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Aboriginal Burn-offs Protect the Land

Traditionelles Abbrennen schützt die Umwelt Source: Trent Nelson SBS

Bushfires are a constant threat in Australia. The indigenous people of this land however, have always burned off their land, to look after it with their own ancient methods, and have thereby worked against the wild fires. This centuries-old Aboriginal custom called is now slowly being revived in central Victoria, providing a welcome return to culture for the local Indigenous community.

Well, what’s special about "traditional burning"?

Unlike conventional planned burns, designed mainly to reduce fuel in bushfire-prone areas, Indigenous cultural fires burn far cooler, meaning the smoke is light and patchy.

Trent Nelson, a Dja Dja Wurrung man and Parks Victoria ranger, has played a key role in a burn recently undertaken just north of Bendigo, in central Victoria. In an Interview with SBS Radio, he said, the traditional ways serve a variety of purposes.

"It's a practice that our old people used before European contact. It's the way we managed the land, and it's the way we used fire as a tool to provide for ourselves, to provide for our habitat as well that we live in."

1882 Australische Siedler brennen das Land ab um sich anzusiedeln
1882 Australische Siedler brennen das Land ab um sich anzusiedeln
State Library of Victoria


The recent burns undertaken as a joint partnership between the state government and traditional owners are believed to be the first of their kind in Victoria in 170 years.

Elders, like Mr. Nelsen from the local Dja Dja Wurrung community observed the first part of the cultural burn, and Mr. Nelson says their presence and participation was especially welcome.

"Our elders came out on-site, and they were just over the moon,* they couldn't believe it. And getting them out on country and walking country with us is (quite) a rarity now. A lot of our elders are on passing at early ages, and to be able to do that is pretty special."

The Aboriginal cultural burns preserve native shrubs and, importantly, animal life.

That can be in contrast to conventional hazard-reduction burns, which tend to burn far hotter and have a tendency to cause more damage.

The Chief Fire Officer in central Victoria, Scott Falconer, says the cultural burns, combined with more modern techniques, can improve on existing fire-management systems.

The hope now is to merge the traditional and modern strategies to improve the state's overall fire management.

Once the recent cultural burns have been assessed, consideration will be given to employing the process elsewhere in Victoria.

Dja Dja Wurrung chief executive Rodney Carter says he sees a benefit in reviving the cultural practice and contributing to community safety.