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January 28, 2021

Taking cultural burning to the next level

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Cultural burn. Photo National Indigenous Fire Network Facebook.

Khaled Al Khawaldeh

Indigenous communities from across the country came together recently for the Firesticks virtual conference, which promotes cultural fire practices.

For thousands of years, cultural fire practices have been employed by Aboriginal communities to help control fire hazards.

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.

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

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

Practitioners needed

‘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 three years to get started with a simple training program that is tailored to each region.’

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’.

Meanwhile, 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 communities.

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 per cent to just three per cent.

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 while simultaneously increasing biodiversity.

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  1. From across the nation Indigenous communities met recently and joined together for the Firesticks virtual conference, promoting cultural fire practices that small fires beats out big bush fires.
    The dances began and beating sticks were beating and for a fleeting moment the searing heat of the bushfires subsided. It is what the Indiginous do as they are one with the land and off into the night was the wail of a didgeridoo.

  2. Let’s be clear, cultural fire practices have not been employed by Aboriginal communities to help control fire hazards, it was part of their food production practice. Since the dominant environment here was massively abundant rainforest there was no need for fire farming. If there had been any we would not have had so much rainforest.


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