This grandmother tree connects me to Country. I cried when I saw her burned.
I remember brushing my teeth over the green enamel sink. I would gaze out the window at a prominent grandmother and ponder her age. This grandmother had soft pink skin, smooth and dimpled, and incredible curves that burled in places. She stood at least 25 metres tall.
She was one of the sentinel trees which stood strong on the property where I grew up in Colo Heights, northwest of Sydney, at the edge of Darkinjung Country.
Belonging to the Angophora costata family, she, like me, is part of human and non-human kinship networks that connect us with Country.
To begin to understand this connection, you might start by thinking about how every native tree on this property grows in its perfect place. Thousands of generations of evolution caused for it to grow right there. Each plant belongs to that very soil, and under that particular sky. Each plant is connected to the next, also growing in its own perfect way. Just like this grandmother tree, the plants are all families to each other. A community that is woven together with every element of nature participating.
This is Country. It includes the plants, the animals, the weather, rocks, fire, soils, waters, air, all of planet Earth. The powerful celestial beings too. They are all crucially important, in their belonging place.
Humans are part of this community, evolving together. Our relationships with each other, human and non-human, helped us thrive as the longest continuous culture on Earth. There is much to learn from honouring this connection.
These are not new thoughts. I am not trying to be a clever person. Indigenous people have shared this story for millennia. Indigenous people have adamantly protested against greedy environmental destruction.
It has been one month since the fire passed through Colo Heights. Returning has been an incredibly emotional journey. With me is my partner, our two kids and their cousin who was evacuated from his home.
The fire had burnt right up to our letterbox and spread across most of the property. The fruit trees my Mum and Dad planted – blood plums, pears, bush lemons – all burnt out. A farm shed, water tanks, pipes and electricity poles, were also compromised. There is so much work to do.
The blackened ground is blanketed with a thick layer of dead leaves, dropped by the grandmother trees and her kin. The two-toned fallen leaf suggests some fell immediately after the fire, while others died and fell later.
Sitting quietly, we hear a large tree crashing down and echo through the gully. Another granny whose reign had ended.
“Will it grow back Mum?” my son asks.
The reassuring mother he needs in the face of all this devastation, replies: “I really hope that it’ll recover, but us humans need to do better in the way we live with Country. That’s why I take you and your sister to those Indigenous Fire workshops and teach you about Country.”
Indigenous knowledge and local expertise must take precedence in the forward management of natural environments both in Australia and globally. As stated in the State of the Environment report:
the critical importance of Indigenous land management to the ongoing maintenance of biodiversity is increasing and becoming better understood.
Fire will continue to be part of our relationship with Country, and we need to take notice of what isn’t working. Indigenous people have been contributing to debates on fire over several decades. There is growing interest in Aboriginal fire knowledge. Where cultural burning has been initiated, Indigenous people experience benefits, including in the south east of the continent.
The intricate network of kinship between humans and the non-human needs to be restored to help heal Country and protect it into the future. Though regulatory frameworks are challenging, conversations about fire can provide a space to share knowledge and spark conversations about nature, risk and healing.
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