After CSIRO published my Ecological History of the Koala in Wildlife Research, the ABC made a rare mistake. Fran Kelly interviewed me on Radio National Breakfast and let slip that koalas were a rare species when Europeans arrived. The academics in the koala industry were outraged and Kelly apparently took a lot of heat.
Aunty learnt from her mistake. In an hour-long bushfire special, Landline held firmly to the official line that climate change caused Black Summer, whilst presenting incontrovertible evidence to contrary. It was a masterstroke of propaganda, designed to highlight Aboriginal knowledge without disturbing the fire research industry or threatening emergency managers’ empires. Collateral damage to our history was, as usual, of no consequence to the ABC.
Professor Michael Shawn Fletcher presented scientific evidence that European disruption of his ancestors’ burning caused megafire. It started with five million hectares of Victoria in 1851’s Black Thursday holocaust. He almost let slip that recent disruption of mild burning, on the advice of green academics, caused Black Summer: “Something has to change. What we’ve been doing for the last few decades (slight hesitation) the last 150 years is not working … we have – connected, incredibly flammable, overstocked forests that go for hundreds if not thousands of kilometres across the south-east Australian seaboard”.
To make sure no-one was challenged by the concept of megafires driven by climate change back in 1851, Professor Fletcher explained “We’re not managing country properly and as a consequence we’re going to keep getting these fires that are now climate-driven, but they’re not the result of fires. They’re the result of poor management, high fuel loads and climate now is kicking in and making them untenable” [sic].
Aunty told us that subtropical rainforest was immune to bushfires until we changed the climate. In fact, Forestry Commission researcher Dr. John Turner established 40 years ago that the famous Terania Creek Rainforest burnt to the ground around 1000 AD. Outside of extreme millennial-scale droughts, subtropical rainforests were protected from fire by the clean, grassy woodlands around them. Foresters and pastoralists maintained the grassy areas with fire and grazing until sustainable land management was disrupted by greens in the 1980s.
The park rangers on Landline, like Professor Fletcher, got that part of the story right. The reason megafires are getting into rainforests is the “incredibly flammable overstocked forests” extending all the way from Birrarung (Yarra River) to Binna Burra and beyond. As I explained in my Ecological History, that’s also the reason why koala plagues have irrupted again in recent decades.
But Landline parroted the Big Lie. Koalas were supposedly disappearing because they were getting eaten by dogs and hit by cars. Their habitat was being destroyed by logging and housing developments. Then, thousands of koalas that weren’t really there got immolated in the Black Summer gigafires. ABC trotted out New South Wales Greens leader Cate Faehrmann who ran the Inquiry with the pre-ordained result that this irruptive species is headed for extinction.
The koalas getting run over and/or eaten are refugees from overcrowded populations in explosive dense forests. They are invading suburbia looking for somewhere to live. Aunty’s crowning glory was the segment revelling in massive expenditure to plant millions of trees and increase koala plagues by extending the “incredibly flammable overstocked forests” into the farmlands where there were no koalas when Europeans arrived. The footage from koala hospitals should convince thinking people that too many koalas have already suffered enough.
Vic Jurskis is a former senior NSW Forestry Commission professional forester. In 2004 he was awarded a Fellowship by the Joseph William Gottstein Memorial Trust to investigate eucalypt decline across Australia. He has published two books, Firestick Ecology, and The Great Koala Scam, both available from Connor Court.
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