It seems that all who have arrived in Australia since 26 January 1788 have drunk the same water of trust in abundance, as the Aborigines who have inhabited this land for some 60,000 years. In that there is much to celebrate.
Our trust in abundance – that there is plenty to share – enables so many to come forward with money, goods and support for those so badly affected by the fires, the floods and the drought. The same spirit embraces the newcomers who take the pledge of allegiance as they become Australians on Australia Day.
According to anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, in his seminal study, The Original Affluent Society (1966), aborigines lived their nomadic life and economy in the spirit of confidence in the hunt. Affluence derived from neither needing nor seeking to accumulate possessions. Sahlin’s study showed that aboriginal knowledge and management of the land, water, resources and seasons, coupled with skills in hunting and gathering ensured they would always be able to acquire adequate food and water.
Experience with bushfires
Experience of recent and previous fires has brought into sharp relief Aboriginal knowledge based on management of the land. Seasonally, fire sticks were used to cold burn fuel of dried leaves and bark that built up in the understory of forests. Such practice helped prevent larger fires ignited by dry lightning strikes, conserve the animals on which they relied for food and stimulated regrowth to service both indigenous, animals and other biodiversity.
What aborigines new naturally was confirmed on Fox’s Credlin show by two old blokes with over a hundred years of experience in forestry and bush fire management. Roger Underwood, a 60 year forester and David Packham, a former CSIRO bushfire scientist of 50 years’ experience, explained in simple language.
Australian forests differ from northern hemisphere forests in that in Australia, trees shed leaves and bark which build up. Drought dries out the fuel burden. Normal fuel build up is one ton per hectare per year. Double that and the fire risk is four times higher; double again and it is 16 times, and so on. A fire in a 50 ton/hectare burden cannot be stopped. As the aborigines before them knew, hazard reduction burns work.
Under normal bush fire conditions, the fire burns at 3 megawatts per metre. During Black Saturday, fires reached 70 mw/m. Fire intensity is now around 100 mw/m and fuel loads have never been higher as a result of a 30 year build up. At the current intensity, heat is so great that it is impossible to withstand.
Follow the wisdom
What the aborigines know and the two experienced old blokes tell us is not news. Recommendations coming out of previous Royal Commissions have all said the same thing – hazard reduction by seasonal cool burning of the build-up of forest debris.
Several reasons for universal failure to do so can be attributed to flawed green policy based on landscape ecology aimed at conserving all forests and biodiversity by leaving it alone.
Anyone with any gumption knows that saving children from everything makes them good for nothing. Whereas reasonable admonishment, direction and support through difficult experiences helps them become productive citizens.
Similarly, reasonable known land and forest management practices could have saved the loss of forest, biodiversity, people, homes, buildings and tragedy. Responsible agencies which have not done their job need to be called to account. Policies need to be changed and rigorously implemented.
To the question about ‘who benefits?’ posed by Peta Credlin to Roger Underwood and David Packham, they replied “the Greens”. Not only has flawed Green policy become so entrenched in local and state government land management regulations, preventing hazard reduction burns, but it has extended to punishing farmers and property owners from reducing hazard on their own property – a policy that has cost farmers dearly. The Greens have benefited politically by being able to blame climate change (and ScoMo) for the unfolding disaster; an opinion the experienced men dismiss. Greens could learn from the teachings of Buddha that ‘the greatest weakness in life is lack of awareness’.
Other beneficiaries identified were the fire agencies, who, having failed to control the fires, demand more resources. In the aftermath of crisis, challenged governments stump up with more resources which will again fail. How many times over the last twelve months have we seen damage and desolation caused when taxpayer funded agencies fail to do their jobs and get off unaccountable to anyone.
Trust in abundance
In keeping with the ‘trust in abundance’ Sahlins recognised in the aborigines, out of the ashes has come tremendous support – financial, practical and emotional – for those affected, for whom nothing will ever be the same.
From old wisdom we know that ‘man is tried in the crucible of suffering’. Certainly that has been the case with the bushfires. Intense heat in a crucible can produce fine, strong outcomes. Let’s hope that such is the case as people travel the troubled pathway to recovery.
The public and politicians have responded generously. Here’s hoping the charitable organisations and government agencies do their job delivering abundance properly and promptly. Those afflicted do not need more hurdles to overcome in their distress.
Fire, flood, drought and cyclones are part and parcel of the nature of this abundant land which we celebrate this weekend. We must learn from our indigenous brothers and sisters how to manage and respect the land, rather than be taken in by the false prophets of climate doomsday. Together we can celebrate our capacity to adapt and rejoice in the spirit of generosity that prevails in Australia.