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September 21, 2021

Taking cultural burning to the next level

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Cultural Fire cool burn. The fire is so gentle it left this paper daisy. Paul Dawson QLD

Earlier this month, indigenous communities from across the country came together for the Firesticks virtual conference on promoting cultural fire practices.

Cultural fire practices are a range of traditional techniques employed by Aboriginal communities for thousands of years to help control the fire hazard.

Held over two days, the conference provided an opportunity to showcase the important work that indigenous groups had been doing throughout the year as well as exchange ideas and information to aid in planning for the future.

Victor Steffensen, Co-Founder of the Firestick Alliance, an indigenous-led network that aims at reinvigorating cultural burning practices, kicked off the conference with a determined message to set the tone.

‘This [conference] is about taking [cultural fire] to the next level.’ He said.

‘We’re calling on agencies, universities, private landholders, all communities to work together and put our shoulders behind what is already working.’

Current fire management practices are failing to keep up with the rising severity and consistency of bushfires.  Mr Steffensen believes that cultural burning is the answer, but a lack of trained individuals is hindering the massive uptake in traditional fire management methods across the country.

‘“The healthier the land, the less likely it is to burn with wildfires. But we don’t have enough skilled practitioners to manage the country…a two-day fire certificate [is not enough]. We’re talking about 3 years to get started with a simple training program that is tailored to each region.’

Building a mechanism for investment

A funding mechanism for investing in traditional fire management was also introduced. Known as ‘fire credits’, the mechanism would work as a separate currency that would provide a direct investment pathway to individuals and organisations.

As explained by Rowan Foley, CEO of the aboriginal carbon foundation.

“Ordinary mums and dads who want to look after Country and are sick to death of having Country burned down could buy Cultural Fire Credits…corporations such as insurance companies are keen to invest [in preventative measures] because it is much cheaper to invest in Cultural Burning than it is to replace a house…landowners could buy credits to support a local Aboriginal ranger team to implement cultural burns on their property,” he said.

Cool burning has been happening locally on Bundjalung Country at Dorroughby Grasslands near Lismore Northern NSW photo by Julie Ryan

Ancient Solution backed by Modern Research

Australia is blessed to have a unique solution to this growing issue. One that has been tried and tested for thousands of years and continues to garner the support of the scientific community.

A study conducted by the federal government in conjunction with the CSIRO and Landcare Australia found that traditional land management had a number of benefits on both the environment and local community.

This included the revitalisation of local flora and fauna, improved soil quality, local employment opportunities, beautification of the landscape and reduced wildfires.

On the Fish River Station in the Northern Territory, the use of cultural burning was found to have reduced the area of land that had been historically burnt each year by late dry-season wildfires from 69% to 3%.

A study conducted by Stanford University also found similar results. By analysing a number of satellite-images, the Stanford team found that aboriginal cultural burning in Martu tribal land in Western Australia had moulded the land into a patchwork of spaced vegetation that radically reduced bushfires whilst simultaneously increasing biodiversity.

Cultural burning in Tathra NSW has also been reported to have reduced bushfires whilst creating many employment opportunities for local indigenous people.

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  1. It’s worth a try. But the climate has changed as is changing further; and the landscape has changed as well. There is therefore no guarantee that these traditional methods will still work. But as I say, it is worthy a try.

  2. WHAT !,
    Burning the environment reduces the amount of country burnt? Does anybody else see the idiocy of this policy ? OK , it might employ professional aboriginals ,but this is the stone age practices that resulted In the mass extinction of our megafauna and it has been shown by numerous studies ,that the more the environment is burnt the more fire prone it becomes .This is the same sort of insanity that sees taxpayers supporting coal mines. Can we have some sanity, please?
    Cheers, G”)


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