Indigenous lessons first-hand

“It is vitally important to re-establish indigenous firestick land management practices in Victoria.”

That’s the message from Member for Eastern Victoria Region Melina Bath, who has returned to Victoria after attending the National Indigenous Fire Workshop at Cape York last week.

The workshop, held 70 kilometres inland from Cooktown, was run by indigenous fire practitioner Victor Steffensen and hosted by the Balnggarrawarra Gaarraay Melsonby people, who shared their culture and fire management practices.

Ms Bath has been following developments with the return of indigenous cool burning in other parts of the country, and wants to see this underway in Victoria too.

“Victoria is one of the most fire-prone regions in the world,” Ms Bath said.

“Over recent years we have seen the devastating impact wildfires have inflicted on humans, livestock and industry, along with a huge toll on native flora and fauna.”

“After attending events in Gippsland where Victor had explained traditional fire burning techniques, I was delighted to be invited by the Balnggarrawarra Gaarraay Melsonby people to see it in practice on their traditional land.”

Last week’s workshop attracted 120 participants from across the country, including Gippsland representatives from the Mountain Cattlemen’s Association of Victoria (MCAV) and the Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation (GLaWAC).

“For millennia, indigenous people moved through the country, reading and living off their environment. Through cool burning, they kept forests clear of undergrowth; promoting plant growth and animal food sources.”

“Mega fires are an ever-present threat. Whilst large scale planned burns by government agencies reduce fuel loads, they often they kill off the forest crown and reduce biodiversity. This in turn creates an inviting environment for opportunist plant species which then adds to fuel loads. It’s an unending cycle at a high cost.”

“Australia’s original inhabitants had the balance right. We should recognise the value of traditional fire management techniques and learn how to incorporate them into 21st century Victoria.”

“Government and the community needs to work with agencies such as GLaWAC to build capacity in our indigenous people to re-learn these valuable practices, and to implement cool mosaic firestick techniques in country Victoria. In the long term, this will heal our forest environment as well as improve public safety.”

“It may take some time to incorporate and integrate indigenous burning practices in cooperation with various agencies; however the outcomes will most certainly be worthwhile.”