Australia will continue to burn unless Indigenous voices are heard

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Bushfire management has been practised by Indigenous communities for centuries (Image by Brett and Sue Coulstock / Flickr)

If Aboriginal people continue to be removed from our responsibility, then the nation will continue to burn.

For Aboriginal people – not only for those from Country because we all have a significant dedication to where we live – our Spirit is aching. 

The science concerning the growing effects which climate change and increases in temperatures will have on Australia has long been discussed. It was predicted long ago that Australia would first see the consequences of a heating planet.

In September 2019, Australia experienced the start of its worst-ever fire season — still ever-present coming towards the end of January 2020. It has been estimated that 25 million hectares of bushland have been burnt.

Source: Insider

People in many affected areas have said they’ve never experienced a bushfire of the ferocity of these, which have led to such nationwide devastation. We’ve lost people, houses, businesses, infrastructure and more than an estimated billion living creatures from Aboriginal lands, from our ecosystems, from our communities and from our livelihoods.

The trauma for everyone who has experienced these bushfires or who has glimpsed them from their television screens has been heartfelt and deeply emotional. Those from communities that have lost near everything, I cannot begin to imagine.

Driving across lands that have experienced such devastation as I have this weekend, the journey was traumatic and painful, thinking about the losses of the living in the country I drove past.

The complete blackness of the bush is like nothing I ever remember experiencing in previous bushfires. I have travelled through Adelaide Hills in 1983 and remember what that looked like. One service station standing and another opposite the highway burnt to the ground, but I’ve never seen the blackness of the grounds and the complete lack of vegetation or living creatures.

I’ve lived in a bushfire season in the Blue Mountains where ash and dead leaves fell into the yard and the sky roiled with smoke and haze but it was nothing like this drive. Observing Pacific Highway civil construction crews working away diligently like it was just another day, while the mountains, only 15 kilometres from them, seemed to be holding back the raging inferno that has changed the landscape and the history of this nation.

Pacific Highway, near Iluka (Image: Supplied)

Summerland Way, Grafton to Casino (Image supplied)

I travelled a 650-kilometre round trip and observed less than a handful of living ground animals. There was hardly any roadkill. All of which is massively unusual, traumatic and painful.

As a nation, how do we change to protect our future? Or is it, what should our government be actively seeking to do? Surely science should be the sole driver of #ClimateActionNow.

Politicians have proven and continue to prove that they will fail to take the necessary actions to commit to the future actions, policies and infrastructure that the nation needs, to provide some direction for caring for Country.

If Aboriginal people continue to be removed from our responsibility, then the nation will continue to burn. A growing voice to cultural burns is being asked for but there is a myriad of infrastructure changes that can and must occur, which present themselves as a positive opportunity. These changes are needed for the nation to recover, rebuild, refocus towards what is the present, not the future and what the science says. Accountability dictates that facts must be acted upon, not political positioning for the sake of a small minority of corporate businesses which do not have Australia’s best interests at heart.


Infrastructure change must surely start with the strong utilisation of a nation full of native plants available for marketing and growing in climates they are used to, without pesticides and without additional water usage. Aboriginal communities know these plants; we are the perfect agricultural experts to develop their uses. This is the opportunity a nation has of empowering Aboriginal communities in what we’ve always used for ourselves.

Australia’s European occupation instantly ignored what was already in abundance in all the vastness of the lands they plundered, setting up European food stocks that have always been labour-intensive and carbon-heavy. We continue to ignore a vast agricultural opportunity with foods that we drive past every day, whether in the city or in remote parts of the country.

Innovating our agricultural future will aid in the holistic needs the nation requires to recommence its commitment to lowering our carbon output.


Another opportunity is an immediate change in the building standards that Australia currently ignores. All structures should have a minimum carbon output standard, the nation should lead the world in a national code for environmental building development, including how we control temperatures within structures. The technology exists, time to set a higher standard of green building development.


The nation heard many reports from communities extremely worried about available water, not only for firefighting but simply for basic human rights needs of existence.

There’s no response from governments instigating reforms to what water rights and cultural water rights looks like. Why? Again corporate control of our human rights should not be tolerated.

The wastage of water through stormwater systems is baffling. Why are we not storing vast underground city tanks of stormwater runoff instead of sending it to the oceans and I don’t mean once it already has reached the river systems, but that which accumulates in our drainage systems across all communities in Australia? This should be flowing to local storage tanks. Japan has such facilities — infrastructure built to capture stormwater and filtrate it should be an arid lands priority.

These examples are a small sample of infrastructural changes and environmental changes that Australia's government could implement as a result of the horrific bushfire season that we have experienced. Will the Federal Government make such changes to assist with the community rebuilds that are now being asked for a productive long term planning future? Such steps will help make the drastic changes local economies need, not only now but into the future, to be able to continue functioning. This is especially needed through long periods of drought, rather than spending to sustain farming methods not suited to this continent from a century now long since gone.

Water, lands and air all require a different approach. It's time to accept facts, science and truth over the loudest voices which regularly prove to be false, ignorant and advocating for an economic opportunity that is now passing by each year.

Paul Dutton is a Barkindji man from far-western NSW and part of the Stolen Generation. He works as an Indigenous engagement consultant. You can follow Paul on Twitter @pauldutton1968.

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