Lightning strikes: rethinking the nexus between Australian Indigenous land management and natural forces

B. Egloff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Research in the 1960s and 1970s by Merrilees, Hallam and Jones brought to prominence the concept that ‘fire-stick’ farming shaped the Australian environment creating small-scale mosaic vegetation patterns such that the productive capacity increased and that grasslands with spaced trees were maintained, a ‘caring for country’. Signs of fire during the colonial period (1788–1901) have been interpreted as expressions of Aboriginal ‘caring for country’. Close examination of other kinds of cultural causes for fire and smoke, as well as an assessment based upon bushfire incidents in south-eastern and south-western Australia, suggests there is a likelihood that at least some, if not the majority, of the ignitions attributed to Aboriginal agency were caused by lightning strikes. A brief case study of the Jingera Rocks wildfire, inland from Bega, south-eastern New South Wales, and in close proximity to lands described by Weatherhead in a colonial narrative, is provided to illustrate the impact of lightning that strikes in mountainous and distant locations. A comparative study of colonial period and contemporary Western Australia wildfire incidents highlights the discrepancies in fit between the reality of today, an understanding of Aboriginal caring for country and fire behaviour attributed to lightning ignitions. The implications for researchers are apparent in that they no longer can rely upon generalised interpretations of the colonial record but must validate assumptions concerning the use of fire by Aboriginal people and be particularly careful when those notions are applied to guide contemporary fire management practices.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)275-285
Number of pages11
JournalAustralian Forestry
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2017


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