Country: Future Fire, Future Farming


Another volume in this important series of First Knowledges, which includes books on design, astronomy, plants and songlines. Country: Future Fire, Future Farming is written two of the most prominent voices on pre-settler land use in Australia, Bruce Gammage (The Biggest Estate on Earth) and Bruce Pascoe (Dark Emu). While these two venerable experts take slightly different views of Indigenous land management, they are united in their insistence that we must look to the Aboriginal past to better manage our future.

Bruce Pascoe uses his chapters partly as a rebuttal to Keryn Walsh and Peter Sutton's Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers? which I discussed a while ago, coming back to his conviction that pre-colonisation Aboriginal peoples were on the road to agriculture. It's inspiring to read his account of farming native fruits, grains and greens on his own land, and to wonder why we aren't making better use of the plants and animals that evolved here, rather than insisting on importing foreign foods and wasting resources on trying to make them grow. 

But the most urgent argument the book presents centres on the use of fire to manage country. Pre-1788 people skilfully and constantly used cool, controlled fire to precisely and deliberately manage different types of landscape and vegetation, never allowing the tremendous build-up of material that has lead to repeated catastrophic bushfires that we have experienced over and over since colonisation. Before 1788, people balanced fire-tolerant, fire-sensitive and fire-dependent vegetation, encouraging new growth for animal and human food, and leaving patches unburnt to shelter animals. We must recover and re-learn such detailed and sophisticated local knowledge that kept the land in balance for tens of thousands of years. It's almost unbelievable, and so tragic, that in a mere 250 years we Europeans have managed to stuff things up so thoroughly and disastrously.

Country: Future Fire, Future Farming is an urgent and essential book, not just for understanding our past, but for planning any kind of sustainable future.

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