Australia – Aboriginal traditional burning practices are being incorporated into forest fire management are more about people than managing fires.
While there has been ceremonial lighting of fires by Aboriginal Elders and exploration of traditional burning practices for some years, the partnership between Forest Fire Management Victoria and the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation will see traditional burning practices incorporated into the existing fuel management program.
“It’s actually implementing cultural knowledge and aspirations,” said Trent Nelson, Dja Dja Wurrung Ranger Team Leader with Parks Victoria.
The traditional burns are being conducted in wake of the $310 million recently announced in the state budget for planned burning and bushfire preparedness.
Mr Nelson said fire management techniques were crucial for reconciliation.
Some of the changes to the way planned burns will be managed will be the cessation of drip torches.
These hand-held fuel filled devices with a faster acceleration rate will be replaced with a more controlled “slower” approach using a more traditional drip torch made of a grass tree stick with red bush stringy bark wrapped around it.
“Cool burns basically take a lot of time to implement on the ground because we’re not putting that much fuel into it,
“From that we burn out in a circular pattern out into the bush and it creates a bit of a mosaic effect.
Assistant Chief Fire Officer for the region from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), Scott Falconer said fuel reduction was also about “getting the country back to what it was”.
Much of the central Victorian region had been mined “to with an inch of its life” and coupled with heavy forestation had contributed to a vastly changed landscape.
Mr Nelson agreed, “Our country is upside down country.”
He said after 170 years of the land being “disturbed and broken up and mismanaged” it would take an equally long time to reverse things.
“It’s probably going to take that again, maybe double to get it back to close to what our old people managed it,” he said.
Whereas he conceded there were areas beyond repair, there were still some remaining areas that showed potential and would benefit from introduced native vegetation and seeds.
“There’s still native grasses. There’s still vegetation there in low numbers we can work on, and we can build and use, ” Mr Nelson said.
Using fire as a technique to re-introduce vegetation would also extend to animals.
“Because a lot of areas you look at there is no fauna as well around those areas when our old people were managing country,” Mr Nelson said.
“We want to bring the fauna back in for a reason,
“And it’s not just for hunting it’s to actually heal that country and heal ourselves.”
“It gives us respect”
Crucial to the implementation of this initiative was involving elders from the onset rather than at the implementation stage.
“It gives us respect, it gives us a little bit of ownership as well of what’s going on and its a really simple thing to do,” Mr Nelson said.
For the first time elders elders were “back out on country”.
“They’re talking about the country, they’re feeling different things. They’re connecting and were learning as well from them of what they’re seeing,” Mr Nelson said.
“We can gain our knowledge from our old people its’ our cultural boundaries and respect that we build up in nature.”