMYRA resident CHRIS PALMER takes a look into our history, courtesy of Tim Flannery, and says perhaps there once was a better way of handing our forests.

The reporting of extensive, catastrophic forest fires in the eastern states is disturbing and frightening.

The questions I think we should be asking are: who manages this land; what fire management practices are being conducted and are they appropriate; what qualifications and experience is necessary to manage this land; what is planned for the future to mitigate catastrophic fires and are there managers and agencies who advocate recreating the conditions that existed in current fire prone areas prior to European settlement?

This would mean replacing forest with, ‘very open, fire-maintained woodland’.

I would advocate managers and appropriate government agencies to examine the physical landscape of fire prone areas from a historical perspective and discover how it was managed prior to European settlement.

To make sense of this and investigate future solutions to the current crisis I refer you to Tim Flannery’s 1994 theses called, The Future Eaters. According to David Suzuki, this publication “gives us a powerful insight into our current destructive path”.

Tim’s research centres on our geographic region and focusses on climate change, animal extinctions, human migration, archaeology, farming, animal dwarfism and the role of fire in the Australian landscape.

I urge you to read the following three chapters: Chapter 21 (Sons of Prometheus), Chapter 30 (Like Plantations in a Gentlemen’s Park) and Chapter 32 (Riding the Red Steer: Fire and Biodiversity Conservation in Australasia).


Tim’s research for these chapters provides us with a documented historical account of woodlands and wide open spaces cleared of undergrowth and fire-prone vegetation that existed along the eastern seaboard of Australia.

According to Flannery large woodland eucalypts were surrounded by cleared land and those same majestic trees that have survived to this day still retain the scars of regular burning at intervals up their outer bark.

According to Tim’s research, land was already cleared when early settlers and explorers arrived on the east coast of Australia.

Settlers and explorers could navigate easily by foot or on horseback into unexplored territory to the west.

Land was also recorded as being cleared in Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia prior to European settlement and as a former teacher of Australian art history, it is a myth to think that all colonial artists painted the Australian landscape to mirror the parks and gardens of England.

They painted the open spaces of the Australian landscape because that is what they experienced.

I strongly believe that a documentary/investigative program with Tim’s involvement should be planned with some urgency to change the way we view and manage our landscape.

It is my opinion and supported by Tim Flannery’s theses, that climate change isn’t the only factor causing catastrophic bush fires in Australia.

Environmental degradation, ignorance and the inability to understand the Australian condition are all contributing factors which need to change.

The Australian landscape is unique, this is not a European or north American condition.

If we look at this problem from a historical perspective and learn how Aboriginal peoples managed this landscape then their future training and contribution in managing fire prone areas will be invaluable.

Early settlers did not report ‘catastrophic’ fires but they did report fires that were managed and not life threatening.

This country needs action and Tim’s book provides the evidence for that action.

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