Traditional Owners, firefighters, vegetation management officers and other stakeholders have come together to preserve culturally and ecologically important traditions in West Wimmera.
The Western Victorian Woodlands three-year project, is a partnership between Barengi Gadjin Land Council, CFA, Forest Fire Management Victoria, Trust for Nature, Greening Australia, Bank Australia, and Wimmera Catchment Management Authority, which provided a $25,000 grant to fund it.
The project culminated in a traditional burn led by the Wotjobaluk Nation at Minimay in West Wimmera in July this year.
As Australia celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as part of NAIDOC Week (8-15 November 2020), CFA Acting Chief officer Garry Cook said the project was a perfect symbol for how we can work together to learn from one another.
“We recognise that First Nations people have occupied and cared for our continent for over 65,000 years and we have a lot to learn from their culture,” he said.
Supporting cultural burns is part of CFA’s Koori Inclusion Action Plan, and CFA works with Indigenous communities across Victoria to promote and conduct the practice.
“By better looking after the landscape together, we can also improve bushfire safety,” Acting Chief Officer Cook said.
While fire agencies conduct planned burns for fuel reduction purposes, traditional burning uses ”cool burning” with minimal flame height that clears excess fuel, eradicates introduced species and allows native flora and fauna to return.
The burn was made possible by Bank Australia purchasing a 598-hectare block of land featuring culturally significant trees to establish a conservation reserve.
CFA West Region vegetation management officer Ian Morrison visited Cape York in 2015 to learn more about cultural burning and return the practice to Victoria’s south and west where important knowledge and experience has been lost.
“It’s so important for the Indigenous culture to continue on, and a good opportunity for us all to work together to learn about their history and how we can re-introduce traditional burning. “This is only the start of the journey,” Mr Morrison said.
Traditional Owner and Parks Victoria ranger Damien Skurrie, who led the Minimay burn along with fellow Traditional Owner Peter Haridene, said:
“We deem ourselves as fire practitioners. We’re very much in the learning journey to understanding the implementation of fire management in landscape and I feel the time’s right for us as Traditional Owners to start influencing our use of fires in landscape.
“We’re starting to build a platform now that we can go out as a group and manage country, in fact it’s customary lore and we see it as our responsibility to care for country.
“Trying to change people’s perception of fire - when you use it correctly at the right time of year, it’s not scary, it’s something we use to help manage the landscape.”