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The Answer to Managing Australia’s Bushfire Risk Could Lie in Traditional Aboriginal Practices

October 19, 2020 Visit Oceania No Comments Email Email

Australia’s catastrophic bushfires during the summer of 2019/2020 wreaked havoc Down Under. More than six million hectares of land were burned across six states, leading to the loss of one billion animals.

The event has boosted calls for a new approach to fire and land management. But rather than come up with a fresh strategy, Australia may only need look to the past.

Aboriginal people have used fire as a tool in the natural environment for tens of thousands of years. Today, many Indigenous tour guides double as park rangers who use the generations of fire knowledge passed down to them. If asked, they’ll tell you that as their ancestors walked the land they would burn, lighting flames to lure animals out for hunting, as well as for traditional ceremonies and cultural practices. Timing was everything: rather than spark flames when the land was crisp, Aboriginal forebears would only burn at the beginning of the dry season. That way, plenty of green growth would slow a fire’s spread. The fires were also deliberately small, so they wouldn’t get out of control. This careful method resulted in a mosaic style of burning that preserved wildlife habitats. It also triggered a gentle regeneration of the bush.

Mainstream interest in traditional measures is growing, but a combination of modern and ancient fire management is already used in many areas of the outback. In Western Australia’s vast Kimberley region, where both Kooljamanwilderness camp and Narlijia Experiences Broome operate, such practices are commonplace. Narlijia guides and Kooljaman’s visiting rangers are both familiar with these collaborative fire management activities, as well as the skills used in the past, and are happy to share what they know.

In the Northern Territory, where Kakadu Cultural Tours operates, local rangers also create fire breaks and burns to keep their country healthy. That means reducing dense patches of dry plant matter; Australia’s oil-rich eucalyptus trees are particularly combustible. While exploring the World Heritage area of Kakadu National Park, guides are able to explain traditional fire practices to those with curiosity.

Similarly, Lirrwi Tourism guides in Arnhem Land, north-east of Kakadu, understand and continue to implement traditional burning in order to reduce weeds and boost biodiversity. Much of the Australian environment responds positively to fire, with some species only blooming and seeding after burning has occurred. The same new growth serves as an enticing food source for wildlife – making hunting easier – while ashy ground reveals animal footprints and burrows, reducing the effort in food sourcing. Ask, and you’ll learn more.

Meanwhile, Dwayne Bannon-Harrison of Ngaran Ngaran Culture Awareness experienced Australia’s devastating major bushfires firsthand. His business on the far south coast of New South Wales was within the impact zone. He can offer a personal insight to this shocking event, while also explaining his culture’s long-held fire techniques and uses. Dwayne, like so many other Aboriginal people, knows that while looking ahead is important, we can also learn much from listening to the past.

DISCOVER ABORIGINAL EXPERIENCES

‘Discover Aboriginal Experiences’ collective is part of Tourism Australia’s Signature Experiences of Australia program that promotes outstanding tourism experiences within a variety of special categories.

This collection showcases a diversity of experiences delivered by the world’s oldest living culture creating truly memorable journeys including an exciting array of experiences for adventure seekers, cultural enthusiasts, foodies and nature lovers such as exploring labyrinths of ancient and contemporary rock art, quad biking, kayaking, whale watching, fishing, mud crabbing, hiking, taking a walking tour in a city centre or staying in a lodge on over 200 square miles of lily laden flood plains teeming with wildlife.

The collective represents 45 business around Australia in both regional and urban locations, offering over 170 Aboriginal guided experiences.

Designed to support the local Aboriginal tourism industry and ensure cultural preservation, the Discover Aboriginal Experiences program has flourished into a compelling case study of Indigenous cultural empowerment, and the power of responsible tourism.

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