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Keep the fire burning 


New life springs from the blackened devastation only months after a bushfire has gone through a forest.
BY MELANIE-ANNE HOLLAND* 

 

The Australian landscape has an incredible relationship with fire. Have you ever driven through a eucalyptus forest after a bushfire, witnessing the blackened remains and empty spaces, only to return a few months later and the area burgeoning with life? In fact, many Australian ecosystems depend on fire, as the heat and smoke release new seeds for another generation of plants to grow.

 

In the aftermath of the Black Summer fires (2019-20), I was one of the thousands who made the pilgrimage to the Blue Mountains in NSW. There, a year after fierce blazes, tiny delicate pink flannel flowers carpeted the ground, spurred on by gentle healing rain. Their appearance is rare, requiring the smoke from bushfires and specific weather patterns for 12 months to nurture their emergence. It was spectacular.


“First Nations people have so much to teach us.” 

But not all fires are equal: too hot and intense, the treasured reserves of life in seeds, trunks and roots are destroyed; too fast, fauna cannot escape; too frequent, the system cannot return to flourishing and fruitfulness; out of season, and ecosystems do not have the same capacity to regenerate. There is no seed for the next generation of plants and animals. Ecosystem depletion and species extinction follow. 

 

Caring for country 

First Nations people have so much to teach us. From time immemorial, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have lived in and cared for this country, tending to fire regimes that have brought life to the landscape. Depending on the habitat, fire has been managed in different ways to ensure that plants and animals flourish, communities are safe, and there is plenty for everyone.


“‘Keep the fire burning’ … isn’t so much an environmental summons, as it is a social and spiritual one.”   

‘Cool burning’ is one example of Indigenous land management practices, using evenings and early mornings when the winds are gentle and dew helps control the fire. Low, small fires are lit and tended so that the underbrush is burnt, clearing debris, protecting the nutrients and seeds in the soil, and controlling the density of higher plants with higher fire risk (Watarrkafoundation.org.au).

 

Indigenous management 

This NAIDOC Week, we acknowledge the generous contribution of Indigenous rangers, who share wisdom, practical knowledge, and cultural practices to manage land, river, and sea. They bless our nation, bringing environmental, cultural, social and economic outcomes that help us all to a better quality of life.

 

‘Keep the fire burning’ – the NAIDOC Week theme – isn’t so much an environmental summons as it is a social and spiritual one.

 

This NAIDOC Week, we are called alongside Indigenous Australians to honour culture and listen deeply to the traditions and wisdom that are woven into this land and its people. We think of this aspect of renewal as we consider our Indigenous culture, history and language. 

 

To ‘keep the fire burning’ is to keep this culture alive. If we fan the flames, creating space for our First Nations peoples to be ‘blak, loud and proud’, we will see a wonderful regeneration in our land. 


*Major Melanie-Anne Holland is a Salvation Army officer (pastor) with a Bachelor of Environmental Science (Hons) and a degree in theology. Melanie-Anne is The Salvation Army’s representative on the Australian Churches Ecological Taskforce, as part of the National Council of Churches, Australia. 



 

 

 

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