.

  • Written by David Bowman, Professor of Pyrogeography and Fire Science, University of Tasmania
Modern fire managers can learn much from Aboriginal fire practice. Matthew Newton/RUMMIN Productions

Last week’s catastrophic fires on Australia’s east coast – and warnings of more soon to come – will become all too common as climate change gathers pace. And as the challenges of modern hazard reduction become clear, there is much to learn from the ancient Aboriginal practice of burning country.

Indigenous people learnt to use fire skillfully and to their advantage, including to moderate bushfires. Most of the fires were small and set at dry times of the year, resulting in a fine-scale mosaic of different vegetation types and fuel ages. This made intense bushfires uncommon and made plant and animal foods more abundant.


Read more: A surprising answer to a hot question: controlled burns often fail to slow a bushfire


Contemporary fire managers also attempt to lower bushfire risk by reducing fuel loads through hazard reduction burning. To minimise costs, this is often achieved by dropping incendiaries from aircraft.

Concern is growing that such methods exacerbate biodiversity declines and often do not prevent a subsequent bushfire. As climate change makes bushfires more ferocious and extreme, now is the time to better understand how our First Peoples used fire.

Patch burning in the Midlands region of Tasmania. The technique draws on traditional Aboriginal knowledge and can help in modern fire management. Alan McFetridge

A slow, ancient craft

Traditional Aboriginal fire practices are based on local knowledge and spiritual connection to country.

Before white settlement, Aboriginal people were a constant presence in the landscape, and traditionally burnt country by walking the land. This meant they could control the timing and spread of fire, as well as its ecological effects.

By contrast, most modern fire programs are far less flexible and responsive. They usually take place on weekdays in specific seasons and weather conditions. Many fires are ignited from the air – especially those in remote areas where vast areas of burning is desired. This technique results in bigger, more intense fires than those conducted by Aboriginal people.


Read more: Grattan on Friday: When the firies call him out on climate change, Scott Morrison should listen


Contemporary fire managers do reduce fuel in small areas, through ground crews working on foot. These crews often work in specific weather windows such as fog, and at cooler times of day such as the evening, to keep fires controlled and protect sensitive areas.

This method is reminiscent of Aboriginal fire practice and leads to smaller, less intense fires than aerial ignition. But it also differs from traditional techniques. Modern ground crews use “drip torches” – hand-held devices filled with fuel – and burn in a box pattern. By contrast, Indigenous people use a slower technique such as dragging a smouldering stick through the bush, and burn in spiral or strip patterns to achieve a mosaic effect.

A hazard reduction operation conducted by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Services in the Blue Mountains. About 120 hectares were burnt. Mick Tsikas/AAP

Taking lessons from the past

Aboriginal fire practice across Australia was severely disrupted by European invasion. The practice is being reinvigorated through initiatives such as the Firesticks Alliance, an Indigenous-led network involving training, on-ground works and scientific monitoring to better understand the ecological effects of cultural burning.

But there is a huge opportunity to further develop traditional fire management alongside western science. Our project on a farm in Tasmania offers a good example. Since 2017, University of Tasmania scientists have worked with a farmer and the Aboriginal community to reintroduce Indigenous burning to native grasslands (see video below).

This project began as straightforward research into fire management in an endangered eucalypt woodland community. It took a novel turn when the landowner asked that the Tasmanian Aboriginal community be involved. We then employed Aboriginal rangers to burn experimental plots.

Importantly, this research does not take the old-school anthropological approach of solely studying Aboriginal burning practices. Instead, it is a true collaboration where all parties learn from each other.

As a consequence, the project design changed in the course of the experiment. For example its original “efficient” approach involved burning predetermined units of a set size. But in the second year, Aboriginal rangers selected the areas burnt, resulting in a patchy and varied burning pattern.


Read more: Bushfires can make kids scared and anxious: here are 5 steps to help them cope


The project is still being monitored and results are not finalised. However it has already achieved an important goal: stronger cross-cultural partnerships.

Such initiatives should not be rushed. Genuine engagement of the Aboriginal community requires time, allowing trust to build between groups that don’t have a long history of working together.

The project took place on private property, at the request of a landowner who took responsibility for approvals and compliance. Such small-scale projects are excellent for building skills and allowing Aboriginal people to reconnect with country. Upscaling such projects to public lands such as national parks requires more complex negotiation and agreement, but this will be easier if a record of successful smaller programs exists.

