Fire as an environmental remedy for bushland? At first look, it seems a counter-intuitive notion, especially in a land so determined, for good reasons, to prevent fire in its cities and countryside. But the idea that the right kind of fire at the right time might help rehabilitate “sick” country, get rid of weed pests and promote healthy growth of vegetation – well, it’s catching on. Traditional indigenous use of fire as a land management tool – looking after country – is increasingly informing land management practices by governments, farmers and environmentalists.
But it hasn’t been an easy journey. A decade or so ago, suggestions that indigenous Australians might be on to something were met with indifference, even open hostility. But indigenous fire practitioners were making a persuasive, some say, a compelling case. Fire, they say, is an essential ingredient in the health of the Australian bush – but that’s not a one size fits all prescription. If you’re going to burn a bit of country, you have to use the right kind of fire at the right time, and have a very clear goal in mind.
Today, the sixth Indigenous Fire Workshop gets underway on Cape York Peninsula. People have come from all over Australia to walk the country- it’s Taepithiggi country – and learn from traditional owners and fire practitioners. How to read the land, the animals, trees, the seasons, and talk about the cultural responsibility of looking after country for future generations.
Victor Steffensen is an indigenous fire practitioner based in Cairns, and a director of Mulong, the company supporting the fire workshop. Victor talks about the many ways indigenous people use fire, and how their traditional knowledge increasingly informs non-indigenous land management.