Sunday, February 16, 2020

First People’s cultural burning vs.climate change deniers

Written by: Louisa L. on 16 February 2020
Above: NOT a photo from the recent fire season. From a Rolling Stone article about frack fires

How does a climate change denialist group aligned with U.S. counterparts  and the Shooters Party  become “A Proud Supporter of Indigenous Burning Practices”? 

The so-called Volunteer Firefighters Association (VFFA) has for years promoted climate change denialist and scientist David Packham.  Packham developed and promotes ‘aerial ignition burns’ to reduce fuel load, literally firebombing areas from the air.

Packham is a Murdoch media regular with Sky, Herald Sun, The Australian, plus spots on the ABC, SBS and numerous online sites. In 2013, some of his work was reviewed in Quadrant by a likeminded fire activist from WA, where Packham’s method was most used. Quadrant, with CIA links going back decades, has published several Packham articles. 

He is also a key stakeholder in Firestick Estate Inc. The name appropriates a First Peoples’ term, “firestick”, to promote the opposite to the gentle, labour-intensive cultural burning practises of First Peoples.

Knowledge holders

Firesticks Alliance builds on the burning practice of late Kuku Thaypan Elders, Dr George and Dr Musgrave.  A leading Firesticks practitioner, Victor Stephensen, criticises aerial ignition, which he describes as “flying in and dropping bombs”. 

Even the less extreme “hazard reduction burns” used by both the Rural Fire Service and National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) come in for criticism by Stephensen. Fire scientists also point out the limitations of such burns. 

Stephensen speaks of past “fire knowledge holders” needed at every cultural burn. “That’s where we need to be again. We need these knowledge holders working with the mainstream and with the rural fire service,” he says. 

Learning goes both ways. Uncle Vic Sharmen, a Shoalhaven elder and former NPWS chief ranger with a degree in environmental science, says cultural burning is enriched by connection to western science.  He clearly didn’t mean the climate change denialism of David Packham. 

Like many of us, Victor Stephensen worries each time summer approaches.

But this year, unlike previous ones, had an impossibly narrow window for burning - given the lack of cultural burning for 230 years - because climate change made it hotter and drier, as 22 former fire chiefs stated. This has been canvassed in numerous places, but last December an ABC Fact Check, entitled  Are hazard reduction burns effective in reducing bushfires? The answer is complicated, comprehensively cut through the muck and lies. 


This brings us back to our original question. Why are climate change denialists and minimisers allegedly supporting “Indigenous burning practices”?
Divide and conquer remains a key colonialist and imperialist strategy.

 “The Biggest Estate on Earth” by Bill Gammage, brought to a wider audience the fire management tools that many First Peoples already understood – and in some places still practised – as their heritage. This audience eventually included far right climate denialists and minimisers, intent particularly on opening national parks to corporate exploitation.

A tiny handful of First Peoples are captive to the most aggressive section of U.S imperialism.

An attack from this source recently targeted the Aboriginality of Bruce Pascoe, who built on Gammage’s work in his bestseller Dark Emu. Pascoe is no climate change denier or friend of corporations.

The timing - just before flooding rains were predicted to extinguish most fires and wider analysis of causes increased - was no accident. Nor was its amplification across the media.

As the cultural burning story took hold, it aimed to undermine Pascoe’s ability to intervene against the avalanche of simplistic distortion surrounding its practice.

Murdoch’s mantra against “morons”

Several other captives are would-be parliamentarians, prominently and repeatedly featured in Murdoch publications and broadcasts. Despite this massive promotion, they failed to gains seats in the landslide Coalition federal election victory. Although they have some supporters, overwhelmingly First Peoples organised against them.

Add to this mix a dying fossil fuel industry determined to dress up its deathly image with First Peoples’ credibility. Climate change deniers seized on Gammage’s work.

Last November “Indigenous burning practices can help fight the bushfires” - by one of those receiving the Murdoch star treatment - appeared in the Daily Telegraph and was recycled by the VFFA. 

This media personality minimises climate change, the possible role for renewable energy, and Australia’s contribution to emissions. 

He chants Murdoch’s mantra against ‘Greenies and Lefties’ – an ‘elite’ who “carp on about climate change” (Daily Telegraph 8/8/19). He suggests nuclear energy as an instant fix, unlike what he describes as the prohibitively “long term goal” of renewables. 

Andrew Bolt – suddenly a new-born embracer of human made climate change – loves to quote this man’s support for Adani and the coal seam gas industry, which like nuclear energy – ‘our’ man alleges - is “safe”. Any “moron” (Bolt’s descriptor) opposing those industries is practising “Green Sabotage”. 

Just add 900 gas wells

Well, these “morons” and “saboteurs” include plenty of First Peoples. For years they’ve fought nuclear waste dumps on Country, most notably at Muckaty in the NT.  And an anti-fracking backlash is building in the Northern Territory, led by First Peoples. 

Even as the bushfires were burning, PM Scummo, with support from NSW Premier Berejiklian, was announcing that $2 billion in joint government grants may come to Santos’s plan to build 900 coal seam gas wells in the Pilliga on Gamilaraay land. 
Above: Gamilaraay man and anti-fracking activist, Nathan Leslie, speaking at a 2018 forum

Gamilaraay men, Nathan Leslie and Paul Spearim, locked on in protest against fracking on their Country, as did a group of young farmers.  The brilliant doco, Sacrifice Zone, details the extraordinary strength and breadth of anti-fracking forces in the proposed Narrabri gas field, as well as its dangers – including bushfires. 

Coal seam gas is highly flammable. Try typing “fracking well fires” into a search engine, click “images”, and take your pick of the shocking array of fires and stories.

Bolt’s “morons” know the Gosper Mountain mega blaze ignited two fires in coal seams near Lithgow  this fire season. And they know much more. 

According to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration there were 285 “significant incidents” involving the gas industry in the U.S. in 2018 – many of them fires and explosions. 

A sovereign right

Cultural burning is a sovereign right for First Peoples, like learning or re-learning Language. These growing movements link young with elders in an unbreakable bond. Both come from Lore which comes from Country.

This respectful relationship is a world away from the simplistic slogans of fuel load reduction as the be all and end all, of climate denial, of logging and hard hooved stock in national parks, of more dams and all the other Murdoch shock jock mumbo jumbo. No doubt such enemies of the people will seek to co-opt or profit from them.

Cultural burning is immensely powerful for First Peoples and for the future of what we now call Australia. It’s no quick fix. It can only be fully exercised when First Peoples have economic control over their Countries and their lives. Its effective practice relies on land rights. Colonialism and imperialism will never allow this. Their systems have proved it since the invasion began in 1788.

First Peoples and the working class lead the struggles to rid this continent and its islands from the brutal vestiges of colonialism and from the jackboot of U.S. imperialism.

Explosive wildfire does not discriminate as it destroys. First Peoples and Australian working people, rural and city dwellers alike, are affected by the bushfires.

Unity is the only way forward.

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