Disconnection is leading to infernos, Traditional Burning Man says

Victor Stefferson said a concerted community effort is need to restore the landscape before it becomes impossible to repair the damage.
Victor Stefferson said a concerted community effort is need to restore the landscape before it becomes impossible to repair the damage.

Traditional Burning Man Victor Stefferson told a small crowd gathered in Tenterfield Memorial Hall that dropping incendiary devices from the air or dictating intervals or thresholds for burning off is counterproductive.

A new way of dealing with fuel build-up is needed, and he said it will only happen if all sectors of the community come together for a coordinated approach.

The nuances of living with the landscape were well-known to his indigenous ancestors but have now been lost in what he calls the knowledge gap. He feels a three or four year program of teach-the-teacher study (he prefers four) that educates key people on what to look for is now vital. Those teachers will need to be the type of people who remain at a location, observing the seasonal changes over time, and are willing to pass on their accumulated knowledge to the next generation.

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"It's time to start working together," he said.

"We have a whole society that is not connected to the landscape, whereas our ancestors were walking encyclopedias."

Mr Stefferson said fire was just one topic in an encyclopedia of knowledge. Control methods are now based on opinions and views that don't come from the land.

"This is not just climate change. It's been developing since colonisation.

"I praise firefighters, but we need another crew of people looking after it."

He said trees are the key to understanding the land and when it should be burnt, although the signs have been complicated by the introduction of exotic species.

Grass is the only vegetation that should be burning, and native grasses have evolved to provide the right fuel at the right time, generating heat at the right level that won't burn out canopies.

These fires produce a white, non-toxic smoke. Leaves, exotic grasses and other fuel buildup, on the other hand, produce a black toxic smoke that neighbours are likely to complain about.

Moreover burns carried out at the right time provide good weed control, killing out unwanted species and allowing smoke to rise and trigger seed germination in desired species. Again the situation is complicated by exotic species, which have different triggers.

With decades of rubbish now built up, Mr Stefferson said the first burns will be bad but perseverance will pay out.

"It's an opportunity to put culture back on the land. It's important on a cultural level."

He's hoping that eventually people will be educated to the extent that they see smoke in the sky and can tell what system is burning, and appreciate the benefits that burn will bring.

A number of indigenous communities are developing calendars which help them read the signs for when a system should be burnt, and Mr Stefferson said landholders could be helped to develop their own calendars.

Mr Stefferson said we're not going to progress if we're not putting fire on country. While he was loathe to visit Tenterfield without lighting a match, he's keen to return next year under better conditions for a practical demonstration.

Local landholders are already putting up their hands to be a demonstration site.

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