Abstract: Ecologists have long been concerned that contemporary fire regimes of central Australia have poor consequences for some plant species, vegetation communities and the native animals they support. Fire frequency, size and intensity (the ‘fire regime’) have all been implicated in the decline of native biota and in vegetation changes that potentially constitute ecological drift. However, not all perceived declines and changes are quantified or proven. The fire regimes themselves defy quantification and are arguably unknowable. We examine the relationships between fire, vegetation and the physical landscape and consider the adequacy of available knowledge for guiding fire management. Devising targeted ‘fire management regimes’, which take into account vegetation type and management objectives such as pastoral production, conservation and cultural observance, and which actively use fire to achieve those objectives, is a more realistic goal than controlling unquantifiable fire regimes in spatially diverse landscapes.