Lighting the Path traditional burning workshop

Two lucky CFA members headed up to Orange, NSW on 29 September 2014 for a unique two-day traditional burning workshop.

Roger Strickland, Planned Burn Coordinator, and Phil Hawkey, Vegetation Management Officer in Hume felt that the experience was incredible and changed the way they looked at planned burning and use of fire to manage the land. 

“It was a real eye opener and something that CFA can learn from and apply on the ground.  It could pave the way for a new type of planned burning that is more manageable for small landowners,” said Phil.

The workshop was hosted by the NSW Central Tablelands Local Land Services (LLS) and the Orange Local Aboriginal Land Council (LALC). Members of the Rural Fire Service also attended.  

Victor Steffensen, an expert in traditional burning techniques from Cape York, showed how traditional burning is used to restore the health of the land. In addition Peta Standley, a fire ecologist from Cape York, spoke about the importance of understanding traditional burning techniques and why they are so effective at rehabilitating the land.

The overall purpose of the burn was Gumbuanana Ngurambang which means 'bringing back country' in the traditional language of the Wiradjeri people.  The property, Girralang, where the burn was conducted suffers from an infestation of serrated tussock grass, an invasive pest species. 

The objective of the burn was to “improve conditions for indigenous species rather than kill off introduced species,” said Victor. This will allow greater space between the serrated tussock grass for indigenous grass to germinate.

Victor gave advice to the local Wiradjeri people on how to conduct these burns and better understand the land. He said, “This land is sick and needs fire”. 

Low intensity backing fire was used so as not to kill soil stored seed.  Soil temperature was to be low enough to place a bare hand on soil surface just after the fire passed.  Only single point ignition was used, usually with a match. The conditions on the day were cold with a top of 14 degrees and there had been some frost overnight so the outcome was a slow, low-intensity fire. 

“This is very different to how CFA usually conducts planned burning operations. We rarely consider low-intensity small scale burns,” said Roger.

Unfortunately, the majority of Aboriginal people in NSW and Victoria have lost their knowledge of traditional burning techniques and practices. This workshop provided a way to revive this knowledge and help the fire services understand how the country was managed for thousands of years.  

“The valuable lessons learnt from this workshop have inspired me and I am keen to work in partnership with the Aboriginal community to bring back traditional burning knowledge and practices,” said Roger.

CFA is keen to learn more and is planning to run a similar workshop in May 2015 as part of the Koori Inclusion Action Plan. 

If you are keen to take part or want to learn more, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Author: Angela Cook