Firefighters gain Indigenous burning knowledge

A team of 30 CFA members has returned from the Gulf of Carpentaria armed with new knowledge about using Indigenous cultural burning practices with conventional fire management strategies.   


David Allen, Westmere Group: "The whole trip was very beneficial, life changing actually."

The delegation was able to participate in the renowned Jigija Indigenous Fire Training Program thanks to an Enhancing Volunteerism Grant from the Victorian Government. 

Led by Gangalidda and Garawa Traditional Owners in north Queensland, the program is the only one of its kind in Australia.

While District 20 secured the grant, members were invited from other districts and the final delegation represented all five CFA regions and 14 of its 21 districts.

The team was led by District 20 Operations Officer Bryan Suckling, District 20 BASO Lisa Brettschneider and Vegetation Management Officer Eain McCrae, while two traditional owners from Aboriginal groups in District 20 also joined the team for the unique learning experience.

Volunteer Sustainability Team Regional Brigade Administration Support Officer Elaine Hamilton, who was instrumental in coordinating the course, supported the team from back home.

Operations Officer Suckling said the course had 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.

“We learnt the importance of liaising with traditional owners, understanding the ecosystems we're working in, biodiversity, seasonal burning and burn frequency, and also headed out on country to gain incredible insight into Gangalidda culture and practices” he said. 

“There were both theoretical and practical assessments and we come back armed with a wealth of information to share with our districts.”

Participants spoke highly about the benefits of the program:

Phil Hawkey, AFSM Vegetation Management Officer/Fire Investigator

"There have been many learnings from this trip however the big ticket item for me is the bringing together of the old and the new. 

"This community uses the age old skills of understanding and reading the signs Mother Nature shows for when burning is appropriate and then uses modern science to monitor sites both pre and post burn to record flora and fauna impact. There is also a documented planning process to ensure all stake holders are informed and in agreement.

"Our host Wrangler was passionate about ensuring knowledge is not lost. He believes that the fire knowledge is meant to be shared not just within the Aboriginal communities but for all to learn and appreciate the unique skills associated with this style of land management."

David Allen, Deputy Group Officer, Westmere Group 

“The whole trip was very beneficial, life changing actually. I think everyone that went as a whole new understanding and appreciation of Indigenous culture.

“Our job now is to further the progress we’re making toward our ecological aims, and our cultural aims”. 

Ian Fry, Second Lieutenant, Yulecart Brigade

“It was a wonderful learning experience. I was very impressed with the Jigija training, cultural insights and the outcomes they have achieved in their country with cool burning.

“They have worked in conjunction with local pastoralists to achieve great results on their land.

“They have lessened the possibility of large bushfires by mosaic burning and the biodiversity has improved by having better pastures and controlling weeds.”

“The next step is to extend the learning across the broader community and I will be conducting some sessions with the local CFA.”

Bridget Doyle, Firefighter, Kiewa Brigade

“It was fascinating to learn about the way fire has been used as a tool by the original inhabitants of Australia.

“But far more significant was the warm welcome we received from our Gangalidda hosts as they generously and patiently shared aspects of their culture with us."

You can learn more about the experience at Tarnagulla Fire Brigade Captain, George Filev's blog or by viewing the slide show below.

Photos courtesy of Tarnagulla Fire Brigade Captain, George Filev and District 20 BASO, Lisa Brettschneider

Author: CFA News and Media