Remaking the ‘upside-down’: working with fire on Dja Dja Wurrung country in southeast Australia

Authors: Timothy Neale*, Deakin University
Topics: Indigenous Peoples, Environment, Cultural Geography
Keywords: Political ecology, fire, environment, Indigenous peoples, natural hazards, ethnography
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Johnson, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The use and management of landscape fires has been of vital cultural and ecological importance to Aboriginal peoples across the continent for millennia and, today, fire practices remain highly important to many Aboriginal peoples, a central expression of their co-constitutional relations with ‘country’ (or place) and a meaningful cultural connection to ancestors. In Victoria, in Australia’s fire-prone southeast, many Aboriginal peoples have been excluded from the management of their ancestral territories for almost 200 years, a period during which mining, pastoralism, and other forms of settler despoliation have turned these places into ruins. This situation is beginning to change, in part through the recognition of legal rights and the wider recognition of Aboriginal fire practices. Drawing on fieldwork and interviews on Dja Dja Wurrung country, in central Victoria, this presentation reflects on the recent efforts of Djaara peoples to place djandak wi (or ‘healthy fire’) and key food species back into their ‘upside-down’ country. These efforts, I argue, do not involve the straightforward restoration of a prior ecological order or set of practices, but rather the hopeful working with remnants to create survivable futures.

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