Reviving Indigenous burning practices in a changed landscape: Report on 2018 Community Search Conference

Held on Friday 30 November 2018 9am-5pm at the Newstead Community Centre. A free event. 

Lighting up a DELWP Planned Burn undertaken according to traditional Indigenous methods.

(Photo Julie Millowick)

How we manage fire is an important conversation for rural and bush communities. What can we learn from how Aboriginal people used fire? Are those techniques applicable today in local landscapes that have changed a lot over the last 200 years?

At this one-day event participants explored to connect Indigenous fire traditions with current approaches to fuel reduction and planned burns to shape new ways to protect our landscape and communities.

This event was open to everyone with an interest in this topic: community, government, academics, researchers.

The program comprised three panel sessions which explored:

  • What we know about the history and traditions of Indigenous burning in our area?
  • How we might adapt Indigenous fire management practices to today’s landscape?
  • What about perceptions of risk?

Then thinking locally, participants talked about how rebuilding knowledge and practice of Aboriginal burning methods might help us manage fire risk into the future. What would a process of learning look like? What resources, capacity building, monitoring and other support will be needed?

While presentations and notes can never capture the magic that happens when people gather together to explore an important tropic like this one, Talking Fire is pleased to be able to share the following material with you. It includes links to some of the powerpoint presentations and also notes taken by two participants; please treat these materials with respect and acknowledge if you use or quote from them.

Welcome to Country

A smoking ceremony by Mick Bourke (Dja Dja Wurrung) welcomed participants and acknowledged Country and Elders.

Panel 1: What do we know from traditions, history and the landscape about fire and Indigenous burning in Central Victoria? Facilitator – Paul Foreman

  • What do we know about Indigenous burning based on traditions, oral and documentary history?
  • How was fire used by Aboriginal people? When did Indigenous burning stop in this region?
  • How do our knowledge systems contribute to how we see fire? How are fire histories constructed culturally?
  • What can be learnt from reading the landscape – vegetation communities and patterns for example – as to how fire was used?

Mick Bourke: District Planner, Forest Fire Management Vic (DELWP) – Returning Djandak Wi to Country

Sarah McMaster: PhD Candidate, Federation University – Presentation

Dr John Morgan: Lecturer, Ecology, Environment & Evolution, La Trobe University – What do we know about fire in the broadest sense from an ecological perspective?

Panel 2: Adapting Indigenous fire management practices to today’s landscape Facilitator – Chris Johnston

  • How and why to burn, or not burn? Learning from traditional indicators and decision-making processes.
  • Fuel reduction strategies – why we do what we do now and how it would need to change?
  • What is required to adapt to today’s landscape and settlement patterns?
  • Understanding and managing risk at the local level: the view from the brigade.

Scott Falconer: Assistant Chief Fire Officer, Loddon Mallee Forest, Fire and Regions, Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning

Doug Richardson: Brigade Captain, Newstead Brigade – Newstead Fire Brigade: Understanding & Managing Risk

Michael Sherwen: Statewide Cultural Heritage Adviser, CFA – How and why to burn, or not burn? Learning from traditional indicators and decision-making processes.

Panel 3: Perspectives on risk Facilitator – Brendan Sydes

  • How do communities understand and respond to risk?
  • How do governments – at all levels – perceive and respond to risk?

Matt Campbell: Senior Project Officer, Engagement, Policy and Planning, Forest, Fire and Regions, DELWP – The St Andrews Conversations

Dr Blythe McLennan: Research Fellow in Emergency Management with RMIT University’s Centre for Risk and Community Safety.

Professor Cristina Montiel: Visiting Academic, School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, University of Melbourne. (Chair of Research Group, Department of Geography, Complutense University of Madrid) – Traditional Fire Use Practices

Drawing the threads together: reflecting on key topics from the day Facilitator – Matt Campbell

How can we reshape the use of fire as a land management tool to better protect and enhance our landscape, ecosystems, people and resources? Can rebuilding knowledge and the practice of Indigenous burning techniques assist us?

Small group discussions focused on the key topics from the day, thinking about how the use of fire could be reshaped as a land management tool to better protect and enhance our landscape, ecosystems, people and resources. The three themes included:

1: Building community capacity and confidence
Understanding our communities’ perceptions of risk?
Contributing to a greater understanding of fire in land/ecological management?

2: Learning and adapting: community and government
What would a process of learning and adapting look like? Who has the knowledge to do this in Central Victoria?

3. Support and capacity building
What support is needed – funding, capacity building, legislative change?

A creative response to a small group discussion topic

Taking some steps locally? Facilitators – Chris Johnston & Brendan Sydes

Thanks & close: Dr Sam Strong

Project report

Here is our final project report, submitted to Mount Alexander Shire to acquit the Community Grant that helped support this event.






Cultural burn being undertaken by the Budj Bim Rangers on the Kurtonitj property

Josh Ferguson (left) and Sean Bell (right), Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation

Talking Fire is a community initiative designed to create different kinds of community conversations about fire.

For more information go to Talking Fire on Facebook or drop us a line at newsteadtalkingfire@gmail.com. You can also read about the 2016 Talking Fire event.