Coffs Harbour Local Aboriginal Land Council Land & Sea Ranger - Narina Ferguson at a cultural burn.
Coffs Harbour Local Aboriginal Land Council Land & Sea Ranger - Narina Ferguson at a cultural burn.

Inquiry offers hope for more cultural burning

THE recommendations following an inquiry into last summer’s devastating bushfire season will bring hope to some looking for movement on a critical issue.

The NSW Government’s bushfire inquiry into the 2019-20 season handed down its report this week and it contains some welcome news for those advocating for the proliferation of Aboriginal land management practices, including cultural burns.

The summer bushfires tore through much of the region, destroying hundreds of homes and outbuildings across the Coffs Coast and Clarence Valley with the worst affected areas being Nymboida and Nana Glen.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian has said the Government will adopt all of the recommendations from the report including two which respond directly to the significant community support for Aboriginal land management.

The report noted it was one of the issues most commonly raised by stakeholders, with widespread calls for the practices to be expanded.

One recommendation was that in order to increase the respectful, collaborative and effective use of Aboriginal land management practices in planning and preparing for bushfire, government should commit to pursuing greater application of Aboriginal land management.

This included cultural burning, through a program to be co-ordinated by Aboriginal Affairs and Department of Planning Industry and Environment working in partnership with Aboriginal communities.

Firefighters battle bushfires in Angourie, northern New South Wales. (AAP Image/Jason O'Brien)
Firefighters battle bushfires in Angourie, northern New South Wales. (AAP Image/Jason O'Brien)

Several examples of where cultural burning was credited with saving property during the season, including around Tabulam in the Clarence Valley, were presented to the inquiry.

“Many submissions and attendees at community meetings suggests that governments and land managers need to listen more to and learn from the people who managed the land for tens of thousands of years before British colonisation.”

A number of cultural burns have taken place across the Coffs Coast in recent years and the report echoes the sentiments of CEO of Coffs Harbour and District Local Aboriginal Land Council, Nathan Brennan.

Mr Brennan said legislative reform and investment were areas which needed attention to enable a proliferation of Aboriginal Land practices to occur, something the report drew attention to.

An out of control fire at Shark Creek/Brooms Head kept fire fighters streched to the limit. Photo Frank Redward
An out of control fire at Shark Creek/Brooms Head kept fire fighters streched to the limit. Photo Frank Redward

“Participants explained that current regulatory frameworks and the short-term nature of funding arrangements for cultural burning activities are limiting the application of Aboriginal land management,” the report stated.

Another recommendation urged the Government adopt the principle that cultural burning is just one component of a broader practice of traditional Aboriginal Land management and is an important cultural practice, not simply another technique of hazard reduction burning.

“Though hazard reduction can often be an outcome of cultural burning, more broadly, cultural burning is about caring for country and maintaining healthy and ecologically diverse and productive landscapes. It is also about practising cultural traditions.”

“Despite the widespread support for the practice … it is important to ensure Aboriginal traditions are not co-opted or appropriated by institutions for a narrow set of outcomes, and that the practice of Aboriginal land management needs to maintain cultural integrity and respect cultural authority.

“This is an important topic that goes beyond planning and preparation for bushfires. it is also about the ability of Aboriginal people to practice cultural traditions and the role of aboriginal people in decision making about land management issues more generally.”



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