This is a kangaroo cemetery. There’s nothing but just bones and skulls everywhere. So it’s teaching us all. It’s saying now this country has been burnt the wrong way. You better burn it the right way. We’re going to pop in and see the owners who allowed for the cultural burn to happen on their land. I’m so lucky that we still have a green patch, so lucky that animals have a place to come. I feel guilty because other people have lost everything. Australia is in the grip of one of its most devastating bushfire crises. Twenty-nine people have been reported dead and 25 million acres of habitat have been destroyed. But fire is actually needed for many of the country’s complex ecosystems to grow and thrive. Aboriginal people here have used cultural burns for over 50,000 years to maintain a balanced environment. But they say traditional knowledge has been stamped out since colonization. And they’re urging a revival to help save lives. This is evidence, and the people in power have to listen now. It’s time. ‘Cause it’s the only way we’re gonna prevent such disaster from happening again. – Pleased to meet you. Thanks for coming out. I can’t believe this. Oh, it’s heartbreaking, you know? This used to be, or is a national park? A warzone really, at the moment. – How long ago did this bushfire come through? This one come in New Year’s Eve. Noel Webster and Oliver Costello are Indigenous fire practitioners. Noel has lived near Conjola his entire life. I just seen all these birds just take off, fly, and I thought, this is not good. There was a warning sign. Go and put some shoes on and yeah, stay tight, because it’s going to be an interesting afternoon. That fire resulted in the loss of 89 homes around Conjola Park, a lush lakeside town on the east coast of New South Wales. No one wanted to manage fire. The country managed it, and this is the result, you know? This is a warning sign, you know? It tells you. This is a kick up the ass. Now I know bushfires are very common in Australia. Do you feel like this could’ve been avoided? Definitely they could’ve been prevented by starting care for it and burnin’ country using the Indigenous knowledge. That’s what we need. We need to burn more often. We don’t want to burn like this where everything is dead. And what was it about this forest that was so vulnerable to being scorched like this? It’s the intensity of the fire. The fuel loads in there were extreme. It was gonna go and it was gonna run and it was gonna take off. When you say fuel, that’s the debris, that’s the leaves, the trees, everything on the forest ground?
– Yeah. There was animals here, and they tried to escape. But there was no outlet for them. There was nowhere they could go. – We got a carcass from a kangaroo. – Really? – Yeah, look, didn’t make it. – Like, burned to a crisp.
That’s how hot the fire was. – Wow. There’s the tail. This animal didn’t stand a chance. This is a kangaroo cemetery. There’s nothing but bones and skulls everywhere. It’s heartbreaking. The Lake Conjola fire was where this iconic photograph of a kangaroo escaping was taken by photographer Matthew Abbott. Two weeks later, and still the ground is hot to touch. – It’s really hot. And how long ago was that? I’m not good with maths, but… – A couple weeks. It’s really warm. And that’s also, like I was saying before, from the sun because there’s no protection. Our canopy provides shade. Our grasses hold moisture. And that allows for all the evaporation to get up into the atmosphere, and that’s where our rain comes from on land. So when we go and cut down forests, we’ve got no leaves here for evaporation, or these trees need the leaves for photosynthesis. There’s none of that, so any moisture that we may have is gone. This one was from lighting strike. And for lightning to come down, he was the fire teacher and the fire law, so he teaches you how to fight and work with fire. And if you don’t work with him or don’t understand or accept his teachings, this is the result. Part of the traditional knowledge of Indigenous peoples across Australia is to care for the forest floor by seasonally burning off fire fuel. – That’s grass tree. That’s the fire stick. He’s the first one to come back. He’s giving you a tool to come back and ignite your fire straight away. It looks like some kind soul has left some food here for any wildlife that may remain. Not a single bite has been taken out of these apples. There are the ants. Noel was saying the ants are the first
creatures to reemerge after a devastation like this. They’re doing their job trying to
make sense of this landscape. You can tell that no animal has survived this bushfire. – This is it, right here? – That’s the house, yeah, on the side of the hill. – Wow. It was a two-story place that we built. It was home for 18 years. I can’t believe this. There’s absolutely nothing left. No, nothing left of the house and try and find the roof. It’s disintegrated. It’s dissolved. I grew up in a little shack in the bush, and I never feared a fire. My dad told us how, showed us how to look after the land and burn it. You know, this place is designed to burn. Eighty percent of these trees that we have need fire to crack the seeds and to put the ash on it to germinate. But you must look after it. – Were you keeping up your traditional fire practices around your home here? Not allowed. We’re not allowed. We can’t burn our own land. Like so many others, Noel and his wife, Trish, didn’t
have any insurance on their home, making it tough to start over. But that hasn’t stopped them from trying to recreate a semblance of the life they had before and a refuge for local animals and birds. Before I put that one in the hole in the ground, an eastern spinebill came down on this plant here and was sucking the nectar out of that grevillea. Noel and Oliver took me to visit land that had been treated by a traditional burn six months ago. So what’s the technique? Like how do you? Can you walk me through it? Yeah sure. We’ll go for a walk. We pretty much lit it up over here. Once we all felt good and we knew what the fire was doing, we sort of put a couple extra little spots here because we knew it wasn’t kinda connected and joined. And yeah, everyone was just walking around sharing story and knowledge and practice. It was a wonderful thing. We burn them to bring native grasses back, and that’ll even give us more moisture. Se what we done, we lit the fire, and the fire sort of cleaned it out and cleansed it and gave it space, it gave it light, you know? So the light come through and
our plants were able to germinate. How close did the fires get to this land? We’ll go for a walk. It’s right on their property, right on their boundary. We’ll go and talk to the neighbor. Sounds like fire management in the traditional way is not a one-time thing. It’s an ongoing relationship. You keep going back and
adjusting your practice too, as you’re learning as well. We’re going to pop in and see the owners who allowed for the cultural burn
to happen on their land, have a chat and see
if they’re happy with the results. There’s just so much knowledge that these guys hold that I want to be part of. – Over the years as bushfires have intensified, temperatures are soaring, ongoing drought, have you been worried about having your home go up in flames? Oh absolutely, it’s matter of time before we’re impacted by fire. When it was coming, all I needed was my family to get out of here so I can concentrate on what I need to do. – I’m sorry. This is tough to talk about. Yeah. – There’s so many emotions. I’m so lucky that we still have a green patch, so lucky that animals have a place to come. I feel guilty because of other people
that have lost everything. This is evidence, and the people in power have to listen now ’cause it’s the only way we’re gonna prevent such disaster from happening again.