Indigenous-led burning at a project site in Tasmania. Matthew Newton/RUMMIN Productions

Looking to the future

There are profound cultural differences between traditional and modern fire management, stemming from different understanding of belonging, place, history, values and metaphysics.

The growing fire crisis means it’s vital western science and Aboriginal knowledge are brought together to make communities as fire-safe as possible.

This includes a sustainable funding model for Indigenous-led fire management programs, as well as cross-cultural training for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous fire managers to better work together.

David Bowman receives funding to study fire ecology and management from the Australian Research Council (ARC) , the NSW Bushfire Risk Management Research Hub, Bushfire and Natural Hazard CRC, and the Tasmanian Government Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment.

Ben J. French receives a Future Leaders Scholarship from the Westpac Scholars Trust, supporting his research.

Authors: David Bowman, Professor of Pyrogeography and Fire Science, University of Tasmania

Read more http://theconversation.com/our-land-is-burning-and-western-science-does-not-have-all-the-answers-100331

Boosting Your Child’s Learning through Play

Being a parent is probably the highest responsibility one has in a lifetime. Once it happens, it becomes ongoing and keeps posing new challenges to us. Of course, it may seem easy from some perspe...

Diana Smith - avatar Diana Smith

Different ideas of Christmas Gifts to give to your beloved ones

"CHRISTMAS GIFTS – one of the best festival gifts to give to your closed ones. Find Christmas presents for everybody on your checklist. Christmas is now here, and if that you haven't got a hop on ...

News Company - avatar News Company

The Ultimate Guide to Sneakers and Sneaker Brands

When it comes to finding the perfect pair of sneakers, it can be hard to know where to start. Finding the right pair for any kind of occasion can be difficult, so brushing up on your knowledge of sn...

News Company - avatar News Company

View from The Hill: Morrison won't have a bar of public service intrusions on government's power

Scott Morrison has rejected or sidelined a number of recommendations from the long-awaited Thodey review. AAP/Paul BravenScott Morrison has rejected or sidelined a number of recommendations from the l...

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra - avatar Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

VIDEO: Michelle Grattan reflects on the year in politics

For their last video for the year, University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor Deep Saini and Michelle Grattan look backwards to the big issues which have shaped political discourse. They discuss the surpr...

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra - avatar Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Choosing a Heavy Weighted Bathmats

Decorating your bathroom doesn’t finish with the paint choice or tile colours. You can change the whole room with the change of your towel set. There are no rules that say that you need to have a ...

News Company - avatar News Company

God as man, man as God: no wonder many Christian men today are having a masculinity crisis

How men saw God shaped how they saw themselves, and in turn, how they saw women. WikimediaThis article is part of our Gender and Christianity series. To understand contemporary Christian ideas about...

William Loader, Emeritus Professor of New Testament at Murdoch University, Murdoch University - avatar William Loader, Emeritus Professor of New Testament at Murdoch University, Murdoch University

Australia needs a national crisis plan, and not just for bushfires

Bushfires aren't the only catastrophic emergency Australia is likely to see. AAP Image/Mick TsikasCalls are growing for a national bushfire plan, including from former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull...

Andrew Gissing, General Manager, Risk Frontiers, Adjunct Fellow, Macquarie University - avatar Andrew Gissing, General Manager, Risk Frontiers, Adjunct Fellow, Macquarie University

Your Christmas shopping could harm or help the planet. Which will it be?

Many Australian consumers are concerned at the environmental impact of their shopping habits, especially at Christmas. AAPAustralian shoppers are set to spend $52.7 billion this Christmas. In the word...

Louise Grimmer, Senior Lecturer in Marketing, Tasmanian School of Business and Economics, University of Tasmania - avatar Louise Grimmer, Senior Lecturer in Marketing, Tasmanian School of Business and Economics, University of Tasmania

Right-swipes and red flags – how young people negotiate sex and safety on dating apps

For many young people, app dating is just part of regular dating life. freestocks.org/UnsplashPopular commentary on dating apps often associates their use with “risky” sex, harassment and ...

Kath Albury, Professor of Media and Communication, Faculty of Health, Arts and Design, Swinburne University of Technology - avatar Kath Albury, Professor of Media and Communication, Faculty of Health, Arts and Design, Swinburne University of Technology

Bougainville has voted to become a new country, but the journey to independence is not yet over

The Autonomous Region of Bougainville, a chain of islands that lie 959 kilometres northwest of Papua New Guinea’s capital, Port Moresby, has voted unequivocally for independence. The referendum...

