Learning a 50,000 year old tradition

For over 50,000 years, Australia’s Indigenous communities have managed country by using traditional burning methods. They created a system that was sustainable and suited the Australian landscape.


Since 2014, CFA have set about to learn more about traditional Aboriginal burning practices. Two members from the CFA  visited Cape York during NAIDOC Week 2017 to attend the National Indigenous Fire Workshop. An annual event, the workshop takes place at the top end of Queensland, where the practice can be traced back to early traditional burning.

For the second year in a row, CFA Vegetation Management Officer and Euroa brigade volunteer Phil Hawkey and Eildon brigade volunteer Len Timmins attended the workshop.

Phil says traditional burning is very different to CFA methods of conducting a planned burn.   It is a method of cool burning that ensures fire never reaches the canopy.  It is low intensity so scorching is minimised and it behaves more like water trickling over the land.

“In Aboriginal culture the canopy is sacred as it harbours life and so their fires never burn the canopy.  They are single point ignition fires that slowly meander their way across the land and allow time for small insects and animals to escape the slow path of the fire,” said Phil.

Last year the trip was funded by an Emergency Services Foundation Scholarship and after seeing the value of what was learnt, CFA North East Region Community Safety Managers have followed up this year to fund a second trip.  

The Cape York National Indigenous Fire Workshop is in its ninth year, being held annually since 2008 and aims to get traditional fire regimes back to Country.  Lead by expert traditional burner Victor Steffenson, who has over twenty years’ experience in planned traditional burning and land management, the workshop is a very hands on and practical experience.

“It has completely changed the way I see the land, the way I see fire and the way I conduct a burn,” said Phil Hawkey.

There is hope more CFA members can participate in the Cape York workshop in the future.

An article has recently been published in the Asia Pacific Fire magazine about Phil’s experience last year in Cape York. Please follow the link below to read more.


Author: CFA News