Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it

How quickly do we forget the past?

We have failed to learn from Australia’s traditional land managers and we have not learned from our early explorers.

We spend huge amounts of money being reactive instead of being proactive. Our post incident inquires make recommendations but we continue to ignore common sense and reasoning.

Roger Underwood shares the following historic accounts:

Endeavour journal, 19 July 1770

Joseph Banks was with Captain Cook in 1770, camped at what is now Cooktown while The Endeavour was being repaired after hitting a coral reef. The sailors had angered the local Aborigines by taking turtles (without permission and without offering to share) and revenge took place by the Aborigines setting fire to the grass around the camp. Banks recalled in his journal:

…I had little idea of the fury with which grass burnt in this hot climate, nor of the difficulty of extinguishing it when once lighted: this accident will however be a sufficient warning for us, if ever we should again pitch tents in such a climate, to burn every thing around us before we begin.


Click on the image for a larger view.

Three Expeditions Into the Interior of Eastern Australia

By Thomas Livingstone Mitchell January 1, 1839

Major Thomas Mitchell undertook some of the first explorations in NSW and western Victoria. Of an experience during his 1831 expedition, he recorded:

We managed to extinguish the burning grass before it reached our encampment, but to prevent the invasion of such a dangerous enemy we took the precaution, on other occasions, of burning a sufficient space around our tents in situations where we were exposed to like inconvenience and danger…

Three Expeditions Into the Interior of Eastern Australia

The document pictured above can be read online, click HERE for details.

Comments from Roger

You will note that the principle of fuel reduction, and the value of the “Building Protection Zone” and the “Hazard Reduction Zone” in a bushfire-prone area was appreciated as long ago as 1770 … but the lesson is still to be appreciated by many landowners and Local Government Authorities 250 years later, or is denied by foolish academics or environmentalists.

The inability to profit from the experiences of others, or to modify behaviour in the light of lessons learned, are two of the most dangerous and interesting of human personality traits. You have to wonder at their evolutionary value. Without doubt this is the source of my greatest frustration (and of others in the bushfire community): after every bushfire tragedy the same faults and failures are highlighted (mostly to do with lack of fuel management), but the lessons do not penetrate, or if they do penetrate they are soon forgotten.

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