People down south are often surprised to learn we have a bushfire season here in far north Queensland. It happens earlier than the southern Australian fire season, which is usually at the height of summer. That’s when our wet season is in full swing, so fire isn’t much of a problem then. But the wet helps a huge amount of vegetation to flourish, and when the wet ends, we get six months of mostly dry weather. By September or October, it’s tinder dry and is easily ignited – sometimes by lightning strike, or by human activity. Major wild fires ensue – in more remote areas they can burn for weeks.
The 2012 fire season was a shocker in the Gulf country, the area stretching inland from south-east shores of the Gulf of Carpentaria. About 20 pastoral stations and millions of hectares were burnt in out-of-control fires. Cattle properties lost stock and pasture, and regrowth without good rain will be less than required. This has re-ignited discussion about how we manage fire, reduce fire risk, and how & when we conduct hazard reduction burns.
Indigenous people in FNQ have long used fire as an environmental management tool, and there’s growing support for fire management strategies which draw on that traditional knowledge of country. A central part of that knowledge and practice is the ability to “read country” – to see the signs that indicate the right time to conduct hazard reduction burns. Cape York indigenous people generally advocate burning earlier, when the burn can be cooler – addressing the problem without causing undue damage.
A group of people from Cape York Peninsula is heading south tomorrow to share their knowledge with emergency responders and indigenous people in Victoria. This is part of a broader project to record and preserve indigenous knowledge that began in Cape York in 2004. It’s led to a national exchange of indigenous fire management knowledge – you can watch a video about the project here
The traditional knowledge project is supported by Cape York Natural Resource Management
Listen to program manager Peta-Marie Standley & Joel Ngallametta, Sharon Ngallametta and Dawn Koondumbin talk about their trip to Victoria, and the importance of fire management as a land conservation and environmental protection measure. Joel begins by talking about how the country round Aurukun is now – at the end of the wet season.