It surprises a lot of people from southern Australia that far north Queensland has a bushfire season. But the popular image of a lush wet tropical zone is only true for some of our region some of the time. When it rains up here, it seems like it may never stop, but when it’s dry, all the vegetation that flourished during the wet makes a dangerous fuel load waiting for a lightning strike or human intervention to trigger a major wild fire.
Our fire season comes earlier than down south — where bushfires occur during the summer months. In FNQ, fires begin towards the end of the dry season, from late September through to the beginning of the next wet season at the end of the year.
The 2012 fire season was a shocker in the Gulf country, the area stretching inland from south-east and southern shores of the Gulf of Carpentaria. About 20 pastoral stations and millions of hectares were burnt in out-of-control fires, and the current wet season has been a non-event in the Gulf country. Cattle properties lost stock and pasture, and regrowth without good rain will be less than required.
Wild fires have been part of the seasonal cycle in far north Queensland for thousands of years, but with population growth in the past 100 years, new pressures and risk factors have developed. And there’s been growing debate about how to manage fire, how and when to conduct hazard reduction burns, and how to use fire to manage weeds and other invasive plant species. Indigenous people in FNQ have long used fire as an environmental management tool, and many argue our fire management strategies should draw on that traditional knowledge of country.
Today, new fire management guidelines were launched at Burketown that draw on indigenous local knowledge and best-practice modern science. The Gulf Savannah Fire Management Guidelines are a first, developed by the Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation, Reef Catchments and the Rural Fire Service.
“We want to extend a hand to all other landholders in the region and say ‘Let’s work together to manage fire’ says Gangalidda Garawa senior ranger Terrence Taylor. The Gangalidda coast line is in the Southern Gulf of Carpentaria, with the main community at Doomadgee – home to about 2000 traditional people. The new guidelines provide an easy to use technical guide for all of the prescribed burning that rangers undertake in the Gulf country.
Listen to Terrence Taylor explain the new guide-lines, and how control burns should be earlier in the year. Terrence also talks about how you can tell what sort of a wet season it will be by watching where female crocodiles build their nests.
You can downland the the Gulf Savannah Fire Management Guidelines here http://www.clcac.com.au/files/documents/42/gulf_savannah_guidelinesv9print_webready.pdf
These pictures of fire damage were taken on the road to Abingdon Downs Station – 100 kms north of Georgetown – where more than 400,000 hectares of grazing land was burnt out in December (about 90 per cent of the property). Northern Gulf NRM Group has released a report on the Etheridge Shire wildfires indicating more than five million hectares were burned out, at a cost of $10 million.