The Aboriginal science behind Sydney's nightmare traffic

9 September 2015

Anyone who has tried to navigate Sydney via its intertwining network of roads has to agree that it is a nightmare, at best.

Vic Lorusso may be able to relay to you live the accidents, truck breakdowns and general traffic chaos that is Sydney, but to get a real understanding of what is at the root of the problems with Sydney's roads you need to take a look at the ancient Sydney that was created by our Aboriginal Custodians and Caretakers with the use of fire.

In Australia we are all familiar with back burning as a method of controlling the devastating bushfires that can wreak havoc on the Australian landscape every summer. We all smell the burning bush in the air and comment on the hazy horizons throughout August and we are all becoming increasingly aware that Aboriginal people have used similar methods to survive Australia's harsh bushland for over 50,000 years. Current back burning methods, however, are a very simplistic form of the complex, innovative and deeply spiritual relationship Aboriginal people have with fire particularly as a method of land management.

Most people have a vague, background knowledge of firestick farming used to create grasslands for large marsupials to feed on, thus making them easily hunted. If you haven't heard of this, then the book 'The Biggest Estate On Earth' by Bill Gammage is a must read. While you're there, look up other mind bending terms such as cool burning, smoke water and wood ash to find out more about the complex relationships between the flowering and propagation of Australian native plants, the seasonal cycles, the animals and the people that all co-exist harmoniously in a complex system of sustainability.

In my family, the D'harawal, it is the D'haramuoy that is the Keeper of the Flame, a specially appointed member of a Clan designated to learn and hold the Dreaming knowledge that is fire: when to burn, what to burn and the purposes behind it - of which there are many. Creating and maintaining a walking path is a perfect example of the application of this knowledge and what most people do not know is that our very modern city, Sydney, is actually planned around ancient Aboriginal walking trails carved through the bush with the clever and skilful use of firestick farming and land management.

When the Europeans landed on the sandy shores of our sparkling harbour, not only did they comment on the highly manicured appearance of the landscape, but they naturally decided to explore the well-trodden paths of the local Aboriginal people who had been maintaining these walking paths with the use of fire for thousands of years. One of the first paths wandered down by white men led directly west to Parramatta and is now known as George Street. Not far from there, a path led to a fresh water supply and is now known as Pitt Street. There was a path running south connecting Sydney's two main waterways War-ran (Sydney Cove) and Gamay (Botany Bay), known to us now as the peak hour debacle that is Botany Road. Our very own University of Sydney is perched on the ancient path that ran south west and is now known as City Road/King Street Newtown. The list goes on and the same can be said for other main roads such as Oxford Street and Warringah Road. All Aboriginal trails, all meant for walking - not for cars, trucks, buses, cyclists and that most inexplicable of all vehicles - the SUV.

Aboriginal Elders now comment on the "wild bush" or overgrown bushland no longer cared for with the careful application of Fire Dreaming. We can no longer access our family's sacred sites in Sydney's Royal National Park and we actually pray for a huge bushfire to clear back the thick scrub that now grows over our secret paths. So the next time you're in a hurry to get home and cursing another one of Sydney's ridiculously narrow, single lane 'main' roads, spare a thought for the modern day D'harawal tackling prickly tea tree bush, thick undergrowth and enduring the face scratching torture that is Australia's drought resistant, dry sclerophyll (hard leaved) forest on their way home.