Analysis of Explorers’ Records of Aboriginal Landscape Burning in the Kimberley Region of Western Australia

December 2002 — Article in Australian Geographical Studies 39(2):135 – 155
DOI: 10.1111/1467-8470.00136

Tom Vigilante

The accounts of explorers and colonists in the Kimberley region of Western Australia were searched to find records of landscape burning by Aborigines. Analyses of these records provide estimates of the spatial and temporal patterns of fire across the region in historic times.The seasonality of fire varied across the region. In northern parts of the Kimberley landscape fire was recorded from May to October with peak levels in June and September. In southern parts of the region there are records of burning as early as February and March, through to August but no records of fire were made in late dry season months. Modern fire regimes were compared with historic by superimposing the routes taken by five explorers over a modern fire history map derived from satellite imagery. Tallies of the number of modern fires that intersect the explorer’s daily and monthly route were compared with actual observations of fire made by the explorers in historic times. The results indicate an increase in early dry season fires and the overall frequency of fires across the region in modern times. Explorers’ accounts were also examined to derive further information regarding Aboriginal landscape burning in different environments and to distinguish landscape burning from other uses of fire such as smoke signals and cooking fires.

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