Fire-stick farming

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Fire-stick burning, a term coined by Australian archaeologist Rhys Jones in 1969, describes the practice of Indigenous Australians who regularly used fire to burn vegetation to facilitate hunting and to change the composition of plant and animal species in an area. Fire-stick farming had the long-term effect of turning dry rainforest into savanna, increasing the population of nonspecific grass-eating species like the kangaroo. One theory of the extinction of Australian megafauna implicates the ecological disturbance caused by fire-stick farming.[1]

In the resultant sclerophyll forests, fire-stick farming maintained an open canopy and allowed germination of understory plants necessary for increasing the carrying capacity of the local environment for browsing and grazing marsupials.

It may be argued[who?] that Aboriginal people were able to aim the burning of the scrub to avoid growing areas. It is also thought[who?] that there may[clarification needed] have been a ritual taboo against burning certain areas of Jungle.[2]

This type of farming also directly increased the food supply for Aboriginal people, by promoting the growth of bush potatoes and other edible ground-level plants.[3]

Human influence on fire regime challenged[edit]

A 2011 research paper has questioned whether Indigenous Australians carried out widespread burning of the Australian landscape. A study of charcoal records from more than 220 sites in Australasia dating back 70,000 years has found that the arrival of the first inhabitants about 50,000 years ago did not result in significantly greater fire activity across the continent. The arrival of European colonists after 1788, however, resulted in a substantial increase in fire activity.[4]

The study shows higher bushfire activity from about 70,000 to 28,000 years ago. It decreased until about 18,000 years ago, around the time of the last glacial maximum, and then increased again, a pattern consistent with shifts between warm and cool climatic conditions. This suggests that fire in Australasia predominantly reflects climate, with colder periods characterized by less and warmer intervals by more biomass burning.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ G. Pickup. "Desertification and climate change—the Australian perspective" (PDF). 
  2. ^ "Fire-Stick Farmers". 
  3. ^ "The Fire Book" (PDF). Tangentyre Landcare. 2005. Retrieved 24 March 2014. 
  4. ^ Mooney, S.D.; et al. (15 October 2010). "Late Quaternary fire regimes of Australasia" (PDF). Quaternary Science Reviews (Elsevier) 30: 28–46. doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2010.10.010. Retrieved 24 March 2014. 
  • Jones, R. 1969. Fire-stick Farming. Australian Natural History, 16:224
  • Miller, G. H. 2005. Ecosystem Collapse in Pleistocene Australia and a Human Role in Megafaunal Extinction. Science, 309:287-290
  • Bliege Bird, R., et al. 2008. The “Fire Stick Farming” Hypothesis: Australian Aboriginal Foraging Strategies, Biodiversity and Anthropogenic Fire Mosaics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105:14796-14801.