Politics of fire in northern savanna lands: Communication
Australia and New Zealand Communication Association
Faculty of Education and Arts
School of Communications and Arts / Centre for Research in Entertainment, Arts, Technology, Education and Communications
Australian Research Council
ARC Number : LP110200020
Australian bushfires are renowned for their ferocity and destructive capability. Although much attention is paid to fires in the comparatively well-populated southern half of Australia, most fire activity occurs in the northern half of the continent (Russel–Smith and Yates et. al. 2007). Further, fires in this area are usually anthropogenic [man made] in origin (Russel–Smith and Yates et. al. 2007: 369). This paper calls attention to community discontent about landscape and fire in the Kimberley region in northern Western Australia and suggests that fire-related public authorities should pay more attention to community engagement and the views of long-term residents .Via the use of qualitative research, including in-depth interviews, this research reveals that many long-term residents of the Kimberley region are concerned about fire-management regimes and the effect these have on the landscape, cultural heritage and biodiversity of the area. Some feel that the prescribed burns in the area are not small-scale mosaic burns, and frequently get out of control, and that there is a lack of operational transparency and effective community engagement on the part of relevant authorities involved in the management of fire. It appears that a number of respondents construct ‘fire’ as something that is managed successfully (either for carbon farming or for the preservation of assets) while others represent ‘fire’ as something that needs to be managed more effectively (for the preservation of biodiversity and cultural value of the landscape). These issues underline other pressures and constructions around residents who live with the impacts of fire -based practices, and the expert authorities who make the relevant decisions in this highly-charged area of land/resource management. The qualitative fieldwork that informs this paper has been carried out with community members in the Kununurra area of Western Australia. The informants were interviewed about existing information and communication practices around fire, fire information, fire safety, fire suppression and fire mitigation. The interviews, carried out in 2012 and 2013, have been analysed using a ‘communicative ecology’ framework.