A highlight from the Two Fires Festival 2019
For me a particular highlight among many was the session on Saturday examining the theme of this year’s festival, Food Health and Healing Land. The speakers presented a range of approaches to bringing the land, and ourselves, back to health, including permaculture, regenerative farming and indigenous cultivation, foods and burning methods. Several presenters spoke of their difficult journeys learning how to work with the land instead of trying to impose inappropriate European methods.
Permaculture aims to create a food ecosystem that becomes self-suppotring and productive, and it has been very successful in demonstrating the production of healthy food without the need for artificial fertilisers or poisons.
Regenerative farming, on the other hand, seeks to allow the land and its native species to regererate. Its main success so far is in regenerating perennial native pasture grasses. The perennial grasses put down deeper roots and, being much better adapted to local conditions, they survive droughts and pests better than introduced species. They were quickly killed off in the early days by overgrazing but farmers are now finding that they survive and thrive with short bursts of grazing interspersed with longer recovery times. This works even using introduced cattle, so long as the cattle are moved frequently. No-one yet seems to be trying to re-create the kangaroo grazing that dominated in the old days – although one speaker allowed he had unintentionally attracted a large contingent of roos.
Budawang Elder Noel Butler of Ulladulla pointed out that we eat mainly a few dozen species, out of a conventional selection of a few hundred, but in Australia there are thousands of food plants all around us that we have ignored until quite recently. Some of these are now being harvested and cultivated, although they tend to be marketed mainly overseas as ‘superfoods’. C’mon Aussies! Noel also practised his preaching in the park over a pit fire, with delicious results.
Noel Webster of Nowra described traditional burning practices that he and others are reviving. The small-scale burns ensure diverse plants and animals and reduce the chance of destructive bushfires. He gave a fascinating account of many signs used to decide when and where ‘cool burning’ can succeed, including such subtleties as waiting for the first heavy dew in autumn, so freshly burnt ground will immediately receive moisture. With careful attention to signs from plants and animals a burn will restrict itself to a small area. He contrasted one of his burns with an out-of-control and and destructive Whitefella burn in the same area on the same warm day. Clearly we would benefit from drawing on the thousands of years of experience our indigenous friends have to offer.
I was not the only one to feel we are starting to move beyond permaculture, which has been based mainly on northern hemisphere plants, good as it is. We are at last learning about our own very different land and how to live in it. There is a great deal more to learn, and we need to get the word out so continuing destruction of the land can be slowed and reversed.