• Pakana rangers from mainland Tasmania teamed up with the truwana rangers to complete the cultural burning at Spring Bay Mill. (NITV News: Sarah Maunder)Source: NITV News: Sarah Maunder
The traditional practice is being revived following land returns by the government and private holders.
Sarah Maunder

1 Oct 2021 - 4:47 PM  UPDATED 1 Oct 2021 - 4:47 PM

A revitalisation of ancient knowledge is underway in Tasmania with a new generation of Aboriginal Rangers learning traditional cultural burning practices.

Land returns from the state government and private landholders have meant Rangers are able to bring fire back to their Country.

This week, managers of the Spring Bay Mill - a former wood chip-mill-turned-tourist site - have enlisted the help of Aboriginal rangers from truwana/Cape Barren Island, and mainland Tasmania, to get their property ready for the summer months.

Fiona Maher is the coordinator of the truwana/Cape Barren Island Ranger Program.

“I see (cultural burning) as medicine for us, as well as the land,” she said.

Brendan “Buck” Brown is a truwana ranger. He said cultural burning is simply about paying attention to the land.

“It’s burning the land with the right conditions, and knowing what’s in the plants, right moisture content in the soil and plants, and wind and the environment, humidity,” he said.

Before colonisation, cultural burning was performed by Tasmanian Aboriginal people for land management, communication, hunting, travel and burial practices.

“Those stories have always been there,” Fiona said.

“But we were stopped from burning, and since we’ve had land returned to us, we see the importance of bringing fire back onto our country, fire has always been part of our culture.”

The Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC) also partnered with the Firesticks Alliance Aboriginal Corporation to undertake training on country to further develop the community’s skills in fire practice.

Now, young people in the Tasmanian Aboriginal community are being taught the skills by their own community leaders and Elders.

Kulai Sculthorpe is a 20-year-old pakana trainee with the TAC.

“For me personally it’s really important to get this knowledge back, because it’s been lost for a while there, when colonisation happened and our Old Fellas were getting moved around, so it’s really good because it gives us a sense of purpose to get our knowledge back,” he said.

“To really understand why our Old Fellas did things the way they did, it’s important to teach the younger generations as well, so we can keep the knowledge alive, it’s only going to get broader and broader now which is great.”

“I don’t say re-learn, I say it’s always been there,” Fiona said.

“A lot of our culture I see it as just being put to sleep, and we’re reawakening that with that connection back on country.”

The Spring Bay Mill, on Tasmania’s east coast, is the former site of a wood chip mill owned by Gunn’s Limited.

The mill had been in operation from the early 1970s until 2011. The site was then purchased by Wotif founder Graeme Wood, who vowed to transform the site into a tourism hub.

The tourism hub partially opened in 2020 just before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Joe Picket is the Spring Bay Mill general manager.

“Tasmanian Aboriginal people have been caring for this environment long before white people were settlers here,” he said.

“We’re really excited to learn from them, and to see (the cultural burning) in action.

“Often people are scared of fire, but actually it’s been a part of the landscape here and it’s needed in certain types of bush.”

The rangers said that cultural burning will not only make the area safer, it also heals the site from its industrial past.

“Quite often all we’ve ever seen out on this peninsula is piles of wood chips, so it’s great we can assist them to rehabilitate the land back to a health state here,” Fiona Maher said.

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