April 10, 2023

Elders mentor young Aboriginal people in cultural burning practices

Program Trainee Cordellia with CTLLS Senior Land Services Officer Michelle. Photo © Supplied

Cultural burning has been used in Australia for tens of thousands of years to protect and enhance bushland. Now, across Wiradjuri Country in the Central Tablelands, a partnership between the Traditional Custodians, Firesticks Alliance Indigenous Corporation, Central Tablelands Local Land Services (CTLLS), and K2W Link Inc is helping train a new generation of Aboriginal people to undertake cultural burnings.

“Aboriginal people do burning for a range of outcomes to protect cultural sites, manage vegetation, manage fire intensity and protect areas, manage vegetation structure, and fulfil cultural obligations,” Greg Ingram, Aboriginal Communities Support Officer, CTLLS says.

“Cultural fire also has a place in ensuring a continuous living culture for Aboriginal people and the associated benefits to well-being associated with this.”

The program is supporting 17 Aboriginal participants to learn the methods of traditional burning with culturally endorsed fire practitioners.

“They are trained and monitored in line with traditional practices and lore, so they do not harm country or culture”, he says. “The training also protects the integrity of the actual practice of traditional burning.”

In 2022, trainees took part in a knowledge exchange trip designed by the Wolgalu Umbe Traditional Custodians supported by K2W Link. Funding from K2W Link was provided as part of the Great Eastern Ranges Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund project funded by the Australian and NSW Governments.

The trainees travelled to the sub-alpine region of NSW around Tumut to learn in the traditional environment, on Wolgalu country. There they gained exposure to true cultural teaching and nurturing with knowledge holders and Elders. This included the Wolgalu Umbe approach to the equally-important roles of men and women in their journey towards becoming fire practitioners.

The Wolgalu Umbe Traditional Custodians Corporation still undertake burning in areas of the Snowy Mountains region around Tumut, Brungle and Kosciuszko and have retained in-depth cultural knowledge. While out on country, they saw the impacts of the 2019-20 bushfires on the landscape and discussed western land management regimes from a cultural perspective.

“They were also able to learn about the impacts that an absence of cultural land management has on totemic species, cultural sites and the cultural landscape, such as the altered fire regimes, the fungal disease affecting the corroboree frog and feral animal impacts…There is evidence that current fire management is out of balance,” says Greg.

“This cultural emersion presents the trainee fire practitioners with an incredibly rare and exceptionally valuable opportunity to grow a deep cultural knowledge of country and fire and the relationship systems. As well as seeing for themselves the benefits of continued cultural burning.”

The trip, attended by Aboriginal people from across Wiradjuri country, was an extension of the main training and cultural mentoring program which is supported by the Local Aboriginal Lands Council of Bathurst, Orange and Mudgee as well as the North East Wiradjuri Corporation. The main program is currently funded by the Australian Government’s Black Summer Bushfire Recovery program.

Participants will attain certification in Conservation and Ecosystem Management Indigenous Specialisation through Tocal College, and at the same time participate in a cultural fire mentoring program based on a strong cultural platform involving key knowledge holders and Wiradjuri Elders designed and delivered by Firesticks Alliance. They also received basic firefighter accreditation from the Rural Fire Service.

This is an ongoing role in protecting landscapes and restoring the right fire regimes. Already, the group take regular burning events across the CTLLS region and supports communities outside the region, mostly within Wiradjuri Country.

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