Australian Fire-lighters come in six colours – yellow, black, white, blood red, dark green, and light green. All are relevant to bushfires and forest management. “Yellow” is the Fire-lighter that has been with us forever. It is the yellow flash of lightning which has always ignited the Australian bush. We’re dreaming to think we can lock yellow fire out of parks, forests and heritage areas. But good forest management can reduce the ferocity and destruction of lightning-strike fires. “Black” Fire-lighters came with the first Australians. Without matches or tinder boxes they probably captured the fire genie from a lightning fire. Or they carried it here on clay hearths on the floor of their canoes. They valued this magic tool for warmth, cooking, insect control, vegetation clearing, animal trapping and fighting enemies. Some also learned how to light fires using heat generated by friction, but this was a slow laborious process and it was far easier to preserve and carry fire in a burning fire-stick. To keep these sticks alight or to light a new one as they travelled, nomadic parties on the plains and deserts renewed them periodically by setting fire to a clump of dry vegetation. Then they moved on. They lit fires for many reasons, anywhere at any time. They tried to keep out of the way of fires, and were known to redirect mild grassland fires but never tried to put them out. This continual mosaic of small fires created the magnificent grasslands and open forests that Europeans admired when they first arrived. Aboriginal fire management followed no central plan, but it worked, making most lives and forests safer.
“White” Fire-lighters were introduced by the next wave of settlers – the British, bringing matches, flints and tinder boxes. They marvelled at the grasslands and open forests they found. Soon the sheep and cattle of the squatters were flourishing on the fresh nutritious pastures of frequently burned land. They soon learned about bushfires as the “Yellow” and “Black” Fire-lighters were still operating. The squatters soon learned two new skills to protect their pastures, flocks, herds, stock-yards, wool sheds and homesteads. Firstly, reduce fire loads and encourage new grass using cool season burning. And secondly, when faced with invading fires, fight fire with fire – back burn from station tracks, freshly burned bush or creeks towards the invading fire. We need to relearn these valuable lessons. “Blood-Red” Fire-lighters are carried by the fire vandals – the arsonists. And the greater the fire danger, and the more headlines it creates, the more active are these pyro-maniacs. “Light-Green” Fire-lighters were developed in the 1960’s and 1970’s for professional foresters to protect forests with prescribed burning. These marvellous tools were banned by political fools, and are hard to procure today.