Burning Off: Fire Law


Aboriginal people throughout Australia intelligently used fire for thousands of years to regenerate the plants and soils, and keep the land and water clean. Contrary to popular opinions, they actively care for their land using "Firestick Farming", using a patchwork of cool burns at the right times to protect the land against the devastating hot burns. Yidumduma shares what the Elders taught him and he uses this Law on his Menngen Station today. The Law was given to the people in Creation Time by the ghost bat, warlang, macroderma gigas, and the insectivorous bat ngalamiynmiyn. They invented the firestick, jinggiyn, clerodendrum floribundum, and passed this onto Yagjagula, the Lightning Brother who creates the lightning fires by hitting his 2 stone axes together.

Related Links: Sacred Sites and Biodiversity - Scenes from Standing on Sacred Ground

Return to Burning Off: Fire Law

Return to Burning Off: Fire Law


When Aborigine walked around in this country,
in the past, wet season, right up to the dry season,
working in the property, riding horse,
old people told us, to look after the country proper, Caring for the Country.
They told us, "No need to break tree for nothing, you can only break leaf...for use.
You got to look after that part of your Dreaming...
to every tree, everyone got Dreaming.
That's what...the "Caring" mean.
...looking after your country, Caring for Country.
The Caring for Country, what they said, you burn off early,
when everything cool, no leaf burn.
You need to burn up straight after rain in April and May, we burned all through.
...burn in some places...heavy, some places burn a little bit.
...that keeps the place up real tidy.
But there was no leaf or tree get burnt, anything.
All the tree was still standing up.

Might be...July or August, September, October.
Sometime you get that October...lightning fire.
But if the lightning started it...because you already burned up...in May and June...
Fire will go and stop. Hot fire will come, but it'll stop halfway
because that already been burnt and the green shoot was already there
and can't get burnt, because the grass be all isolated, see.
It's a fire break...all over.
Then...the other places, like this one, that didn't get burned,
we'll go around and burn that around November.
Make a big fire, but it won't burn the country out
because you can burn a big fire but a rain will come put it out.
And then you'll go along and burn it again.
Right through from November to December.
Then all this big tall green grass will come on, you don't burn then.
Right up till March, April you start again.
This area we burned last year, that area we burned over there year before last,
and this area we're burning this year...three place.
That's what the Aborigine were doing the burning.
When the pastoralists coming into this country, they went mad at Aborigine.
They said, "Hey, what are you doing, burning up feed for cattle and all this, don't do that."
"No", they said. 
"Look, you burn off early, green grass come up."
"But if you don't burn this country, bushfire will come burn the whole lot, you'll have no grass." 
"This way, what we're doing, we survive the grass for all the animal."
"Kangaroo will come...cattle will come to eat."
"...we'll leave it for this year", they said.
"You can look. Bushfire did come along and burned the whole country."
"See, we told you", they said.
All these riverbank here, you burned off early all around in there, all burned up...
There's no leaf left, no little branch everything, all burned down.
When the rain come, it all sinks down to the ground.
But up till now, if you don't burn off, all the leaves and weeds and grass,
everything there, gets pushed by the floodwater, going into the river, building up,
making big silt... That's what's destroying the river now.
Big pollution in the water and silt...on top of them.
And you can't see the water.
And also the charcoal, you said, filters, makes the water clean.
The charcoal...when they get washed off from the top,
all the little stick...when they went in.
Charcoal one of the best to keep the water clean, really clean.
Even ashes, white ashes. It kept the water very clean all the way, all over...
But today, you see like the bushfire...trees burning everywhere,
...log burning and tree...
But before, you wouldn't see any of those tree burn.
Them Little Bats, they're the two, the one that made it.
Made it happen with a firestick.
He made a firestick and then Yagjagula took over.
The Yagjagula used...the two flints, cracked it and lit the grass...
Made a spark come up and he lit the grass..Yagjagula.
He's still there today.
...the Lightning burns you call them.