Bushfires and hearing First Peoples’

Bushfires by J.T. Patten

Every once in a while It’s a good idea to pause and take stock. Now would be a very good time for doing this. We’re living in an amazing and alarming time, during an important crossroad in our development as a species, on the only planet we call home.

We now have access to untold amounts of information, far beyond anything we’ve been able to access or imagine before, which if used wisely can help to take us forward into the future. But are we ready?

We as a species are marked as different from the animals around us, but it’s not our intelligence that makes us different. It’s our ability to show empathy as applied to the consequence of our actions and words. In this, we have lost our way. We are failing.

All of our thoughts, theories and opinions are now available to be shared across the entire globe, and are being absorbed and fine tuned for us according to the search preferences and personal biases of each individual and the platforms we subscribe to. But to what end?

Where we get our news

Where knowledge was once disseminated by our scholars, scientists and educators, and reported on by the media, we are now drowning in a sea of uninformed opinions being paraded as fact. Accountability has gone out the window. Lies have become the order of the day and many of us don’t even know it. We’ve become passive in how we absorb information.

It’s now common practice to accept outlandish theories, accusations, hoaxes and lies, and often only because we like what we see or hear. We rarely question it when it sounds good. In contrast, where facts as well as lies annoy us, we call them “fake news”.

Having our bias, and more frighteningly – our prejudices, corroborated by others, no matter how factually incorrect, makes us feel good. This is where we are now, with anything and everything that matters. We should be concerned.

Political Persuasion

Right wing, left wing, these are rubbish terms which interfere with our ability to see facts and access genuine knowledge. We live in a world where fringe silliness is now mainstream. We no longer trust highly scrutinised, cross checked and evaluated evidence or scientific consensus.

At the time of writing this article, Australia is on fire. Much of the continent is shrouded in smoke, over 25 lives have been lost, and thousands of livelihoods have gone up in flames. Many of our rivers have dried up, millions of fish have died, numerous towns are trucking in their drinking water, and everyone is looking for someone to blame.

The so-called left are blaming climate change, whilst venting their frustrations in the direction of the Prime Minister. Scott Morrison has been found wanting, being unable to provide any genuine sense of care, or empathy to those being affected by the fires or drought.

Where’s ScoMo?

In a national emergency the nation’s elected leader’s response was to take a holiday to Hawaii, believing it’s a matter for the states to look after, and that we should all just watch the cricket and happily wait for the apocalypse to sort it all out, like he is. Offering a tokenistic bag of relief groceries, discounting lives lost because they aren’t firefighters, and turning one’s back on those who simply want to talk is not leadership.

At the same time the so-called right are blaming the Greens, holding to the belief that climate change may or may not be real, and that the policies of a minor party actually have a genuine impact on the environmental policies of Scott Morrison’s illiberal Liberal Party and their National Party coalition partners.

Neither the left or right stance is particularly useful.

Facts matter

Climate Change is real. No matter how you look at it, the life’s work of eleven thousand scientists must be listened to. Let’s be clear – a theory is not a fact. It does however exist as a scientific methodology, for discussing and establishing evidence. The evidence for climate change is real. It is overwhelming. There are no legitimate scientific bodies in existence who do not accept that climate change is genuine. Those that are paid for by mining magnates who win humanitarian accolades whilst countering the human rights of First Peoples are not reliable. The collective works of thousands of scientists, over generations, and billions of pages of data outweigh the beliefs and feelings of individuals who have looked at isolated facts, and selective data, without having the tools to be able to recognise that they are being selective whilst accusing others of the same.

Looking out the window, or standing in the middle of a paddock, and saying “I’ve never seen a drought, or fires like this before” is not enough. Rightfully, many people will have heard comments like this and questioned the statement. However, the science has shown us that it is a valid concern. The Earth goes through hot and cold periods, but the data shows us unequivocally that the rapid change we are experiencing is the result of what humans are doing to the planet on which we live.

