Moves are being made in the Shoalhaven to revive the ancient art of firestick teams and cultural burns.
Eight members of the Djuwin Mudjingaalbaraga Men’s Group have undertaken fireground training with the Rural Fire Service in preparation of forming a local firestick team.
Through his job, National Parks and Wildlife Services ranger Noel Webster, one of the facilitators of the program, has attended a number of workshops around the country and came up with the idea that could be adopted at a local level.
“We have developed a partnership with the Djuwin men’s group, Grand Pacific Health, RFS and NPWS to facilitate the program,” Mr Webster said.
Mr Bangmorra role is to use his expertise in preventing exactly the types of savanna bushfires that emit an estimated two gigatonnes of carbon worldwide each year. His is a risky and difficult craft, he carries out cool-weather burns in a mosaic pattern that stop summer bushfires in their tracks and this makes him very valuable in what is increasingly called the carbon economy.
“What we see here is what I call ‘upside down’ country,” Victor Steffenson says, taking in the typical bush setting around us.
“Where you see the roots sticking in the air and the canopy on the ground; thick on the ground and thin on the top.”
He points to several of the large parent trees whose tall trunks tower above the understorey.
Some have long black scars extending from the ground to several metres above our heads while others appear completely blackened and lifeless.
“You can see from the state of them, the hot fires have come and just been way too hot,” Mr Steffenson explained.
“And when we look at the forest floor, there’s no shade from these big bloodwood trees anymore [so] eventually, if we don’t do anything, more hot fires will come and all the black wattle that’s thickening the understory will burn hot again.
“All we’re going to have is dead wood, rubbish and more black wattle coming up and less grass.”
Charlie Massy trials fire stick methods in the Monaro.
Indigenous burning utilising the plant’s adaptations to fire throughout millions of years. “Some Indigenous people believe the die-back of certain populations of eucalypts on the Monaro and other regions has occurred because of the lack of burning” he said. “Burning gets the ecology going… it kills pests which threaten plants, kills exotic seed loads, puts charcoal back into the soil and it generates the germination of native plant seed and tubers.”
Without large-scale implementation of fire hazard reduction treatments, the costs of uncharacteristic crown fires in southwest forests will continue to increase. Federal policy continues to allocate vastly more funds to suppression than to prefire hazard reduction. We examined the economic rationality of continuing this policy of emphasizing fire suppression activities over restoration-based fire hazard reduction treatments. We compared treatment plus fire suppression costs to the cost of fire suppression without treatments over 40 years for southwestern forests. This avoided-cost analysis estimates the amount one could invest in treatments to avoid the future cost of fire suppression. Using conservative economic values, we found that avoided future costs justifies spending $238-601/ac for hazard reduction treatments in the southwest. We conclude that the policy of underfunding hazard reduction treatments does not represent rational economic behaviour, because funding hazard reduction would pay for itself by lowering future fire suppression costs.
The Australian Business Roundtable members are jointly committing resources to work constructively with governments to deliver in five critical areas including community education, risk information, adaptation research, mitigation infrastructure and strategic alliances.
A summary of the theme could be “spend more on mitigation and less on mayhem”.
How quickly do we forget the past? We have failed to learn from Australia’s traditional land managers and we have not learned from our early explorers. We spend huge amounts of money being reactive instead of being proactive. Our post incident inquires make recommendations but we continue to ignore common sense and reasoning.
Roger Underwood shares the following historic accounts:
Endeavour journal, 19 July 1770
Joseph Banks was with Captain Cook in 1770, camped at what is now Cooktown while The Endeavour was being repaired after hitting a coral reef. The sailors had angered the local Aborigines by taking turtles (without permission and without offering to share) and revenge took place by the Aborigines setting fire to the grass around the camp. Banks recalled in his journal:
I had little idea of the fury with which grass burnt in this hot climate, nor of the difficulty of extinguishing it when once lighted: this accident will however be a sufficient warning for us, if ever we should again pitch tents in such a climate, to burn every thing around us before we begin.
Never before in Australian history has bushfire fuel management fallen to such a low level that the majority of the countryside is classified as having “dangerous” fuel levels.
Never have our bushfire authorities placed such heavy reliance on firefighting as the answer to the bushfire threat, eschewing the “preventative medicine” approach of fuel management that was successful in the past. They ignore the fact that the suppression approach almost always fails when most needed.