In 2009, over 6 million hectares of Cape York burnt. In comparison, Victoria’s black Saturday fires burnt 500,000 hectares. Across northern Australia, fires can occur at any time of year, but they are most widespread and at their most intense from September to December – late in the dry season.
Fire intensity is now recognised as playing a key role in either the survival or extinction of many native wildlife species, particularly mammals, across vast areas of northern Australia, fires that burn too hot and at the wrong time of year and across too much country are having a devastating effect on many populations of endangered species. Combined with the pressures of pest plant and animals, northern Australia’s ecosystems are in decline.
Northern Australia’s Indigenous population are well placed to play a central role in addressing the decline of ecosystem health. Through the application of traditional knowledge and a return to cultural land management practices Traditional owners are re-asserting more appropriate fire regimes.
In August this year, the Chuulangun Aboriginal Corporation, in partnership with Traditional Knowledge Revival Pathways (TKRP) hosted an Indigenous fire workshop to highlight the benefits of traditional burning. Held on the banks of the Wenlock River in the Kaanju Ngaachi Indigenous Protected Area, senior Northern Kaanju Traditional owners led four days of workshops and discussions on traditional burning practices.
This was complemented with workshops on traditional knowledge recording techniques, using contemporary science to quantify the impacts of fire management on vegetation, and mapping and monitoring techniques.
A central message from the workshop was that traditional burning, done early, in mosaic, maintains ecosystem health. Under these conditions fire rarely climbs trees, passes quickly through the grassy understorey and doesn’t eliminate understorey shrubs or destroy food resources or habitat.
The four day workshop was attended by over 80 people involved in land management from around Australia including rangers, fire services, lawyers, scientists, land holders, government and non government organisations.
Originally published in Ecotone (Vol 30 No. 3)