FOCUS caught up with Rachael Cavanagh, Aboriginal Partnerships Leader with Forestry Corporation to discuss the recent cultural burn that Forestry Corporation carried out with the Gumbyanggirr community at Niigi Niigi, or Sealy Lookout.
What is a Cultural Burn?
First Nations People of Australia have been using Traditional Cultural Burning Practices to manage land and Country for millennia. There are many layers attached to Cultural Burning Methods; some of these were used for Ceremony, hunting and gathering and to manage country keeping it healthy and safe.
Traditional Cultural Burning is carried out through cool burns, using spot ignition through a mosaic pattern. This allows for our wildlife to be able to move freely and carefully away from the fire, protects the top soil and promotes grasses and bush tucker. Traditional Cultural Burning reduces fuel loads and more importantly maintains the health of Country and forests.
What is the significance of a Cultural Burn in current land management practices?
For far too long burning practices have been about hazard reduction and asset protection, and being able to implement Traditional Cultural Burning methods in managing Country is vital to keep forests healthy. After wildfire you can see the damage it does to the bush and wildlife, and it takes a long time for the bush to recover. Also, due to the lack of the right type of burning that’s frequent and mild, we are seeing forests across the state becoming sick. As research states and history shows, using these methods ensure that the ecology is balanced. These practices are part of the deep understanding and knowledge of Country by Aboriginal peoples. Being able to engage the local Aboriginal community back out on Country to practice their traditional obligations as the Traditional Custodians is crucial. This empowers local communities, improving the overall health and wellbeing of people and Country.
Can you tell us about the Cultural Burn that happened at Niigi Niigi, Sealy Lookout, and how that came about?
On the 8th May, in partnership with the wider Gumbaynggirr community, Coffs Harbour and District Local Aboriginal Land Council, Bularri Muurlay Nyanggan, we started our Cultural Burning at Niigi Niigi or Sealy Lookout. The community led partnership started with a traditional performance and Welcome to County by the local Gumbaynggirr people. Uncle Bing, a respected local Elder, then used traditional fire sticks to light the fire.
We all conversed and watched the fire slowly move through the bush. The partnership was successful due to the community engagement, with lots of planning and the fact that community from all ages were helping. It was fantastic to see the transfer of knowledge between generations.
One of the reasons this burn is important is that we know the hills traditionally were burnt regularly, as the name Niigi Niigi in Gumbaynggirr language means charred charred, and it was great to bring traditional practice back to this area.
Tell me about the partnerships with community and why they are important.
Community engagement is essential for the successful outcomes of our partnerships. It is important that community is involved in the planning and has control of the decision-making, as they hold the knowledge to their Country. This ensures that we deliver culturally appropriate partnerships and outcomes specific to each community we work with.
A key part of what we do is maintaining genuine relationships with community to maintain our partnerships. One of our team’s goals is to return the community back to the bush and return the bush to the people, and we can only do this if our partnerships with community are strong. It’s about having fun too, sharing knowledge and stories, and the burn at Niigi Niigi was a great example where we all shared and had a great day.
What are the future plans for Cultural Burning on State Forests?
We are currently planning a number of joint burns we hope to deliver this year, if not the next. The Cultural Burning program is in its infancy, so we are all still learning and working out how to best implement these methods. We need to follow our organisation’s policies and procedures around safety and regulation, so we are still finding our way in how we can burn with community in a contemporary style. With the bush being sick and with high fuel loads, Cultural Burns need to be fluid and specific to each area to help get Country back right again.
I hope in the near future we will be regularly engaging Aboriginal Communities to help
safely manage State Forests using traditional fire techniques, providing local employment for our communities and allowing for the traditional connections to Country to be maintained.