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Slow burn.

Bruce Pascoe and Lyn Harwood present Black Duck: A Year at Yumburra to an Australia more open to embracing the new (but very, very old) approach to land management they're proposing.

Jul 3, 2023


Words: Gippslandia

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In early autumn, Black Duck: A Year at Yumburra by Bruce Pascoe and Lyn Harwood was published through Thames & Hudson, 10 years to the month since the release of Bruce’s seminal work, Dark Emu. Much has changed in the intervening decade, right? Opportunities for listening and learning have been seized, and some long-held views have been shattered.

We catch Lyn at home at Gipsy Point, where she and Bruce are recharging before heading off again up the East Coast to speak about the new book. From the outset, Lyn shares that touring Black Duck has been supportive and constructive.

Black Duck is meeting an Australia more open and eager to embrace the new (but very, very old) approach to land management that Bruce, Lyn and others are proposing.

Such radical change requires steady, incremental increases in momentum to reach critical mass. It’s a slow burn, much like the fuel management burns that have been occurring on Yumburra: creating a mosaic of varied foliage density across the property and opening the woodland.

“It reinforced our beliefs, as it clarified, affirmed and confirmed [our approach].”

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Recounting a smaller, kinder slow burn on the property, Lyn describes watching a praying mantis moving in front of the flames, having the opportunity to escape the fire front as it smouldered away.

The contrast between a controlled burn on a cool October day and the terrifying inferno of the 2019–2020 summer bushfires couldn’t be greater. These are bushfires that Bruce and Lyn battled against, side by side with the neighbouring farmers and community and, in turn, bushfires that may eventually be the catalyst in changing land and fuel management in the East Gippsland region and beyond.

Lyn speaks of attending local Fuel Management Group gatherings and their interest in new and different tools to reduce potential fire risk in the area. Even government departments, such as DEECA (Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action), are beginning to “think differently” and express an openness to potentially moving away from what Lyn describes as a “cost-effective but crass land management style”, and towards an approach that decreases fire risk while respecting culture and biology and protecting amenity. Again, a similar sentiment is echoed: it will be a long process, but the goodwill is there.

In penning Black Duck, Lyn and Bruce each kept a year-long diary of life on the farm, documenting their implementation and corresponding results from the changes, principles and approach Bruce advocates for in Dark Emu. They logged living the change, tuning more deeply into the surrounding environment and recording the results around them: the growth occurring across their paddocks, the growth occurring in the adjacent bush and the growth occurring within them.

Lyn says that creating Black Duck was a rewarding process. “It reinforced our beliefs, as it clarified, affirmed and confirmed [their approach].” She added during a recent ABC Radio National interview that it was more than “cathartic, it was pleasurable”, and that while she and Bruce didn’t write side by side, “It’s a shame it’s over, as it provided a platform to chat.”

In many aspects, Black Duck has been forged in literal and metaphorical fires, and Bruce’s vision for an alternative approach to land management as outlined in Dark Emu – one rooted in ancient First Nations knowledge – is all the stronger for it.

Black Duck: A Year at Yumburra by Bruce Pascoe and Lyn Harwood was published by Thames & Hudson and is out now where all good books are sold.

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