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People of the Flume: Adapting for Fire in South-Eastern Australia

Paper i proceeding
Författare Christine Hansen
Publicerad i World Congress for Environmental History, 8-12 July 2014 Guimarães, Portugal
Publiceringsår 2014
Publicerad vid Institutionen för historiska studier
Språk en
Ämnesord environmental history, fire, disaster, Australia, aboriginal
Ämneskategorier Historia och arkeologi


Melbourne, a city of nearly 4.5 million people located in the south-east corner of Australia, sits in one of the most dangerous fire zones on Earth. On the morning of 7th February, 2009, the worst bushfires in the nation's history swept through 4,500 square kilometres of land on the city fringe, claiming 174 human lives and destroying 2,029 homes. While mega-fires such as this are predicted to increase in frequency due to a warming climate, the expanding population of Melbourne is pushing the urban fringe further into the danger zone. If a repeat of this disaster is to be avoided then deep cultural change needs to be instituted. Yet the type of knowledge generated by fire scholarship, based as it is within a physical paradigm, does not as a rule directly address the communities who are at risk. History therefore is critical to understanding and preparing for the threat. In an immigrant society such as Australia, history is a contested ground, particularly when it spans a time frame beyond the colonial divide. The point at which these immigrant histories intersect with the colonial past is also the colonising moment of Aboriginal dispossession. That Indigenous lineages held important understandings of geography, including long-term histories of fire patterns, was not a matter for reflection by 19th century Europeans, for whom the land represented longed for economic opportunity. That these same immigrants instituted land-use patterns based on European understandings of agriculture, which are still extant, has only recently become part of the fire discussion. It is however a discussion critical to the understanding of human occupation of the fire zone. This paper will follow a trail of fire stories that weave between two cultures as a way of discussing the resilient, reproducing and not always appropriate cultural associations through which we seek to understand wild fire in the landscape.

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