Aim This paper aims to reconstruct a high-resolution fire and vegetation history from a period when humans were absent in Australia. This is then used to comment on the frequency of natural fire in high biodiversity heathland, and to compare this with historical fire regime in the same region.Methods A section of varved sediment covering a period of c. 84 years was taken from Palaeolake Yallalie in south-western Australia. The sediments were separated into approximately single to small multiples of years and then analysed for charcoal, pollen and sediment analysis to reconstruct the environmental conditions at the time.Results The charcoal record indicates fire recurrence to have been roughly between 5 and 13 years, a little longer than those of the historical period. The pollen record was dominated by Casuarinaceae, Myrtaceae and a large number of Proteaceae species; these are intermixed with Araucariaceae, Nothofagus and Podocarpus. This suggests there was a mix of sclerophyll woodland and a mosaic of rain forest elements, thus conditions must have been wetter, particularly in the summers, compared with today.Conclusions We assume that fire was most likely confined to the sclerophyll vegetation, and that fire has been a significant feature of the environment long before humans entered Australia. The slightly longer fire recurrence times compared with the present result from the intermittent nature of lightning and wetter summers at the time.