Nelligen rural firefighter Robynne Murphy now sees more than a fire hazard in the overgrown grass and dense bush around Bateman’s Bay. Through her involvement with the Bateman’s Bay Local Aboriginal Land Council, her growing understanding of cultural burning has influenced how she sees fire management. She hopes that the wisdom of cultural burning will be imbedded more into the Nelligen Rural Fire Services in the future and a recent two-part fire education initiative, run with support of Highways and Byways, was a good start.
The Nelligen Cultural Fire Management Project: Healing the Land, Caring for Community project brought the community together to promote recovery and resilience in the wake of the 2019-20 bushfires, which ravaged the region and resulted in loss of lives and significant environmental and economic impacts.
A ‘sellout’ workshop, open to locals, farmers, local government and fire services staff, explored the differences between Indigenous cultural burning and practices used by fire services, as well as fire preparedness, cultural burning techniques and the benefits for flora and fauna regeneration. Walbunja Rangers demonstrated traditional fire practices during a cultural burn on a nearby farm after the workshop.
“The way we learn to manage fire hazards is very different to the approach of First Nations people whose priority is to care for the land and the fauna and to look more closely at what needs to be burnt and what needs to remain for seed propagation and safety of animals. We are taught to reduce fire hazards to protect people and assets, though we do of course do environmental assessments,” Robynne said.
“Rural fire services have been managing fires in a certain way for a long time so it’s a slow process understanding different ways and possibly integrating them into what we do. It won’t happen overnight.”
Several landowners who attended the workshops are now working with traditional owners to look at how cultural burning might improve their land and protect habitats.
“Apart from gaining a better understanding of the practice of cultural burning by Indigenous people, this process was a way of breaking down some of the barriers that exist in the community. It was a good beginning,” Robynne said.
Image top: Walbunja Rangers lead a cultural burn demonstration. Photo: Vikki Parsley via Nelligen Rural Fire Service.
Image insert: A workshop examined the differences between cultural and traditional burning practices.