Traditional Aboriginal burning practices were reintroduced to the central Victorian landscape in 2017. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

Traditional Aboriginal burning practices were reintroduced to the central Victorian landscape in 2017. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

Why Aboriginal leaders are calling for a return to cultural fire practices

Why Aboriginal leaders are calling for a return to cultural fire practices

Sustainability
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It comes as the Prime Minister raises hazard management in forests.

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ABORIGINAL leaders have urged "sensitive and practicable" country management.

It comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison puts hazard management in national parks on the agenda for talks with state premiers.

The Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council has released a statement seeking support for all Aboriginal people, "whose country and cultural wellbeing has been affected by wrong fire."

"Fire is a devastating element that brings great danger and great renewal," the statement says.

"Unlike the fires still raging across the south east of the country, some fires can be used to affect strategic change and regeneration."

A strategy launched in May last year outlined how traditional owners and agencies could work together to manage 'the right fire, the right way'.

The Victorian Traditional Owner Cultural Fire Strategy identified "increased risks to life and property" resulting from the departure from cultural burning practices, as well as "significant ecological changes to Victoria's natural environment".

Read more: New National Parks Conservation Trust to help protect Australian environment

Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council chair and Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Rodney Carter said there was a need for a renewed commitment to the strategy.

He said barriers remained to implementing the objectives and components in the 32-page document remained, including the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning's reluctance to shift its thinking and methodology.

"We can't achieve the [hazard] reduction we need the way we're doing it now," Mr Carter said.

He said cultural fires had asset protection and hazard reduction benefits, but they were not the primary aim of burning the way his ancestors had done for generations.

"You burn because you have to... because the environment needs us to," Mr Carter said.

He said cultural fire practices would lead to large swathes of land being managed, but not with one planned burn.

Instead, small patches of the landscape would be burnt as appropriate. That meant more small cultural burns over a prolonged period of time.

Traditional Aboriginal burns were reintroduced in central Victoria in 2017.

Speaking to the media, Prime Minister Scott Morrison raised the need to "deal with hazard management in national parks."

"As is often the case, those who on one hand say they are seeking those actions on climate change, which we're delivering, can on the same hand, also be those who don't share the same urgency of dealing with hazard reduction," he said.

"These are difficult issues to balance and resolve and this, of course, will be one of the things that we will consider when premiers come together after they've been dealing with the fires and that's where they want to be at the moment."

The Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council said Victoria's First Peoples stood together with all Victorians in this time of great trauma.

It looked to the regeneration caused by fire, once the smoke on the bushfire crisis had cleared.

"And we long for a future, for all our children, where we make fire of our choosing that brings health to the land and its people," the council said.

Mr Carter said Victoria's First Peoples needed to participate in the management of their cultural heritage.

"And the Aboriginal Heritage Act reinforces the importance of us being at the coal face of change and development in the landscape," he said.

"We must work together with all Victorians to ensure Country management is sensitive and practicable."

He said Aboriginal people's cultural heritage was best understood through demonstrating respect for traditional owners - "our knowledge, our skills, our appreciation and our heritage."

"The practising and protection of our culture and traditions makes us stronger and this strength offers all Victorians opportunities to value, understand and celebrate the unique cultural heritage we care for on behalf of all of us," Mr Carter said.

DELWP and Victorian Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Lily D'Ambrosio, have been contacted for comment.

The Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council's statement in full:

As Victoria's First Peoples we will stand together with all Victorians in this time of great trauma - trauma to our Country, trauma to our People and trauma to our Culture.

Before Victoria, this place was our Peoples' Country and had been for many thousands of years. It is still our Peoples' Country, it is our Mother and it can nurture us, but today we grieve for all those who have been harmed whilst sharing her with us.

Our People manage our Culture and our Heritage, not just for the benefit of our own mob but for all People that come to our Country and who call this place home. We want all People, all Families, all animals and all Country to be safe but, in this state of disaster, it cannot be guaranteed.

Our Ancestors, though all the struggles they faced living their life ways, were masters of living and loving our land. Through looking to our Ancestors, we will lead our truest life. As best we can be leaders in our own mobs, to the advantage of our People, we should bring calmness and guidance in this time of disaster.

We ask you, the broad, diverse, distressed Victorian community to work with Traditional Owners. Together we can understand the devastating effects of climate change and implement Country management strategies that will help heal our fire and drought ravaged land. Many Traditional Owners now have Country Plans, that are Strategic documents for Healthy Country and Healthy People, we need support to lead the implementation of these documents and realise their visions.

Fire is a devastating element that brings great danger and great renewal. Only added in July 2019 to the UNESCO World Heritage List, the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape was the first site in Australia to be included solely on cultural values. On Saturday, the Budj Bim National Park and Lake Condah were ablaze. These places have survived many fires and, hopefully, will survive many more. Sites in the North and East of the state, fundamentally linked to the wellbeing of Aboriginal Peoples, have also been ravaged.

Unlike the fires still raging across the South East of the Country, some fires can be used to affect strategic change and regeneration. In May 2018, the Victorian Traditional Owner Cultural Fire Strategy was launched. The Strategy was developed with Traditional Owners so that Country can be managed both sensitively and effectively. An enabling piece of work, the Strategy communicates our future together managing 'right fire, the right way' and the strategy is commended to all Victorians.

As a Council of Traditional Owners, we seek support for all Aboriginal People whose Country and cultural wellbeing has been affected by wrong fire. When the smoke clears, we can look to the regeneration created by fire. The Country regrows and sites are sometimes revealed. And we long for a future, for all our children, where we make fire of our choosing that brings health to the land and its People.

What we can take out of this is that our People and Country are resilient. We continue to be true to who we are and what our Ancestors created in this world - our sites, our stories and our dance. The good news is that we will be here in another 100,000 years, we can guarantee it - it's in our DNA.

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