The clock is ticking

Global warming is impacting us in more ways than simply warming the planet. It is throwing all weather systems into chaos, and is affecting the natural order. We can no longer sit in our homes, pointing to a cold snap or torrential rain as evidence for the the planet not getting hotter. We need to start looking at the world in the same way that First Peoples always have.

We are all connected. All people. All living things. The past, the present and the future. It needs to be said. It needs to be our species mantra, like it once was. To say this out loud courts dismissive commentary. It invites the nauseatingly blinkered to shout down the science, and often only because they’ve listened to those who have a vested financial interest in denying the truth. Fossil fuel companies, contrarian media cancers, and end of days religious zealots – they all play their part. For a quick buck, a lump of coal, or for their lack of empathy, they are willingly selling us all down a dry river bed.

Learning from First Peoples, today

It doesn’t need to be like this. First Peoples the world over have always kept one thought in mind before all else. Connection. We belong to the land and the sea, as much as it belongs to us. We are guided by our past experiences. We learn from both our successes and our failures, applying them to the present, in order to safeguard the future. Not just our future. When we talk about connection we mean the future that belongs to our children, our grand children and our great great great great grandchildren.

Nothing we do is without consequence. Yet that is precisely how we all too often treat the world in which we live. We ignore the lessons of the past, ignoring First Peoples, whether they are Yorta Yorta, Bundjalung, Noongar, Arrente, Yolgnu, Innuit, Saami, Traditionally mindful Celts, Ainu, Maori, Zuni, Haudenosaunee, Mapuche, Bushmen or otherwise.

Showing empathy

So many of our actions are based on what’s right for us as individuals, families, or small groups belonging to a particular race or religion. We make these decisions without care for the impact on those around us, or for how those impacts will flow on into next week, let alone the next century. We as a species are marked as different from the animals around us, but it’s not our intelligence that makes us different. It’s our ability to show empathy as applied to the consequence of our actions and words. In this, we have lost our way. We are failing.

There is much to be learned from sitting down with and learning from First Peoples communities. You can’t live on a continent, thriving for over 65,000 years without learning how to do things in a sustainable way.

We have to recognise that managing the land, and respecting it – being a part of it, is the only way forward.

Being realistic

So much of what we are doing goes against any sort of sustainability principles, whether First Peoples or otherwise. Outside of Antarctica, Australia is the driest continent on Earth. We can’t continue to believe that growing water thirsty crops like cotton, rice or almonds is OK. Telling ourselves that we can be the “Food Bowl of Asia” is no good if we are struggling to feed and water ourselves. Nor can we sell and trade water as a commodity for agriculture, when there are communities who don’t even have water to drink. Many of the largest water consumers in Australia are foreign owned agribusinesses. What benefit are they bringing to this land, other than in lining the pockets of politicians in much the same way the fossil fuel industry has?

Traditional cultures and the people who abide by them can help salvage the future, but it requires all communities to pull together and learn from the lessons of the past. This begins by hearing one another, rather than just saying we do.

When non-Indigenous Australians have had over 230 years to hear and learn from First Peoples communities and to understand the natural rhythms of this land, yet we keep seeing the same mistakes, this tears at the soul of the land and sea’s Traditional Owners, and increasingly – other mindful and aware people as well.

Go with what works

Traditional burning, particularly when put into play during times of year when few of us think about fire for reasons other than comfort, needs to become our standard practice. The fires we are experiencing now in many cases are unavoidable because of climate change, but they can be controlled to a much greater degree.

When we’ve got property owners threatening legal action against Aboriginal communities who burn off, and in doing so have endangered those communities during the fire season, whilst patting themselves on the back for not losing much livestock- this should never happen again.


Where farmers lament the loss of water rights, we also need to recognise that it’s sometimes been a matter of “what about me”, and not a concern for farmers from other communities who are doing it tough, or the townspeople that have nothing to drink. These are real and valid concerns, but the way they are often expressed and acted upon is part of the problem.

Rebuilding in fire prone areas, seasonal wetlands (flood plains) is problematic. As is the failure to rotate crops or rest the earth.

We only get one shot at this. We’ve been given enough warnings. It’s time to listen and change our behaviour.

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