A fiery centuries-old Indigenous custom is slowly being revived in Central Victoria, providing a welcome return-to-culture for the local community.
For the Dja Dja Wurrung people of Central Victoria, the revival of the traditional burns is a most welcome return-to-culture.
On one hand, it re-acquaints the people with what was a dying aspect of their rich culture – with the added benefit of helping to heal and preserve the land.
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 is a Dja Dja Wurrung man and Parks Victoria Ranger who played a key role in a recent burn undertaken just north of Bendigo in Central Victoria.
“It's a practice that our old people used before European contact, so it's the way we manage the land and use fire as a tool to provide for our self, to provide for our habitat as well that we live in,” Mr Nelson said.
The recent burns undertaken as a joint partnership between the Victorian state government and traditional owners is thought to be the first of it's kind in the state in 170 years.
Elders from the local Dja Dja Wurrung community observed the first part of the cultural burn, and Mr Nelson says their presence and participation was welcome.
“Our elders come 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 a rarity now with our elders passing at early ages, so to do that is pretty special,” he said.
The Indigenous cultural burns preserve native shrubs and animal life, in contrast to hazard reduction burns which tend to burn far hotter.
Scott Falconer is the Chief Fire Officer in Central Victoria and says the cultural burns, when combined with some more modern techniques, have the potential to improve existing fire management systems.
“We strongly believe that traditional burning has a place within the fire regime in Victoria," he said.
"The objectives are slightly different - they still have an important fuel reduction function but they can also be applied for more nuanced applications like healing country.”
The hope now is to merge the traditional and modern strategies to improve the state's ongoing, 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 sees benefit in reviving the cultural practice and contributing to community safety.
“Dja Dja Wurrung wants to be as much involved in that as what we term our cultural burning to produce really good ecological results for the landscape,” he said.
Further burns are expected in Spring.