Tasmanian Aboriginal people used fire as a tool for several purposes. Like today, fire was used as a heat source for cooking and keeping warm but fire also played an important role in:
- burial practices, and
- land management.
Fire used for land management
At certain times of the year, Tasmanian Aboriginal people would set fire to the bush to encourage new growth and prevent scrub from taking over. The fires they used were small-scale cool fires. Cool burning is a practice where the fire burns at a much lower intensity than a wildfire or a modern fuel reduction burn. This sophisticated use of fire burned at such a low intensity that the tree canopy remained protected. This practice was used to prevent wildfires and manage hunting grounds.
The Tasmanian landscape today reflects the burning practices that were undertaken for thousands of years. One of the best examples of this practice is the open button grass moorlands in western Tasmania. It is believed that this cultural landscape is a direct result of the burning regimes undertaken by Tasmanian Aboriginal people.
Fire practices and hunting
Tasmanian Aboriginal people made ﬁre using ﬂints and fire drills. They carried ﬁre sticks for convenience - especially when hunting. The dry grasslands provided excellent fuel for ﬁre, creating ﬂames and smoke that ﬂushed wallaby, wombat, bandicoot, bettongs, potoroos, possums, echidna, blue tongue lizards, and emu out of cover where they could be easily speared or clubbed.
Other uses of fire
Fire was also used during travel and the burning practices helped keep trading routes clear between neighbouring camps and clans. While travelling, the smoke from fire was also a form of communication to warn neighbouring clans that the travelling band or clan were entering the area or passing through.
Tasmanian Aboriginal people used fire to cremate the bodies of those who had died. This was a common practice that was used more than burials.
Tasmanian Aboriginal community today
Today, the Tasmanian Aboriginal community undertake traditional burning practices on Aboriginal managed lands. These cool burn cultural practices also assist with fire load fuel reduction, discourage weeds, generate new flora, and to encourage the return of native fauna to the area.