Traditional Burning Learning in Gobur and Merrijig

Amid rain, hail and sleet, a dedicated and passionate collection of community members, CFA members and Aboriginal Taungurung Traditional Owners gathered in Gobur, near Yea and in Merrijig, near Mansfield on August 18 and 21, to learn more about traditional Aboriginal burning practice and techniques. 

CFA was given a unique opportunity to learn from Victor Steffensen, Cape York Traditional Fire Knowledge practitioner and influential Aboriginal burning expert. 

 “It was too good an opportunity to miss, given CFA is committed to learning more about traditional burning practice and knowledge and in supporting Traditional Owners to bring fire back on Country,” said Alen Slijepcevic, CFA Deputy Chief Officer.  

“CFA, along with other fire services across Australia now recognise the immense knowledge and wisdom of Aboriginal burning practice.”

Victor, a nationally renowned traditional burning expert, works across Australia helping local Aboriginal communities re-learn traditional fire management and how to use fire to heal country.  In Victoria, past government policies and practices took Aboriginal people from their traditional lands and moved them onto missions and reserves, causing the near extinction of traditional burning practices in the state. 

Attendees heard from Victor about the practice of traditional burning, its importance and how it could be put to wider use. Importantly, he showed how, even in high humidity and freezing temperatures, a native grass could catch fire and burn. 

“The bush will tell you when it is ready to burn,” he said.

Aboriginal people from Taungurung, Wiradjuri, and Yorta Yorta traditional owner groups attended along with the Wocka Walla work crew (the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority work crew - made up of Yorta Yorta men).

Phil Hawkey, the CFA Vegetation Management Officer has been to Cape York and to other workshops with Victor, but said he was still learning.

Among the things he learned at Merrijig were that, “White smoke is good, means the fire is cool. White ash is bad, means the fire has been too hot.  Black smoke is bad, too hot. Black ash is good, results from a cool burn.  I knew the smoke colours and how they related to intensity but I had never had it related to ash.  And really there is so much that CFA can learn from this and can use to assist our planned burning techniques.”

Deputy Chief Officer Slijepcevic said there was mutual benefit to be gained from the adoption of traditional burning practices.

“We do need to make sure we work together with Aboriginal Traditional Owners in a respectful and genuine way, as this is their cultural practice, not ours.  If we do this right I think we will see a lot of benefits for the broader community, for Traditional Owners and for CFA” said Alen Slijepcevic.

Local Taungurung Aboriginal man, Shane Monk welcomed CFA’s support, as without it, Victor’s session may not have been possible.  It was also important he said, for CFA to be able to support traditional burning on private land as there is currently no Victorian legislation that allows traditional owners to carry out cultural burns. 

Jonathan Hayman, whose Gobur property hosted one of the workshops said of the day; “It was most informative and enjoyable, albeit in trying weather conditions.  Victor’s talk was most illuminating and really gave us all so much to think about on the concept of burning. It’s great to see the CFA’s involvement in cutting edge discussions on fire management.”

Robyn Rattray-Wood, a community member from Merton said; “I thought the Burning day at Gobur was great - really informative and interesting to hear the indigenous perspective and practice.” 

CFA would also like to thank the property owners both in Gobur and Merrijig and the Mountain Cattleman’s Association for providing lunch in Merrijig. 

Author: CFA News