Vegetation Management Officer Phil Hawkey describes himself as “on a journey” as he increases his knowledge of Aboriginal traditional burning.
It began three years ago when Phil attended a traditional burning workshop in Orange, New South Wales.
“That was the lightbulb moment,” says Phil, “I tell people I’ve found something new that’s 30,000 years old. It’s done with method, with science, with great care,”
His knowledge took a giant step forward when he attended a traditional burning workshop in Cape York with Group Officer Len Timmins. Then in its ninth year, each workshop moves location. It means that, for his return to Cape York this month, there will be new lessons to learn amid different topography and vegetation.
Our ever increasing fuel loads are reaching catastrophic levels and are threatening our people, property and environment.
Regardless of your views on climate change, the fuel load issue is the only part of the equation that we can do something about. We react to fire without fully understanding and embracing its true potential as a tool for cleansing and rejuvenating the land.
This video was created as part of a photographic and book production by Peter McConchie.
We are seeing an increase in privately owned fire fighting equipment across Australia as rural people are deciding to ‘go it alone’. In NSW, farmers are working with their neighbours to provide fire protection that was once coordinated and supported by the state of NSW.
We are also seeing a trend where the NSW RFS is holding fire crews back from active firefighting activities because they are concerned about the safety of their volunteers. At the same time, the RFS is determined to stop the freelance firefighters and local land owners from battling the fires without the RFS.
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.
This years workshop is being hosted by the Balnggarrawarra Gaarraay Melsonby traditional owners who are looking forward to welcoming you on-country to share their culture, management practices and this beautiful part of the world. Melsonby is right on the Normanby River 40 minutes northwest of Cooktown. The country there is amongst one of the largest collections of rock art in the world, and the Melsonby rangers take care of this country including fire management.
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.”