Aboriginal use of fire in southeastern Australia

J. L. Kohen

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    14 Citations (Scopus)


    When European settlement began in southeastern Australia, Aboriginal people were observed using fire as a land management tool. Fire was used to clear the underbrush and make travel easier, to hunt large and small game, and to increase the abundance of certain types of plant foods. As a consequence of regular and systematic burning, vegetation mosaics were created which maximised and maintained species diversity. Many of the vegetation associations observed by Europeans in 1788 were artefacts of human intervention. When traditional burning stopped, those areas which had been created by Aboriginal firing changed in species composition. A lower frequency fire regime resulted in more woody understorey plants dominating. A consequence was that when a fire did occur, the fuel load was greater and the fire more intense. The suggestion that Aboriginal fire regimes should be re-introduced to minimise the impact of bushfires ignores the spatial variability inherent in traditional Aboriginal burning regimes, and also ignores the fact that the aims and consequences of hazard reduction burning are very different from the aims and consequences of Aboriginal burning practices.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)19-26
    Number of pages8
    JournalProceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales
    Issue number116
    Publication statusPublished - 1996


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