Looking After Country with Fire: Aboriginal burning knowledge with Uncle Kuu by Victor Steffensen and illustrated by Sandra Steffensen is a picture book that educates young readers about the use of First Nations fire practices to manage the land.
In this story, Uncle Kuu spends time with children in the bush to observe what is happening in this landscape and look for signs from Mother Nature to determine ways to care for Country with fire. Uncle Kuu explains how and where to use fire in a way to protect the ecosystem. Uncle Kuu talks about creating a “cool fire” in a very specific area as this burns fuel, minimising the threat of more potent and destructive fires. Such uncontrolled fires would result in wide scale damage to old, large trees which would have dire, long-lasting consequences for the bush, its ability to rejuvenate and support the animals living there. Cool fires help protect the habitat for the animals and ensure the trees continue to seed, regenerate the land and enhance biodiversity.
Uncle Kuu delves into what happens when First Nations fire practices are not used and the devastating results for Country. He goes on to say that in recent times Elders have been consulted to teach communities about how to respectfully manage land with fire.
At the back of the book is a QR code to scan to watch a music video for a song titled, ’Cool Burning’. Uncle Kuu concludes with a clear and direct statement that you should never light a fire yourself. This should only be done by an Aboriginal Elder, ranger or someone who has a deep understanding of Aboriginal burning knowledge.
The bold illustrations bring the text to life and amplify how First Nations fire management practices lead to a thriving, lush, vibrant and healthy landscape that supports an abundance of animals as well as different plant and tree species. In stark contrast to this vibrancy is the desolate, bleak and ravaged landscape after uncontrolled bushfires, devoid of any plant and animal life.
At the heart of this book are the important messages about listening and connecting to country as well as sharing traditional knowledge from the past with all children and respecting Indigenous knowledge. The First Nations fire practices have a history spanning over 65 000 years of managing the land with fire, which has resulted in an unrivalled knowledge and expertise.