Australia bushfires ignite calls for indigenous fire practices

Is an Aboriginal tale of an ancient volcano the oldest story ever told?

“We in the West have only scratched the surface of understanding the longevity of Australian Indigenous oral histories,” says Ian McNiven, an archaeologist at Monash University.” Image credit: A 19th century drawing of the lake in the crater at the top of Budj Bim. Eugene von Guerard/WikiCommons/Creative Commons

Long ago, four giant beings arrived in southeast Australia. Three strode out to other parts of the continent, but one crouched in place. His body transformed into a volcano called Budj Bim, and his teeth became the lava the volcano spat out.

Now, scientists say this tale—told by the Aboriginal Gunditjmara people of the area—may have some basis in fact. About 37,000 years ago, Budj Bim and another nearby volcano formed through a rapid series of eruptions, new evidence reveals, suggesting the legend may be the oldest story still being told today.

The study raises a provocative possibility, says Sean Ulm, an archaeologist at James Cook University, Cairns, who was not involved with the work. “It is an interesting proposition to think about these traditions extending for tens of thousands of years.” But he and others urge caution, as no other stories passed down orally are believed to have survived that long…


Australia bushfires ignite calls for indigenous fire practices

For tens of thousands of years, Australia’s Aboriginal people have used fire to manage the landscape, and after a summer of raging bushfires the practice is increasingly being seen as a way to help stem future disasters.

The unprecedented scale of the latest bushfire season—made worse by hotter and drier weather brought on by climate change—has prompted calls for greater integration of ancient land management techniques into bushfire prevention efforts. Months of uncontrollable wildfires have scorched more than 10 million hectares (25 million acres) in the country’s east and south, killing at least 33 people and an estimated billion animals while destroying more than 2,500 homes.

Heavy rain along the east coast in recent days has extinguished most of the fires in the region but scientists say rising temperatures will see bushfires occur more frequently.

Aboriginals have long lit small, so-called “cool” blazes by hand and closely monitored the flames to ensure only undergrowth is burned. The fires are controlled so they move slowly and preserve the tree canopy, allowing animals a route to escape.

Known as “cultural burning”, it clears pathways through the scrub, promotes new growth in plants, and rids the land of undergrowth that acts as fuel in bushfires….



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