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28. Start the Fire Debate

The Federation Drought – depending where you were – started in 1895 – and didn’t break until 1903. Our current drought – depending where you are – started in 2012 over many parts of Australia – end date unknown. (Story Jan.2020)

Big fires have been something of a rarity in Queensland – the exception being the last couple of years. Tasmania – South Australia – Victoria and New South Wales have all experienced huge regular fire events from the 1960’s onwards (and before). Head westward in Queensland today and there are a few fires – but not many – due to lack of pasture = lack of fuel = less fire. Without checking the record – fires were inevitably scarce in 1902 – the driest year of the Federation Drought – yet todays fires have set new carbon emission records – due to a massive increase in available fuel.

This is a DEBATE without an affirmative or negative side. The solution of restoring traditional aboriginal fire farming may well be viable in certain situations for some land users. Starting point is ownership of land. Today there is privately held freehold and leasehold country. Privately held leasehold land is mostly Crown Land in low rainfall areas where fire is not a mayor problem. There is also Crown Land with an assortment of tenures – National Parks and Forestry Reserves. The context of this story is concerned with open forest woodlands and coastal heaths that are part of The Crown Lands. In Qld NSW and Vic this includes parts of The Great Dividing Range and land East and West of The Divide. Private land holders are ultimately responsible for their land yet there is legislation that proscribes certain management practices. It is illegal to clear some country in Queensland with fire for example.    

Fire Stick Farming is limited in its application by economics. It differs in method to hazard reduction burning. It is a long term process.  It is also being promoted by a range of people who have no practical experience. It was originally a practice of peple who lived upon what was burnt. To duplicate the original method would require tens of thousands of full time employees over many decades. 

Grazing animals are potentially more cost effective and will maintain and increase soil carbon content with management. To understand future management options – first go back in time to understand the future. Story continues below Photos.  

The Fire Debate

PHOTO 1: Green Panic Grass around a full size Box Eucalyptus Tree. Green Panic is an exotic – grows to 1 metre – grows much faster than native grasses – renowned as a grass that grows well in shade – here it has responded to 100mm of rainfall 10 days earlier – same scene as in Photo 2 Below. Date of Photo March 2019.

The Fire Debate

PHOTO 2: Same tree as in Photo 1 on road located 8 km East of Jimbour on the Foothills of The Great Divide. Dung in foreground is from a mob of 800 traveling cattle that camped here overnight. 3 mobs of cattle totaling 3000 head passed through here during a 5 month period – cattle were all drought affected – using the roadsides as a fodder reserve. On the left behind the fence is “Janahn Forest” Research Farm of Gardeners and Graziers. This road is intersected by Juan Creek – about 200 metres in background. All photos within this Story are all within 100 metres of this scene. Typical Open Box Woodland on heavy black clay soil. DATE of PHOTO: Last Week of Feb. 2019.

The Fire Debate

PHOTO 3: Box Eucalyptus Trees starting to thicken in density. These small trees are all mostly 30-40 years old. Along this road – density of 100 plus year old box trees is about 20 trees per hectare. To some this appears to be a scene of devastation – to those who know and understand the processes at work here – this is the building of soil fertility and organic matter – the essence of modern grazing is time – graze it – trample it – let it recover. . DATE of PHOTO: Last week Feb. 2019.

The Fire Debate

PHOTO 4: Closer to Juan Creek. Mix of old and young Box Trees. Cattle are part of the first mob to travel past. DATE of PHOTO: Last week Feb. 2019.

The Fire Debate

PHOTO 5: Fence line is a mark of difference. Country on left side is former cultivation. Country on right displays the many benefits of full rest and recovery after grazing and the recycling of nutrients and build up of organic vegetative matter that is associated with trees. Over the last 70 years – millions of hectares of Open Forest Woodland has been totally cleared of trees for grazing. With a change in grazing technology it is now known and understood that Inland Australia grows better with trees. This change is based on allowing country to fully recover after grazing. DATE of PHOTO. March 2019.

120 years ago, grazing practices of the day all gave way to barren country. The rabbit plague was at its peak. The Country was mostly Open Woodlands – same as it was 100 years before the federation drought – exceptions were rainforest and treeless plains. Sheep and goats were ubiquitous components of the landscape.

The archeological record reveals that the increase in fire correlates to British Settlement – or – the removal of Aboriginal People from the land.

Queensland was settled as a British Colony in the 1830’s – by which time all native people had been removed off their land in Tasmania and Victoria. There is then a sixty-year span of ongoing aboriginal occupation in Qld – up until 1890 – before all aborigines were removed – and now about 60 years after the start of the big southern fires – the same intensity of forest destruction from fire is a reality in parts of Qld.

Australia’s First People were not constant nomads – all of their permanent camps were burnt and destroyed soon after British Settlement. To survive they then became wanderers to survive. All along The Great Divide – individuals and clans had allocated areas to manage. Controlling vegetation with fire was part of the job for a range of reasons.

Australia’s change in grasslands and open forest woodlands since British Settlement has been well noted and understood by people working on the land. This change is a process that takes many decades – variable according to location – climate – and the historical grazing record of domestic grazing animals.

