Once we were up in the air, I made a comment to the pilot about all the fires we could see - all around the horizon, columns of smoke were billowing upwards. None of the fires were furious or out of control - they appeared to be lazy grass fires, slowly spreading this way and that until they burned out. I made a further comment about National Parks and backburning, and the pilot laughed so hard, we nearly went into a spin.
His response was that most of the fires were set by blackfellas looking for a feed, or blackfellas that just like to watch a nice fire. The rest were set by blackfellas that were lost. If their car broke down and they couldn't fix it, they'd start a fire, safe in the knowledge that a helicopter or plane would turn up for a look-see before long, and they'd get picked up. They were quite relaxed about it, and the regular burns were just part of everyday life in the NT.
He also said that some tourists didn't like the burning off - the smoke etc, and the fact that if you visited a certain site, there was a reasonable chance it would be a smouldering mess. However, his attitude was that they just had to live with it (and he made his living from tourism), and there were plenty of sights to see - if one was on fire, or recently burnt out, you just went to another one.
Piers Akerman raised this interesting conundrum today:
Greens leader Bob Brown has taken no responsibility for the huge lock-up of forest reserves. It is bewildering to listen to Brown and other extremist environmentalists call for more wilderness areas, areas left in as pristine a state as possible, when they also purport to support the claims of Aboriginal Australians that they managed the “wilderness” for perhaps 40,000 years through regular burning.
The easiest way around this problem is to hand over ownership of all national parks to the local blackfellas, and give them carte blanche to "manage" them as they see fit. And I don't mean just setting up a token council with a few tame local blackfellas in charge - I mean scrapping the department that controls them and handing them over lock, stock and barrel. Whitey should just bugger off and leave them to it.
Frankly, I can think of nothing more enjoyable than watching footage of white, suburban middle class green protestors battling blackfella park rangers over the burning of a patch of scrub.