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Wed 5 Aug 2020 by ABC, 7:30 Report

After the horrific summer of bushfires, there was a surge of interest in cultural burning, the way Indigenous Australians managed the land with fire for tens of thousands of years before colonisation. Now in the middle of winter, Indigenous groups around the country are doing what they can to reduce fuel loads and heal country, before summer comes around again.


DAN MORGAN: What we want, we just want the white smoke and the canopy just absorbs the white smoke. 

This is the traditional fire regime of Australia that has been practiced for thousands and thousands of years before colonisation. It is a method that works and it has been proven that it works for thousands of years. 

Do another patch a little bit further down so we have got a little bit of vegetation in between. 

My name is Dan Morgan. I grew up in Bega. I am a Djiringanj Yuin man. I work with local land services as the Aboriginal community support officer.

PETER DIXON: My name is Peter Dixon. My tribe is Kamilaroi Nyangumarda. We have been doing this for about four years, learning off and on.

DAN MORGAN: When we first put fire under country, we will always just put it in slow and let the animals and the plants know that there is fire. 

Just lets them smell the smoke so it just gives everything a chance to get out of the way.

PETER DIXON: As the old fellas say, if the fire is moving quicker than the bugs, it is too fast. 

So if you see it around in front of the fire, you should be able to see in front of you hundreds of little critters at all different sorts of speeds moving away from the fire. 

So if the fire is too fast for them, then it is too hot and too quick and those bugs will die and that affects the ecosystem, like the birds or the other animals that eat those bugs. 

So everything we do is always has a reason for what we do. Everything is linked, we’re linked to the land, we’re linked to the animals, to the trees, to the water, ocean. We are all linked.

DAN MORGAN: As you can see it is a safe fire. There is no flame height over waist height and it is just trickling along. We can walk with the fire and we’re not putting in lines of fire here where it convects and it sucks and draws in on each other. 

And so when you use fire this way, fire is your friend and it is not to be feared of. Fire is a living spirit in our culture and it is something that we respect a lot.

I tried there before, maybe back up here a little bit further. 

So this is the Bega Aboriginal Land Council land. This is like the southern Yuan country down this way. 

I have worked for a government agency, so I have worked with hazard reduction burns. I got to join Biamanga Board of Management as a traditional owner and it wasn’t until then that I met Uncle Victor Steffensen and went up and went to one of his workshops up at Cape York. 

Within one or two days of being there, my whole perception of fire had changed because I realised that we had been using it the wrong way and the way that we were using fire, by burning through hectares, it was damaging country and that is what I think is the problem today. We are burning through hectares, not country. We need to go back to burning for different country types.

PETER DIXON: This is still sand rich country. So the soil content that we’re standing on now is a sandy loam. So it is a mixture of between soil and sand itself.

DAN MORGAN: What we’re doing here, we are trying to burn for the health of the soil and trying to build that soil back up and then once we get that soil to a good health, it will hold more moisture. 

It is hard but this one because it is a reset and it hasn’t had fire on it for so long. 

PETER DIXON: A reset burn is basically we’re trying to implement the cooler fire through that bushland to reduce all that fire dominant species like bracken fern, kerosene bush.

DAN MORGAN: We have always had fire. The lightning, it is a teacher of fire. 

So we have always had fires in the history of Australia, nothing like the fires that we are getting now but, like there is no stories, no creation stories of fires like we have just had in this last summer. 

We don’t want that to repeat again in another couple more years. 

Culture burning is not a silver bullet. It is not an overnight fix but I really do think if we have a wide scale program where we are doing this type of work all the way up and down the coast, I really do think in maybe 10 years we could see a massive difference.

Bushfires lead to surge of interest in cultural burning
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2 thoughts on “Bushfires lead to surge of interest in cultural burning

  • August 14, 2020 at 8:27 pm

    Thank you so much VFFA! Great articles & a rare media outlet recognising the importance of going back to the old ways. Printing the hard evidence with no ulterior motive other than a regard for life, future generations & the planet. Neither the royal commission or the NSW parliamentary inquiry have published my submissions or point of view. Thank you VFFA!!!

    Warm regards
    Christine Finlay BA (UNSW) BA hons (JCU) PhD (UNSW) bushfire management

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