Local Minjungbal Indigenous leaders are asking the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) to consult with them over a planned hazard reduction burn at Billinudgel Nature Reserve but a scheduled meeting was cancelled by NPWS.
The hazard reduction burn was originally scheduled for the Billinudgel Nature Reserve on 3 June with neighbours being informed by letter on 2 June.
‘We got notification that Billinudgel was going to have a hazard reduction burn which gave me time to get in touch with NPWS to discuss some options and ask them to sit down with traditional owners to look at cultural issues in the reserve,’ said Rachael Cavanagh, a Minjungbal woman and traditional owner that covers the Billinudgel Nature Reserve.
Rachael said a meeting was originally set up but was then cancelled by the NPWS who said that they would only speak to the Tweed Byron Aboriginal Land Council (TB ALC).
‘They are not the traditional owners,’ Rachael pointed out. ‘Everyone deserves a voice. We are on the Native Title claim for the Five Rivers and the Tweed Bundjalung people. We are the traditional owners who hold the cultural knowledge on the land values. We still have fire law that has been continued in our family,’ she told The Echo.
‘NPWS legislation states that they need to engage with traditional owners and knowledge holders. By their own legislation they are supposed to meet all registered parties.’
Rachael has been a fire fighter for 20 years with the Queensland National Parks and Forestry Corporation and is engaged with the Firesticks Alliance Indigenous Corporation.
‘I am in a senior leadership team for National Fire Sticks Alliance. We support and build capacity with Ingenuous groups nationally to support cultural fire practices and traditional land management for people on country. We look at the whole picture.’
Having been denied the option to meet with NPWS Rachael told The Echo that their lawyer has now sent a letter to NPWS to seek a meeting between the traditional owners and NPWS in relation to the burn.
‘Pretty much our family are fighting to be at the table and be part the discussion,’ she said.
‘They are planning to for a 70 per cent hazard reduction burn over two days which means it will be very hot, raging and overall health of the forest and the cultural values will be at risk, the understory will be and the canopy will be scorched, the animals will have nowhere to go to.
‘Regardless of whether it is Billinudgel or Cudgen. I will be fighting to have a say over the management of Minyungbal Country.’
‘Regardless of whether it is Billinudgel or Cudgen. I will be fighting to have a seat at the table.’
Local residents have also joined the call for NPWS to engage with the traditional owners.
‘There is an immediate opportunity to implement Cultural Burns in the Byron Shire at Billinudgel Nature Reserve, however, NPWS are refusing to meet with Traditional Owners. This is against the NPWS own protocol that requires all government agencies to notify and consult with registered Traditional Owners, Knowledge Holders and Aboriginal Land Councils about any development or practice that may impact their cultural lands or values. This register is held by the NPWS, who are legally responsible for the protection of cultural heritage,’ local resident Megan Edwards told The Echo.
‘This is not just about protecting cultural sites, this is about changing fire management practices to be culturally informed and led. Something that people across the country have been crying out for since the catastrophic Black Summer bushfires.’
♦ NPWS have been contacted for comment.