Biodiversity publications archive

Country in flames

Proceedings of the 1994 symposium on biodiversity and fire in North Australia - Biodiversity series, Paper no. 3
Deborah Bird Rose (editor)
Biodiversity Unit
Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories and the North Australia Research Unit, The Australian National University, 1995

Fire-stick Farming

To grow flowers in Blackheath, Australia,
set fire to your field. Let flame
singe the delicate dust-seeds
of native shrubs. Soon they sprout,
a thin patchwork of tufts, nameless and mixed,
on ground bare, as if hoed.
Bright petals follow, as if you’d scattered
fifty packets of English seed; but not one
has a name Shakespeare knew: scarlet waratah
crowning its upright stake, flannel flower,
a grevillea in honey-and-orange
with juniper-mimicking leaves,
three nameless bulbs in cardinal shades,
and a heath whose giant blooms
seem threaded on grey wires.
The yellow dillwynia conjures blue moths that endure
their deaths from pale-lemon flower-spiders
whose grape bellies swell with eggs
to feed the thread-leg spider-wasp.
A huntsman in the open disdains escape,
dodging, faster than eye-blink, each lurch
of the sting – a game of hare and hound
among plants like moss with snowdrop flowers
and just a wisp of snake-slither.
In the hot calm the bees are loud,
working wings and elbows with an angry sound,
as you leap the tussocks, amazed
at your ignorant creation,
the shapes and passions hidden
in a sheet of flame.
And above them all
a new forest rising.

Mark O'Connor, 1990. Fire-stick Farming: Selected Poems 1972-90,
Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, p. 132.