The Savvy savage
: fire, proprietary interest, and the western discourse on Aboriginal ecology

  • Alexander Denis Buckley

    Student thesis: Masters by Research - CDU


    This essay reviews the history of the Western discourse on Aboriginal Ecology. It then applies genealogical narrative analysis to recent texts involved in the appropriation of Aboriginal ecological knowledge concerning fire. It identifies fire as a key metaphor in Aboriginal discourse and as a primary tool in Aboriginal management of natural resources. It shows that early Western representations of Aboriginal Ecology, in particular the application of fire, enabled and legitimated European colonisation of Australia.

    It considers Western Ecology, and the attitudes to and management of the landscape that are based on it, to be the product of a peculiarly European intellectual heritage, transposed to Australia during colonisation. It suggests that the inherent flammability of the Australian bush required Western Ecology to adapt to the new environment, and to reevaluate the role played by fire in Aboriginal Ecology.

    It examines the process through which Western Ecology now seeks to retrieve the Aboriginal ecological knowledge and praxis, erased during European colonisation, in order to stabilize that colony. It demonstrates that essential differences in the cosmologies upon which Aboriginal and Western Ecologies are based introduce problems for translating the former into the latter. It then considers the role of Aboriginal discourse in this process, in particular the increasing participation of Aboriginal producers in the Western discourse.

    It shows that, by valorizing Aboriginal discourse as an authentic source of the required knowledge, Western scientific discourse has opened the way for Aboriginal authors to subvert Western discourse, to assert control over land, to create a space in which to reproduce their own discourse, and to exercise control over the ritual reproduction of their own subjectivity.
    Date of Award2004
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorGreg Williams (Supervisor) & Nancy Williams (Supervisor)

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