Australian First Nations peoples should have key role to play in bushfire management

SBS News 23 October 2013

Bushfires are a fact of life, particularly in a sunburnt country like Australia, where major outbreaks occur regularly.

Martu man burning off spinifex, fire-stick farming, Great Sandy Desert, 1996
(Source: National Museum of Australia - Photo: Mike Smith)

The CEO of the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance, Joe Morrison, said there may be a role for Indigenous Australians to play in helping to decrease the threat of fire and fire damage in regional australia.

"Oh well we feel a tremendous sadness I guess because we know there's a disconnect between people actively managing fire right around the country and the ability to then supress it later on.

"If you're not actively managing it or reducing fuel load then and taking a responsible approach to managing country then you end up with these huge events that are regularly occurring in the south."

In the Northern Territory, controlled fires, are used to harvest the land and to avoid major wildfires.

"We've had a situation right around the country for the last 100 years were people were moved out of the landscape and fire was seen as a bad thing and I think we just need to return to the days of actively managing fire and seeing fire as a good thing.

"It's an essential part of the Australian biota that the plants and animals rely on fire and it's in our interest to manage it."

Although traditional fire management techniques are practiced elsewhere in Australia, it's the south-eastern part of the continent that is effected by major blazes on a regular basis.

"Well there's scientific evidence but there's also historical evidence that when settlers arrived in Australia, particularly in the south, they referred to many of these places in the south as 'Gentlemen parks'.

"But these were managed landscapes managed by Aboriginal people so they can hunt and access their sacred sites and these are the kind of evidence that suggests, even in the south here, it was actively managed."

Joe Morrison says Aboriginal people have a wealth of knowledge of fire and land management that is currently underutilised.

"Well I think there's an enormous opportunity for Aboriginal people from the north to help share their information and knowledge with anyone," he says.

"And I'd be interested to see if there were opportunities for Aboriginal people who are managing fire to come down and talk and to share that knowledge with some of the fire practioners and fire managers down here in the south."

Australia's first people were Australia's first farmers
Historian drives the last nail into the coffin of the invaders assumption that the First Nations peoples were simple hunter-gatherers who relied on chance for survival.

 Article - Research: 'Biggest Estate on Earth' by Bill Gammage

First Nations 'Fire Hunting' benefits small-mammals: Research
Research finds the demise of small mammals in Western Australia is caused by supression of the First Peoples land practice of fire hunting.

 Article - Research: Stanford University USA