The culture of fire

As an evolving modern emergency services organisation, CFA doesn’t just look to the future for new ways of doing things – it’s also learning from the past.

And when it comes to fire, we can learn a lot from the Traditional Landowners. This is one of the points underpinning CFA’s new Koori Inclusion Action Plan.

CFA Chief Officer Euan Ferguson said inclusiveness was important as part of broadening membership of CFA, but we also had a lot to learn from Aboriginal people and their relationship with fire.

“They use fire to craft the landscape, they have developed this sympathy with the landscape and with fire, which is something we are still striving to understand,” Mr Ferguson said.

“This shared culture of fire sets us on a journey of how to better protect our communities and importantly, how to better care for the country.”

Using the symbolism of a smoking ceremony, the relationship between CFA and our Indigenous community is detailed in a new CFA video The Culture of Fire.


The video is narrated by former Aboriginal volunteer firefighter Professor Henry Atkinson, who joined in 1954.

'Uncle Henry' as he is affectionately called by the Chief, explains the land was burned in a planned, methodical way with a thorough understanding of the traditional landscape.

The video includes stories from indigenous members, including Daryl Smith of South Morang, Jamie Atkins, Captain of the Broadford Fire Brigade, and Charmaine Sellings from the Lake Tyers Satellite Brigade.

“When I’m out on the land I get the feeling of my ancestors out there,” Daryl said.

“I even get the feeling our ancestors are saying thank you to the CFA for looking after the land – that’s what is important to us.”

North East Region Vegetation Management Officer Phil Hawkey tells of a burn workshop he attended in Orange, NSW, which included traditional burning of treat serrated tussock with the traditional owners.

Phil spoke of seeing first-hand a cool burn “so cool that moments after the fire passed over the land you could put your hand on the ground behind the fire front and the ground was quite cold”.

“The skills shown by the Traditional Owners and the burning crew from Cape York were fantastic to see. They had a really good understanding of fire behaviour. The way it was lit and travelled across the landscape was very gentle,” Phil said.

Phil said learning such a style of burning was not just an opportunity for CFA, but also for landowners to manage their own properties.

The video also discusses the issue of preserving cultural sites, including the need for districts and brigades to learn about significant sites in their area, such as middens and scar trees, in order to ensure their protection.

The indigenous members featured in the video encourage others to consider joining.

Former firefighter and Lake Tyers Trust CEO Stephen Tregonning said there was a role for everyone in CFA, a community where you can learn new skills, increase confidence and build yourself a future.

“Everybody needs a sense of community – it doesn’t matter where you are, who or what colour your skin is.”


The film ‘The Culture of Fire’ debuted at the launch of the Koori Inclusion Action Plan. 



Author: CFA Media