Anna Powles, Senior Lecturer in Security Studies, Massey University - avatar Anna Powles, Senior Lecturer in Security Studies, Massey University

Comfortable Footwear That'll Get You Through From Day To Night In Style

When you are choosing your footwear, you need to make sure that you are choosing something that is going to be comfortable. This is especially important if you are going to be wearing your shoes a...

Rosana Beechum - avatar Rosana Beechum

How to Have a Peaceful Retirement

Retirement is the time to treat yourself after a lifetime of working, to complete your bucket list and to spend time with the people that you care for. However, having a peaceful retirement can be d...

News Company - avatar News Company

Friday essay: eco-disaster films in the 21st century - helpful or harmful?

A scene from the 2017 film Geostorm: many societies have historically attempted to deal with collective trauma by replaying and restaging it in art. Warner Bros., Electric Entertainment, Rat Pac-Dune ...

Ari Mattes, Lecturer in Communications and Media, University of Notre Dame Australia - avatar Ari Mattes, Lecturer in Communications and Media, University of Notre Dame Australia

A new study shows an animal's lifespan is written in the DNA. For humans, it's 38 years

A genetic "clock" lets scientists estimate how long extinct creatures lived. Wooly mammoths could expect around 60 years. Australian MuseumHumans have a “natural” lifespan of around 38 yea...

Benjamin Mayne, Molecular biologist and bioinformatician, CSIRO - avatar Benjamin Mayne, Molecular biologist and bioinformatician, CSIRO

Vital Signs: Australia's wafer-thin surplus rests on a mine disaster in Brazil

On Monday the Australian government will release the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO). This will – as required by the Charter of Budget Honesty – provide an update on the key a...

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW - avatar Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

Don't believe the stereotype: these 5 charts show our democracy is safe in the hands of future voters

Almost 900 school kids, aged 12 to 17, were surveyed. ShutterstockA new, ongoing survey on how young Australians understand and imagine their democracy is already challenging long-held stereotypes. ...

Mark Evans, Professor of Governance and Director of Democracy 2025 - bridging the trust divide at Old Parliament House, University of Canberra - avatar Mark Evans, Professor of Governance and Director of Democracy 2025 - bridging the trust divide at Old Parliament House, University of Canberra

Private health insurance premiums should be based on age and health status

Policy changes have failed to stop young people dropping their private health insurance. ShutterstockPrivate health insurance has come under intense scrutiny in recent months, as it becomes clear heal...

Francesco Paolucci, Associate Professor; Head of Health Policy Program, Sir Walter Murdoch School of Public Policy and International Affairs, University of Newcastle - avatar Francesco Paolucci, Associate Professor; Head of Health Policy Program, Sir Walter Murdoch School of Public Policy and International Affairs, University of Newcastle

Knowledge is a process of discovery: how constructivism changed education

According to constructivists, we truly understand something when we filter it through our senses and interactions. from shutterstock.comThis is the second of two essays exploring key theories – ...

Luke Zaphir, Researcher for the University of Queensland Critical Thinking Project; and Online Teacher at Education Queensland's IMPACT Centre, The University of Queensland - avatar Luke Zaphir, Researcher for the University of Queensland Critical Thinking Project; and Online Teacher at Education Queensland's IMPACT Centre, The University of Queensland

Sick and Tired of Your Dead End Job? Try Teaching!

Tired of the same old grind at the office? Want an opportunity to impact lives both in your community and around the world? Do you love to travel and have new experiences? Teaching English is the perfect job for you! All you need is a willingness to ...

News Company - avatar News Company

The Impact of an Aging Population in Australia

There’s an issue on the horizon that Australia needs to prepare for. The portion of elderly citizens that make up the country’s overall population is increasing, and we might not have the infrastructure in place to support this. Australians h...

News Company - avatar News Company

LifeStyle

Boosting Your Child’s Learning through Play

Being a parent is probably the highest responsibility one has in a lifetime. Once it happens, it...

Different ideas of Christmas Gifts to give to your beloved ones

"CHRISTMAS GIFTS – one of the best festival gifts to give to your closed ones. Find Christmas pr...

How to Have a Peaceful Retirement

Retirement is the time to treat yourself after a lifetime of working, to complete your bucket list...

Latest Wednesday Lotto Results

Wednesday Lotto draw 3917 Lucky numbers for this draw were 43 followed by 25. The rest of the...