Burning the Bush, Indigenous Style

As we burn our way through the start of summer, there are some controlled burning techniques that are halting the expansion of fast, hot and destructive bushfires across our majestic landscape.

Indigenous folks have been re-igniting (pun intended) ancient fire burning methods to protect the countryside before a bushfire starts, but also helping the earth to heal after a fire has occured.

This article, Indigenous Fire Methods Protect Land Before and After the Tathra Bushfire gives a really great insight into cultural burns and how they are having a real impact on the environment. From the article:

In 2017, the Bega LALC (Local Aboriginal Land Council) began a cultural burning program as part of the management strategy for their landholdings. With training and support from the Far South Coast Rural Fire Service (RFS) and local RFS volunteers, the cultural burn crew prepared and burnt 3.5 hectares of land at Tathra West using methods informed by traditional knowledge.

Six months on from the 2018 Tathra wildfire, the land where cultural burns were undertaken in 2017 is sprouting with native grasses, in stark contrast to the scorched trees and dense bracken that mark the surrounding landscape.

“The old people wouldn’t have allowed big bushfires destroying the landscape, that’s like burning their house down,” said Indigenous fire practitioner Victor Steffensen. “The land is their food, their livelihood, their country, their home. “If they’d allowed wildfires to burn the country to a cinder, they wouldn’t have survived for so many thousands of years.”

I do wonder if there are some hidden gems for the rest of Australia to learn from here. It’s clear Aboriginal people have sustained on this marvellous country for so long, and as we face the reality of a changing climate, maybe they actually have some great things to teach us. Of course, that would require the authorities governed by white dudes in business suits to take a posture of humility and listen and learn and implement.

I found this really interesting:

“There’s a lot more care taken with a cultural burn than with a hazard reduction burn,” said George Aldridge, a cultural burn crew member with the Bega LALC. “We’re making sure we’re not burning habitat trees and logs [and we’re] keeping the fire cool so we don’t bake all the seeds and nutrients that are in the soil.

Now that makes a lot of sense. Instead of an intensely hot fire raging through a forest destroying everything in its path, controlled burns at lower temperatures remove the fuel that exists in loads, but also maintains the trees, shrubs, seeds and wildlife.

“What Indigenous fire represents is thousands of years of getting to know the landscape,” Mr Steffensen said. “It means connecting to the landscape, looking after the landscape and becoming part of that country again. “When we look at the damage caused by bushfires, tens of billions of dollars of damage, why can’t we put good money into looking after the land, and evolving this culture to be closer to the landscape in the future?” “It’s very homing, knowing that this cultural knowledge isn’t going to be forgotten,” said cultural burn crew member Peter Dixon. “It’s sort of a calming feeling. It’s our cultural obligation to do these sorts of things, has been for thousands of years.”

And whilst this is clearly an alternative approach to the current land management techniques used across most of Australia, maybe the fire burning method of ancient Australians can go some way to not just healing the land around us, but also the hearts between us.

Make sure go and read the article, it’s really insightful.

Photo by Dominik Kiss on Unsplash