You do not need to be a scientist to know that the environment is sick. That how we are managing Country is not working and things need to dramatically change.

Since the introduction of western science through colonisation, Aboriginal people’s culture, customs, and beliefs have been suppressed, through these trying times our land management practices also stopped. The complex cultural and physical kinship connections between Aboriginal people and the land, and the use of this through Land Management techniques are often ignored or misunderstood by non-Aboriginal people. [1]

Traditional ecological knowledge is one term used to describe the cultural way of living for Aboriginal people, it explains the interconnected relationship between the social, physical, and spiritual belief systems. Aboriginal epistemologies are designed through recognition that there is no separation, no difference through the spiritual, social, and ecological aspects of Country, they are all one. [2]

Rachael Cavanagh Cultural Burn

Rachael Cavanagh putting in a Cultural Burn at Tallowood Ridge.

Image: Wayila Creative
© Wayila Creative

The 2019/2020 Fires season was unprecedented. Australia experienced catastrophic fire events that connected the entire east coast of New South Wales. With large uncontrollable fires burning in nearly every state. With mismanaged Country comes changes in seasons, our winters are shorter our summers are longer, and everything is generally getting warmer has created longer and more extreme fire seasons. But it was not always like this, Aboriginal people have been managing their lands/Country using Cultural Fire Techniques as a tool since millennia [3]

Cultural Fire practices are used for diverse reasons. Aboriginal people worked with the environment and used the climate changes to monitor resources and read landscapes. Fire was used to clear pathways, to encourage new growth, native foods and flora to grow, attract animals, hunting and gathering, reduce fuel loads, Ceremonial and gendered uses. All these reasons had a different methodology for implementation, there was always frequent fire in the landscape. [4]

Since colonisation, the use of fire to manage Country has changed. Fire was feared because of the damage it can do to crops and to infrastructure. Large hot hazard reduction burns where implemented. The reason for this type of fire was to reduce high fuel loads which was created because of the more frequent Cultural Fire was stopped from being used. Which in turn, the forest became thick with understory species, saplings monopolising space and invasive weeds creating larger fuel loads. This changed the landscape and ecology of the land dramatically.

You look after Country, Country looks after you Uncle Magpie Yeeribligin

Cultural Fire is used in unison with the landscape

Cultural Fire practices are used to clear pathways, encourage new growth, attract animals and reduce fuel loads.

Image: Supplied by Rachael Cavanagh
© Rachael Cavanagh

Cultural Fire methodology is used in coexistence with the environment. Through a complex system of kinship. Reading the landscape and understanding the species and the relationship with fire influences how the implementation is delivered. Commonly using varying spot ignition caters for weather changes and keeps fire cool, creating low intensity slow moving fire, will help create more coverage and better fuel reduction. Allowing for wildlife and insects to move through freely and for the plants to recover naturally. [6]

Our Country today is quite different from what it was like before European settlement. Our forests have changed, plants and animals have become extinct and species introduced. Our waterways dammed and resources being depleted. The increasing population growth and the increase of families, farms and communities encroaching into the natural environment mixed with western land management practices enforced on a Country that is not designed for a management style that we currently implement.

In today’s modern society, people and infrastructure are not just the only challenge. The greater challenges are not only to protect current biodiversity, cultural values and halt further decline of forest health but to also implement a healthy fire methodology back to Country using Cultural Land Management Practices.


[1] Sutherland and Muir, Managing Country; A legal overview. Oxford university Press. Melbourne Victoria. 2001

[2] Baker, Richard, Jocelyn Davies and Elspeth Young. ‘Managing Country: An Overview of the Prime Issues’ in Working On Country: Contemporary Indigenous Management of Australia’s Lands and Coastal Regions, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2001

[3][4] Bruce Pascoe, Dark Emu, Magabala Books Aboriginal Corporation, Broome, Western Australia. 2019

[5] Bill Gamage, The Biggest Estate on Earth, Allen and Unwin, Crows Nest, NSW, 2019

[6] Uncle Magpie, Cultural Knowledge keeper of Minyungbal People stated in interview in 17th January 2020.