Bill Gammage and the white fella myth of Aboriginal burning

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Gammage toonBill Gammage has become a cult figure for many people who believe we need to burn the bush ‘as Aborigines did’. He has even convinced quite a few environmentally concerned people through his book The Biggest Estate on Earth that regular burning is needed.  However, what we rarely hear above the unquestioning accolades are the many scientists, academics and ecologists who have looked at his claims and found them to be either well-crafted falsehoods or just plain erroneous. Gammage presents wild guesses as fact, bases claims on selective historical information, exaggerates and is often incorrect in his geography. He has also admitted that he did not interview local indigenous people in areas he wrote about.

Bill Gammage also believes cattle need to be put into sensitive alpine areas (as Aboriginal people did?). Hundreds of core samples across Australia show that the level of burning has increased almost 50 fold since European settlers arrived. Areas in many vegetation types develop an understory which is relatively inflammable but constant burning encourages scrub and thick regrowth. There are also many native plants previously believed to require fire to regenerate and seed to germinate, that regenerate well with some disturbance, not necessarily fire. 

A selection of papers which criticise Gammage’s unscientific assumptions are contained in the below links.

It’s time to stop lighting fires

Did Australian Aboriginals burn the bush as we are told?

Dr Beth Shultz - Comments on The Biggest Estate on Earth

White Australia's burning issue — what's wrong with Bill Gammage's book

Gammage - A Blue Mountains critique 2013