Delving deep into the Australian landscape and the environmental challenges we face, Fire Country is a powerful account from Indigenous land management expert Victor Steffensen on how the revival of cultural burning practices, and improved 'reading' of country, could help to restore Australian land.
From a young age, Victor has had a passion for traditional cultural and ecological knowledge. This was further developed after meeting two Elders, who were to become his mentors and teach him the importance of cultural burning. Developed over many generations, this knowledge shows clearly that Australia actually needs fire. Moreover, fire is an important part of a holistic approach to the environment, and when burning is done in a carefully considered manner, this ensures proper land care and healing.
Victor's story is unassuming and honest, while demonstrating the incredibly sophisticated and complex cultural knowledge that has been passed down to him, which he wants to share with others. Fire Country is written in a way that reflects the nature of yarning, and while some of the knowledge shared in this book may not align with Western views, there is much evidence that, if adopted, it could greatly benefit all Australians.
For every copy sold, Hardie Grant will donate $1 to Firesticks, which empowers Indigenous fire management practitioners to revive cultural burning.
Victor Steffensen is an Indigenous writer, filmmaker, musician and consultant applying traditional knowledge values in a contemporary context, through workshops and artistic projects. He is a descendant of the Tagalaka people through his mother's connections from the Gulf Country of north Queensland. Much of Victor's work over the past 27 years has been based on the arts and reviving traditional knowledge values – particularly traditional burning – through mentoring and leadership, as well as on-ground training with Aboriginal communities and many non-Indigenous Australians. He is also the co-founder of the National Indigenous Fire Workshops, which have so far been hosted in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. Victor has also connected with First Nations communities in California, Canada and the Sami people of Scandinavia, sharing cultural knowledge practices related to caring for country.
"Victor Steffensen has a strong love of country and an important way of interpreting it that Australians need to know about, now more than ever."
– Tim Low
"Fire is one of our major tools for cleaning country, not just for walking through but also for the animals. Like this book, fire is a communicator to let people know the right fire for the right place and the right times of the year. Everyone should know about Aboriginal fire knowledge, and keeping the land clean to protect the environment and their homes."
– Uncle Russell Butler, Bandjin and Tagalaka Elder
"Fire Country is without a doubt the most important book I've worked on in my twenty-five-year career as an editor. The knowledge it contains is astounding – and urgently needed in today's Australia: the knowledge of how to heal the land with fire."
– Tricia Dearborn, editor and author of Autobiochemistry: The Ringing World
"Given the current dire situation of Australia's bushfires, it is paramount that now, more than ever, the stories in Fire Country are heard and enacted upon for the betterment of all Australians, our wildlife and our sustainable ecosystems. Our ancient ways must become our new ways."
– Nova Peris, Olympian, former federal senator, 1997 Young Australian of The Year
"Fire Country is a book about spiritual awakenings and Victor has captured this from his learnings from all of our Elders past and present. Biri (fire) holds great spiritual meaning, with many stories, memories and dance being passed down from countless biri practitioners. To have clean water, you need a healthy landscape. To have a healthy landscape, you need biri. In our ceremonies we were taught that being a fireman is a position of great honour. Non-Indigenous people have a fireman who puts the fires out – whereas we light the fires. May the Eternal Flame burn forever with Fire Country."
– Uncle (Dr) David Dahwurr Hudson, Ewamian and Westen Yalanji Traditional Owner
"This important book is a story of determination and commitment to restore the knowledge of cultural responsibilities and practices of cultural fire in the Australian landscape. Victor Steffensen offers understandings of Indigenous cultural practices, the relation of people to country, the healing potential of cultural fire, and the way the practices have grown over twenty years. This on-ground Indigenous movement initiated by two Kuku-Thaypan Elders is supported by a growing network of cultural fire practitioners reclaiming their cultural rights, and is now garnering serious recognition from scientists, agencies and land management organisations. In Fire Story, Victor Steffensen demonstrates the ecological and social benefits for all Australians when Indigenous cultural knowledge through Indigenous leadership is given respect and recognition in contemporary land management."
– Dr Jacqueline Gothe, Associate Professor, School of Design, University of Technology Sydney
"Victor's work and wisdom is the knowledge our land needs right now. An important reminder of our responsibility to country and the need to respect our Aboriginal knowledge systems, it is essential reading for all Australians."
– Professor Larissa Behrendt, Jumbunna Institute, University of Technology Sydney
"For anyone interested in understanding ancient Indigenous fire knowledge as a transformative practice for survival. Fire Country is the true voice of the land singing out for healing and action at a moment when all life on this planet is under threat. A grassroots visionary, Victor poetically leads with the 'right fire' story for future generations – a profound journey of hope and wisdom for all."
– Dr Jason De Santolo, Associate Professor, School of Design, University of Technology Sydney
"This turns the conventional thinking upside down, a must-read for all of those involved in land management."
– Barry J. Hunter, land management practitioner, Djabugay Aboriginal Corporation
"In Fire Country, Victor Steffensen has written a detailed and elegant account of Aboriginal traditional knowledge that he learnt from the Elders in Cape York. The wisdom of the Elders shines on every page. Of all the explanations of Aboriginal knowledge systems as science, this is the one I would turn to. Victor has dedicated his life to this task of understanding the knowledge of the Elders and their land management practices. He has rescued a treasure trove of ancient knowledge that would otherwise be lost. This book is essential reading for Australians who care about the future of our country. The catastrophic fires that destroyed vast Australian ecosystems and more than a billion wild animals, took human lives, properties and livelihoods in the summer of 2019-2020 struck me as the tipping point in our postcolonial history of destructive land management and environmental loss. Many Indigenous people turned to our own knowledge of fire to understand this conflagration, as we heard the news during these terrible months. The fires occurred where Indigenous people had been prevented from caring for country. Our knowledge about caring for country has been developed by Aboriginal people over more than six millennia, and managing fire with fire was a key strategy in a toolkit of highly complex ecological strategies and profound understanding of them. Even our best scientists acknowledge that we must reinstate Aboriginal environmental knowledge and what was once a continent-wide system of land management, using fire as a friend not an enemy. Victor's book will be a fundamental text for all of us involved in trying to prevent such fire disasters in the future."
– Professor Marcia Langton AM, Foundation Chair of Australian Indigenous Studies, University of Melbourne, author of Welcome to Country