Women on Fire

For my first post (yay!), some insights into the genesis of ‘Fire up Water down’ and the title ‘Women on Fire’. You guessed it. Being a woman with a long-term interest in the ecology of fire has something to do with it. As does my fascination with Indigenous belief systems including Shinto. That’s a story to be told in other posts, so stay tuned.

Fire is an element that can spark both delight and fear. Sitting around a fire has been a focal point for family groups for much of human history. Fire can be our friend and foe alike. It warms us, feeds us, entrances us. It certainly entranced me when deciding what research to undertake for my PhD. If you want to understand the ecology of Australian vegetation, then fire is an excellent starting point. Or I should say that fire regimes (their frequency, intensity, season and type) are an excellent place to start.

Spinifex fire in north-western Australia

Spinifex fire in north-western Australia

So that’s what I did. The impact of fire regimes on the distribution of eucalypt species was a theme in both my doctoral and post-doctoral research. Fire ecology is a very male, testosterone-dominated field. At least it was in the mid 1990s. Around that time I attended a fire ecology conference where there were around 100 men and 5 women participating. I was the only female scientist. That experience is indelibly burned in my memory.

As I discovered more about fire ecology and management over the intervening years, and about managing the environment more generally, I came to appreciate the diverse and important roles that women play – often in the background. It also became clear that science was one of many ways to examine and describe the world. Different forms of knowledge have much to contribute to our understanding of the way the world works. Fire, in particular, means many things to many people.

Building on this understanding, some years ago I conceived the idea of publishing a series of edited books on women’s perspectives on different elements – fire, water, earth, air and spirit/aether. What I am now referring to as the intuitive elements. Given my experience in fire ecology, the first book was to be called ‘Women on Fire’. The plan was to contact different women, including indigenous fire managers, fire fighters, psychologists and two groups in the US (started by Debbie Phillips) and UK called ‘Women on Fire’, to contribute different chapters. The aim was to give these women a voice and share their experiences. A list of people to invite as authors was drawn up and chapter headings drafted.

'Women on Fire' by Debbie Phillips

‘Women on Fire’ by Debbie Phillips

Then the diverse and captivating world of the intuitive elements intervened. As I delved further into these elements, I came to appreciate how integral they were to human evolution and our sense of place. Not only do we interact with them on a daily basis, until recently in human history they were considered the essence of life. They still are for much of humanity. A blog is the perfect place to capture the remarkable range of places and periods where the intuitive elements appear – in various arts, sciences, religions, cultures and the media to name a few. The book series is still on the burner, the heat has just been turned down for the moment.