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Culturally-informed Cool Burn Program

Culturally-informed Cool Burn Program

By Ewa Meyer, Renew Hunter Region Branch.

In EcoUpdate 20, I brought you the news about a special workshop that was held in Mallabula on 26 October 2023. It was hosted by Port Stephens Council which supports an Aboriginal-led working group to develop a ‘Culturally-informed Cool Burn’ fire management strategy over the next 3 years. The program is a partnership with the Worimi Local Aboriginal Land Council, Hunter Local Land Services, and Firesticks – an Indigenous organisation empowering communities to lead the way in healing the planet.

Mallabula site. Photo© Tamara Pennikett.

The program continues and a further cool burn is scheduled this month (July 2024) in Mallabula, with another in Salamander Bay, though the wet weather has been causing delays. Tamara Penniket

A culturally-informed cool burn is a low-intensity fire designed to improve land health, re-establish appropriate fire regimes, and reduce the risk and impact of wildfires. Hazard reduction is implemented to reduce fuel loads but in many cases, it actually increases some mid-storey vegetation species which thrive after a hot fire. Cool burns are done more frequently as conditions demand and fire practitioners can recognise when Country needs to be burnt. We’ve all heard about mosaic burning and burns can also be done by selecting the right vegetation community at the right time. When stringybark forests are ready may be a different time of year than ironbark or angophora communities. The tree canopy is where the seeds, the berries and the new tips provide sustenance for animals, it’s where koalas climb to find fresh leaf or to escape the fire below. By burning only the ground layers, trees remain undamaged, leaves unburnt and wildlife can continue to feed in the area. Firesticks believes that Caring for Country the right way means centring Indigenous knowledge in land management.

If you’re interested in learning more about traditional fire management, Firesticks, co-founded by Victor Steffensen, has the best information and resources on their website. Listen to these podcasts.

Firesticks is a national Indigenous network that empowers communities to protect and enhance Country and wellbeing by reviving Cultural knowledge practices. Through mentoring, training, and advocacy, we are demonstrating the value of Indigenous land management and knowledge systems.

Fire practitioner, Whitney Ridgeway. Photo © Tamara Pennikett.

In 2020, the first Firesticks Mentoring Program began in the Hunter region which culminated in the recognition of 22 new Cultural Fire Practitioners in 2023. Several of the new fire practitioners who graduated at a special ceremony at Murrook late last year were from the Hunter region.

Here is a message from Worimi and Bundjalung Associate Fire Practitioner, Whitney Ridgeway: Journey of a Cultural Fire Practitioner.

Useful links:

Did you see the Worimi Green Team on Gardening Australia recently? If you missed it, you can watch it here.

More cultural burns needed ahead of bushfire season – ABC News October 2023

Fire Country by Victor Steffenson – Book review EcoUpdate May 2024

Published: 5 Jul 2024