I was told by a guide that when European settlers originally arrived in Australia, Indigenous populations burnt their land to get the Europeans to move on.

I am aware that the Indigenous did burn their land already for purposes like fire-stick farming, so it kind of makes sense that they might do this early in order to make the land uninhabitable for the Europeans.

The second part the guide told me was that some Australians actually copied the Aboriginals doing this. At the very beginning of Australia's colonization, the Europeans thought that the Aboriginals were trying to tend to the land and therefore copied several times.

The guide said this caused several large bushfires which devastated the land irreparably.

I'm just wondering if anyone can confirm whether this is true or not and if it provides some sort of suitable (preferably first hand) source.

  • 2
    I am aware that the Indiginous did burn their land already to restore it to its natural form I would say that "its natural form" was "unburnt". Maybe you are thinking about fire-stick farming, but its objective was not to "restore land".
    – SJuan76
    Commented Sep 29, 2018 at 23:28
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    @SJuan76: In any fairly arid but not desert climate - most of the western US, for example - being subject to fairly regular burning IS the land's natural state.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Sep 30, 2018 at 17:43

1 Answer 1


Many pre-invasion aboriginal cultures managed land by burning. The effects of this were regular fuel reduction, open bush suitable for large game hunting, and the development of desired fire friendly plants.

During invasion, in the Sydney basin, guerrilla war existed until 1820, on a low scale. Actions by the owners of the land including burning European crops.

I am not aware of Europeans burning land during their wars with aboriginal peoples as an act of war. The primary mode of European invasion was economic: sheep and cattle mobbing on squats and cultivation or "closer settlement" on selections. By economically displacing aboriginal peoples forms of subsistence they destroyed the social and cultural basis of independent cultures, generally forcing aboriginal people into shanty town ghettos or apartheid type settlements. Land clearance, of scrub and trees, may have been accomplished with fire but not as an act of war (More below). After the Myall Creek Massacre, massacre in The Frontier Wars went underground, however massacre was secondary to economic displacement by land theft. As aboriginal cultures' economies weren't susceptible to burning, burning was not used by Europeans against them in their wars.

European land management has included firing bush as part of broader land clearing; however, Europeans have preferred less systematic fire management—until the last 40 years—resulting in infrequent, predictable and catastrophic bush fires.


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