What the land remembers before colonisation

This webinar is the fourth in the Australian Centre's 2023 Critical Public Conversations series: Country, Climate, Colonialism.

In this talk, Victor Steffensen talks about memory and aligning with the memory of the landscape. When people think about memory, they think about their own memories in their lives, their families, and things like that. But as Victor explains, when we look at memory, it goes far deeper. When we look at the time that Indigenous cultures and humanity have been a part of this planet for thousands of years, and that memory is entrenched deep within the landscape. It's there within our vegetation, it's in our soils, it's in our animals, the way they behave, it's even within ourselves unknowingly with the way we feel when we're connected to landscapes and so forth. Talking about the memory of fire, it is all installed within our Country from the endless time that people have been on this landscape and interacting with Mother Nature. If we start to align ourselves that way, that's something that can only be done with Indigenous knowledge because Indigenous knowledge is also part of that memory system.

Themes raised in the webinar

  • Getting Indigenous knowledge systems to bridge and share, to bridge principles and indicators and be able to demonstrate itself practically, to allow the country to respond. Well, that's when we'll start to see the memory become more evident and more real for us to experience and feel.
  • The guide and the road forward to restoring many of the problems that we have today is to be following the land and listening to the land and getting our solutions from the earth. Healing for a better future and for our children in the future.
  • Reactivating and acknowledging the memory of landscapes revive practices, restores connections and aids survival.
  • “Mother nature remembers us”.

Questions and comments from the audience

  • How much are particularly government agencies or other authorities prepared to listen to knowledge, to engage with Indigenous knowledges about relating to and with the land?
  • There is that the underlying problem there that you're touching on is you know, there's a profoundly different way of thinking about the land, that is, you know, the capitalist model that says land as a resource, something from which you extract value and indigenous ways of knowing the land.
  • Balancing the sharing of Indigenous knowledge while respecting Indigenous rights and ownership is essential. How can we make this knowledge available to non-Indigenous people while ensuring that Indigenous communities retain ownership and control over their knowledge?

The recording is no longer available.


Victor Steffensen is an Indigenous writer, filmmaker, musician and consultant applying traditional knowledge values in a contemporary context through creative, practical and artistic projects.

He is a descendant of the Tagalaka people from the Gulf Country of North Queensland and holds a Doctorate of Environmental Science. Much of his work over the past thirty years has been based on the arts and reviving traditional knowledge for community and environmental challenges - particularly Aboriginal fire management, through mentoring, leadership, and on-ground training with Aboriginal and non-indigenous communities both nationally and internationally.

Victor is the co-founder of Firesticks, which works with communities across Australia. Victor has published a best-selling book called Fire Country which has been a major reference to his work. He has also published the children's book Looking After Country With Fire. He has also published songs "Cool Burning" and "Great Land" through his music label Mulong.