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CFA walks together with Indigenous communities

  | Shaunnagh O'Loughlin Views: 1958

Monday May 27 to Monday 3 June is National Reconciliation Week – a week for us to reflect on our shared histories, cultures and achievements, and what we can do to improve Aboriginal inclusion and respect across CFA.

CFA walks together with Indigenous communities

National Reconciliation Week is held each year to commemorate two significant milestones in Australia’s reconciliation journey – the 1967 referendum and the historic High Court Mabo decision in 1992.

The theme for 2019 is Grounded in Truth; Walk Together with Courage.

CFA has a strong relationship with Indigenous communities and is committed to continuing to improve inclusion and engagement with traditional owners to better protect and care for country. Through the Koori Inclusion Action Plan (2014-2019) and Aboriginal Engagement Guidelines (2018) CFA aims to enhance cultural awareness, increase knowledge and understanding, and build on existing partnerships with Traditional Owners.  

CFA also embraces traditional burning - not only because it’s a safe and resource-effective method of managing fire at non-peak times, but for the social, health, wellbeing, employment, networking and capacity-building benefits for Aboriginal people.

Last year a team of 30 CFA people travelled to the Gulf of Carpentaria to participate in the renowned Jigija Indigenous Fire Training Program

The course provided members with invaluable knowledge on the importance of using fire to manage pastures and seasonal burning, as well as how fire authorities could integrate traditional practices with conventional fire management strategies. Upon return, further workshops allowed participants to share their experiences with their district and brigade.

CFA people will also take part in the FireSticks Cultural Burning Forum next week in Barmah. The forum is a celebration of cultural fire knowledge and practice, and will be co-hosted by the Yorta Yorta people.

Vegetation Management Officer Phil Hawkey said the interest in traditional burning among CFA people had grown.

“Brigades are continuing to develop skills and build relationships with their Aboriginal communities – we have 40 CFA people attending FireSticks,” Phil Hawkey said.

“I’m chuffed that more brigades are interested in learning traditional burning methods. Landholders too are gaining a new perspective on managing fuel on their own properties.

“There’s a momentum shift to an understanding of the importance of heritage and its value to our communities.”

CFA employed its first Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Officer in 2018. 

Michael Sherwen’s role through the Safer Together program is to improve CFA’s procedures and practices for heritage management. He provides subject matter expertise to CFA about cultural heritage sites, particularly in relation to fire events, and liaises with key stakeholders in relation to best practice cultural heritage management.

More than 18 months after Rochester Fire Brigade hosted CFA’s first Smoking Ceremony focusing on safe passage through the fire season, the brigade’s members continue to increase their knowledge of local Indigenous culture and the local clans in the area. In addition to raising the Aboriginal flag outside the station, members seek out opportunities to participate in ceremonies and celebrations run by their Indigenous communities.

In November last year Snake Valley brigade unveiled a new Aboriginal artwork outside their station - Regeneration of the Land for all People - by Marvan Morgan, an Indigenous man currently in Langi Kal Kal Prison. Inspired by the brief Fire to Country, the artwork is positioned next to a local walking trail so it can be shared with the whole community.

As part of the 2018 CFA and SES Community Engagement State Forum, CFA engaged Dja Dja Wurrung man Jida Gulpilil to lead a mural painting session. More than 30 CFA and SES members contributed to the painting which would go on to be called Sharing knowledge and engaging each other. Indigenous artwork has also been featured on the cover of CFA’s Annual Plan.

Acting Chief Officer and Acting CEO Gavin Freeman said CFA was committed to developing strong relationships with its Indigenous communities.

“CFA is an inclusive organisation and part of being an inclusive and welcoming organisation is to value, honour, respect and celebrate Indigenous culture and history,” Gavin said.

“Working together and developing strong partnerships with our Indigenous communities not only creates connection to culture and to the land, it helps us create connection with our communities - and this in turns helps us better keep community members safe.”

Further reading:

Find out more about National Reconciliation Week 

Read CFA’s Koori Inclusion Action Plan

Read CFA’s Aboriginal Engagement Guidelines