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I am a Minyungbal woman, Mother and Cultural Land Practitioner. I have worked in land management for 20 years. Over this time, I have worked within different agencies and different states, I have seen the same fire management used to care for Country, some more extreme than others.

There is a lot of misunderstandings around the different techniques used for burning. The language used to label these may be different for example, hazard reduction/planned burns/controlled burns but they all have the same purpose and used with the same intent.

This style of burning is a planned and deliberate fire used within control lines to manage a Forest to reduce fuel loads for the safety of people/ townships/ assets and infrastructure. One of the main reasons is for wildfire suppression.

The implementation of these planned burns is to manage large amounts of land. Using a drip torch, you purposely ignite the forest by walking with the drip torch beside you drawing a line of fire in the forest within your containment. Leaving a small gap and moving on. This creates a fast-moving hot fire that burns everything in it way. Really you could almost call it a controlled wildfire?

Rachael Cavanagh putting in a Cultural Burn at Tallowood Ridge
Rachael Cavanagh putting in a Cultural Burn at Tallowood Ridge Image: Wayila Creative
© Wayila Creative

We belong to different languages, different mobs, different Lore and different Country, there are many different reasons to why we use fire to help manage Country. The many layers include hunting, creating grassy pathways for foraging, medicinal plants and native food. To clean up camp sites to rid of any animals that might be near. Our ridgelines would be burnt to make it clear for easy access through our walking tracks. Fire was used to notify the mob that someone was walking through. It was used for Ceremony and was used by men and women for other reasons.

Cultural Fire practices are quite different, it is just one tool to help manage Country. Cultural Fire is used in unison with the landscape and the environment. Working with the Local First Nations community is essential. It is the local Mob who know their Country and their connection to Fire and knowledge of the local Forest.

This knowledge is important to the way that fire is implemented. Using the local knowledge of reading Country an area will be selected to put in fire. The local people look at the landscape, the species of flora and fauna and the kinship connection. The kinship of Fire and Country is a complex system which includes everything.

It is only after all these considerations is fire is then placed in the landscapes using small spot fires in a mosaic style allowing for the animals and insects to be able to move away from the fire. The fire should be slow moving and cool. So, it does not scorch the soil or harm the trees.

Local people, local knowledge

Cultural Fire is used in unison with the landscape
Cultural Fire practices are used in unison with the landscape and the environment. Small spot fires are placed in a mosaic style resulting in a cool and slow moving fire, allowing for animals and insects to move away. Image: Supplied by Rachael Cavanagh
© Rachael Cavanagh

Unfortunately, today, the Forests are overcrowded with invasive species, a monopoly of native species choking the forest due to a long time of mismanaged land in Australia and the absence of Cultural Land Management and good fire practices making our Country sick.

Ngajang, my Grandfather would talk of Guwang-an.ga, the rain following the fires, but we don’t get the healing rain after the fires anymore either because of extreme habitat loss and other impacts to Country to the environment the weather patterns have changed.

In Minyungbal Country, there was a time when we waited for the last of the summer storms to come through. The lightning would start fires in areas where the forest loved the hotter fires, the fires would move through quick and hot and go out when it needed too. But now we supress the lightening fires as they cause uncontrolled wildfires. The open Country where wildfire could move have been replaced, there is people and towns everywhere.

Overall, the intent and purpose of why First Nations people use Cultural Fire practices is vastly different to the fire regimes we see today that is being used by agencies everywhere.