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Bushfires Affect Everyone

The experience of fire brings people together to fight the fires and bravely protect the land they care for.

Charmaine and Rhonda are the ‘The Banana Women’. Read their real-life story to learn how these Aboriginal women firefighters protect their community at Lake Tyers in Victoria. Their connection to the land they live on involves much more than fighting fires. 

The Story of the Banana Women  

This is the story of some very brave women who are leaders in their community of Lake Tyers. They are firefighters, protecting their community and sacred land. Their friendship and their love for their country means they will keep putting on their bright yellow fire protection suits and going out to work as ‘The Banana Women’. But these superheroes do much more than fighting bushfires as you will see! Click here to read the full story.

Charmaine and Rhonda with their painted truck  
Image: Bauer Media, source: Trove

The Banana Women drive a specially painted fire truck that features an artwork called “Working Together”. Like many Aboriginal paintings, this artwork looks like a map of the land viewed from above. In it, you can see the animals, landscape, waterways and people and the connections between these elements. A traditional map can direct us to a place or even tell us about a place we’ve never been to, but Aboriginal artworks do more than that; they tell the story of a place and of the people who live there. 

For further inspiration on mapping in Aboriginal artworks, view the slideshow below of paintings by Jimmy Pike. These drawings were made with texta and pen on paper. They depict his desert home, celebrating the landscape as a place rich in flora and colour. Jimmy’s drawings of waterholes, landforms and plants appear maze-like, yet they can be viewed like “maps” of the landscape where he lived. See more Aboriginal artwork on the AIATSIS website.  

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Activities - Bushfires Effect Everyone

1. Make a map wall

After reading the story of the Banana Women, make a map wall of printed Google Earth maps to enhance your geographical learning. Follow the instruction sheet, then discuss the different features and characteristics seen in the landscapes on the map wall.  

2. Ask some inquiry questions

  • How do most people feel about fire? 
  • Why do some people deliberately light bushfires? 
  • What methods do fire brigades use to put fires out? 
  • What skills do firefighters need to have other than holding a water hose?  
  • List the culturally significant features of Lake Tyers and explain their importance.  
  • Charmaine’s daughter painted a traditional painting on their fire truck. In what ways do Aboriginal people choose to show their connection to land other than artworks?

3. Make some art

Create an artwork inspired by Jimmy Pike’s drawings and the Banana Women’s fire truck.

4. ​Explore your school or home garden

Find loose, natural parts suitable for making a ‘mud map’ that copies one of the printed maps. Use sticks and bark for roads, leaves for areas of bush and whatever you can find for ocean and lakes. Invent symbols to represent north, east, south and west. Add anything else that you think would be important for someone to find their way when using your map. Share your map with a partner and tell them about all the special features it has. 

For example: 
A mud map of Australia 

Banner image was sourced from 'The Australian Womens Weekly'.