by Dean Yibarbuk, Bawinanga
Association and Peter Cooke, Caring for Country Unit, NLC from
Savanna Burning—Understanding and Using Fire in Northern
Australia, Tropical Savannas CRC, 2001
Eighteen thousand years ago, on a rock wall on the west of the
Arnhem Land escarpment, an Aboriginal artist depicted an emu being
speared by a hunter. Emu hunting has continued to present times
through major changes in the landscape.
Dean Yibarbuk, chief ranger with the community-based Djelk
Rangers at Maningrida, says, "Emu is very important, not just for
food, but it’s also an important animal in ceremony and
totemic associations for some clans. It’s an unusual bird as
it is not classified in our taxonomy with other birds, but is
included with large game animals like kangaroos.
"It has been a favourite food of our people for tens of
thousands of years but there is now a concern that the numbers are
"Perhaps the problem lies in changes in fire regimes. Too many
hot fires will kill the fruit trees or stop them producing for
years while they recover. Predators like dingoes or pigs could also
be having an effect— or maybe it’s a combination of
Dean says: "People want to see the numbers of emus come back
again so they can continue to have natural ‘emu farms’
for their own domestic use. And perhaps there may be some
commercial future there as well."