This article was published on 12th November 2019.

Warren Mundine – Photo: news.com.au (News Corp)

In this time of catastrophic drought and bushfires, when is modern Australia – with all its technology and science – going to listen to Aboriginal people and how our ancestors survived this harsh continent? Warren Mundine asks.

If you think humans can control the weather, the elements and the climate, you’re kidding yourself. You’d have more success as King Canute sitting on his throne on the beach turning back the tide.

In this time of drought and bushfires, the question must be asked: how did Aboriginals survive thousands of years living on a continent of droughts, floods, bushfires, the ice age, warming and cooling temperatures, rising and lowering of the oceans, seeing inland lakes and seas disappear; all without the modern technology and science we have today?

How did my ancestors of the Clarence, Richmond, Nambucca and Moruya rivers survive?

I grieve every year for the loss of life (both human and wildlife), properties and livelihoods from fires.

When is modern Australia, with all its technology and science, going to listen to Aboriginal people and how our ancestors survived this harsh continent?

Fire and land management were central to Aboriginal people’s survival. Our ancestors learned over thousands of years this continent’s bush needs to be managed through regular controlled burning.

It saddens me to read the accounts from residents and volunteer firefighters about the lack of hazard reduction and five to 10 years’ worth of forest fuel loads.

What sits behind this is the flawed view advocated by Green groups that hazard reduction through burning is bad, even traditional burning by Aboriginal people.

Indigenous fire management returned to the Kimberley with native title. Aboriginal people there used fire to manage land for thousands of years. They know it’s required.

In the period after colonisation when they couldn’t, the region saw large, uncontrolled bushfires, destroying natural habitats and pastoral assets. Yet Kimberley traditional owners today face political and local opposition to burning.

This is crazy. We should recognise and respect Aboriginal knowledge of how best to manage country and work together for better environmental outcomes.

In recent times the CSIRO has worked with Aboriginal groups to identify Aboriginal seasonal calendars and ecological knowledge. These calendars tell people when and when not to do things on a regional basis.

Through this groundbreaking research, the CSIRO is discovering the enormous knowledge Aboriginals have through culture and lived experience in the Australian environment.

Research that shows when fauna and flora is in season, the best times to hunt and gather, how to read and use fire and when to burn, where to burn and how to execute a burn. This research can help prevent and manage hot and destructive fires in a changing climate and deal with drought.

Aboriginal ranger programs combine traditional knowledge of country with modern technology and innovative land management, shining a light on Aboriginal cultural and environmental knowledge and reinvigorating it.

There is also Desert Knowledge Australia in Alice Springs and universities and Aboriginal community organisations working in this space.

I’m an optimist. We can never stop or control the weather, the elements or the climate. But with Aboriginal traditional knowledge of this continent and modern science and technology working together we can manage it better with less destruction and loss of life.

By listening and respecting each other’s knowledge we can not only survive on this continent but thrive.

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