120 years ago – The Brigalow Belt of Qld was an Open Forest Woodland – (as was the greater part of Australia that wasn’t desert or rainforest) – then soon after The Federation Drought – Brigalow Suckers grew so thick in parts you could not ride a horse through them. This thickening was blamed on the drought as it was believed that cracks in the ground caused roots to fracture and send up new shoots. By 1940 – some of this Brigalow Country was virtually worthless – 2 pounds per acre – yet today is worth upwards of $2000 per acre as prime grazing country.

With post war mechanisation – the Massive Brigalow Belt of Queensland (and NSW) was mostly clear felled of scrub in the 60’s and 70’s. Sheep were used to control brigalow regrowth. Brigalow is an acacia – as is mulga.

Sheep grazed most of Australia at some stage prior to federation in 1900. Cattle then replaced sheep in the North – in some areas due to spear grass that penetrated the sheep’s skin – or when was considered uneconomical to maintain sheep. Low wool prices from the 1990’s and dogs have since reduced sheep numbers across the continent.

Over time selective grazing by sheep and cattle alters the composition of grazing country – as does urbanisation and the creation of National Parks and Forest Reserves where all domestic grazing animals are removed.

You can see a change in vegetation soon after sheep are removed – they eat differently to cattle. All grazing animals have specialised grazing techniques – sheep will eat Wilga if needed – cattle will avoid – camels eat mature galvanised burr – sheep will eat juvenile plants only …and so on it goes…camels eat the flowers of lantana – other grazers won’t…

There is today a biological record of trees found on uncleared roads and country known to have never been cleared. We can see that the original Box Eucalypt density on The Western Fall of The Great Divide around Jimbour was 20 to 40 trees per hectare. Stands of Giant Cypress Pines and Iron Barks were of the same density. A few Giant Iron Bark remain to this day – maybe 200 to 400 years old.

Today all other trees in this area today are 20 – 60 years old. On sandstone ridges – densities of 500 to 2000 Cypress Pines per hectare are now well established. Density of Iron Bark varies – in some sections 200 to 800 trees per hectare. Lantana thrives and tall grasses dominate when let go – verses the short native Wallaby Grass that once covered many parts on The Foothills of The Great Divide. There is a lot of new growth from the extra wet summer of 2010/11.

200 years ago – Tree density was determined in part by water holding capacity of the soil. Throughout the Great Divide – valley floors were treeless – with open forest woodlands on the ridges. The best alluvial soils grew the best grasses that in turn kept trees in check from regular fire burning. So – if you go the destructive fire spots of Australia today you will find a recurring pattern – introduced tall grasses – lantana – thickening of scrub with acacias – cypress pine – and eucalypt.

Claims that “global warming/climate change” is the only reason for Australia’s intense and destructive forest burning is not supported by forensic biological evidence. Reasons for the destructiveness of the 2019/20 fire season may be apportioned: 1) increase in atmospheric temperatures. 2) 2019 was the driest year since federation. 3) increase in forest fuel loads after the removal of traditional aboriginal fire farming. 4) change in type of grazing animals. 5) increasing urbanisation & the placing of houses in fire prone forests.

It is only a change in future land management that can restore biological stability to our now fragmented forest and scrub lands. To say that we should only revert to traditional burning is akin to saying “climate change” is the only cause of these devastating fires.

240 years ago – where there was water – you had people – who managed the land. So, it may be fair to say – to best manage Forested Crown Land – you need water points and people – who may then manage native and domestic animals – for with domestic animals you may manage the land – and – provide a return from the land.

Paradoxically, some carbon farming schemes – are potential fire hazards – yet will undoubtedly remain as a single ineffective ideological solution for addressing “climate change”. One example is “carbon neutral beef” that seems to rely upon carbon credits so producers may justify feeding grain crops to finish cattle – you then clear more land to grow more grain to fatten more cattle – as is about to happen in Northern Australia – verses managing natural forest grazing to increase soil carbon and fatten cattle – which is achievable without fire and fossil fuels and the clearing of forests.

For an eco-system to be sustainable – it must create and store more or the same amount of energy as it uses – and the most effective modern way to create and capture energy is with solar powered grazing animals that people manage and utilise for survival. There is only one eco-system and it is called Earth. There are many methods of managing an eco-system.

Science is the knowledge of all things constant – and forests are constantly evolving – so to know and understand how to manage a forest – you need to also go back in time – so that future decision making is useful and productive. You also need to understand how grasslands and forest systems respond to (1) Fire (2) Below average rainfall over several years (3) Above average rainfall over several years (4) Grazing Animals (5) Intoduced plants and animals +

Objectives: How many objectives are there in managing Crown Land ? Protect native animals – Eliminate feral animals – Reduce destructive fires – Harvest timber, honey, meat and milk ?


2019 was the driest year on record for Australia at 277.6 mm, well below the previous record in 1902 (previous lowest was 314.5 mm). Nationally-averaged rainfall for 2019 was 40% below the 1961–1990 average of 465.2 mm. 2019 was Australia’s warmest year on record. Australia’s area-averaged mean temperature for 2019 was 1.52 °C above the 1961–1990 average, well above the old record: +1.33 °C in 2013.

JT NOTCH. STAFF WRITER for Gardeners and Graziers acknowledges that these are sensitive issues – and that some people may disagree and others will agree – even without a complete understanding of biological science – which is why this story is a debate. You may know more. Good if you do. Research and Services provided by GG are based on are based on knowing what works in our unique environment – 8km East of Jimbour Q Australia.

PART 2 of This Story is being written 

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