Fire is undoubtedly one of the most important factors influencing the health of the country, economic viability, and the cultural values of Cape York.
Indigenous people have supported biodiversity with knowledge-based fires for thousands of years, but wild fires can be very damaging.
Wild fires mean that ecosystems are injured and may be significantly changed, graziers lose pasture and stock, and erosion and sediment run-off can badly affect even the Great Barrier Reef. People managing their property as part of a fire carbon farming project also suffer significant economic loss.
Recently there has been a resurgence in traditional burning practices on Cape York.
This, along with the management of fire savvy graziers, Rangers, and other land managers, has seen big improvements in ecologically sound fire management, typically patchy in nature.
A core sample taken from a remote Tasmanian island suggests Aboriginal people were using fire management on the island at least 41,000 years ago, experts have said.
The findings by a joint project involving the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC) and scientists could provide insight into how people adapted to changing climates.
The TAC invited fire ecologist David Bowman and Australian National University natural history professor Simon Haberle to lungtalanana/Clark Island in Bass Strait to conduct research after it was ravaged by fire in 2014.
They took a core sample from a lake on the island which contained charcoal and pollen.
From that they were able to reconstruct the island’s fire history by determining how often vegetation had burnt over thousands of years.
Arnhem Land – Aboriginal fire ecologist, Dean Yibarbuk, explains how traditional fire management practices have kept the country healthy for thousands of years. Recently, his mob have been working with local scientists to adapt the regime of traditional fire management to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
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.
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.”