Governments and fire authorities needed to consider taking a more local approach, and introduce on the outskirts of towns and cities clever landscape designs that included irrigation and green fire breaks in the form of parklands, that could work in conjunction with burn-offs to help mitigate bushfire risks.
Across Australia, early Europeans commented again and again that the land looked like a park. With extensive grassy patches and pathways, open woodlands and abundant wildlife, it evoked a country estate in England. Bill Gammage has discovered this was because Aboriginal people managed the land in a far more systematic and scientific fashion than we have ever realised.
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.
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.