Fires have been a natural part of the landscape in south-eastern Australia, including the Australian Alps, for thousands of years. Many plants in the Australian Alps have evolved to live with fire and some plants have developed special adaptations in response to fire.

Fire has been used by Aboriginal people to flush out game or encourage grasslands for hunting, to help seed production, for cooking food, to clear trails through dense vegetation, for signalling, ceremonies and warmth.

But Aboriginal people did not use the same firestick practices over the entire continent and customary law detemined not only how fire should be used but who should be involved. For example, it is forbidden to burn Country that they do not have responsibility over. In the first half of the 1900s it was common practice for graziers to burn to encourage new growth of grass shoots. As a result, frequent burning became an important part of grazing in many parts of the high country. Selective grazing of Alps vegetation has changed the mix of species and affected fire behaviour.

The effect of one fire might not be as environmentally significant as the frequency, timing and intensity of fires over many years. This is called the fire regime and plants in Australia have evolved to particular fire regimes in different ecological zones and regions.

Vegetation communities in the alpine zone have evolved to a regime of infrequent and low intensity fires.

Even though fire is a natural part of the ecosystem in the Australian Alps, the impact it has on people, animals and industries means there is a need for fire to be managed and controlled.

More information can be found in the Australian Alps education kit.

Learn more about dendrochronology research, fire ecology research and more in our fire research publications.