Local First Nations learn more about cultural fire to care for Country
Kaurna and Peramangk cultural representatives travelled to Tjapukai (near Cairns) in August for the Biri Bulmba Budang National Custodians of Country Gathering, coming together with other First Nations from across Australia who are all working to manage Country.
Hosted by the Wet Tropics Bama and the Firesticks Alliance, the gathering demonstrated practical innovation for contemporary land and sea management, biodiversity, threatened species management and agriculture with several practical sessions and cultural workshops, with the use of cultural fire central to the theme.
Workshops also extended beyond the environmental focus and featured powerful expressions of culture and family connection, with performances of dance, ceremony and language incorporating elders and young children.
Peramangk cultural representative David Booth attended and spoke about the key learnings from the gathering.
“It was empowering to see how mob all over the country are creating real, positive benefits for community, Country and culture. I left culturally inspired, and felt a very strong connection through the generous knowledge and story sharing.
“To learn more about how we can use modern technology to manage Country through fire, and looking at science to verify the benefits of using fire on-Country, something that has been done for thousands of years, was really valuable.
“Seeing the way neighbouring nations work together to learn about and use fire for land management was very special. It showed the strength of working together and demonstrating to both Aboriginal and non-Aboringinal people how fire is making a difference. Also sharing culture, love and generosity through language, music, stories and dance was very powerful to me.”
“After networking and attending the workshops through the week, the traditional burn at Mona Mona on the Friday just pulled it all together. It connected everything and put all the prior learning into perspective.”
David also spoke about how some of the learnings from the gathering could be implemented in the Hills and Fleurieu region.
“I’d love to see a Peramangk fire team managing Country in the Adelaide Hills, working together with neighbouring Kaurna and Ngarrindjeri nations and also with non-Aboriginal people in the region. We’re stronger together,” he said.
This sentiment was shared by Peramangk woman Courtney Hunter-Hebberman, who also attended the gathering. She spoke of the importance of reading Country and using cultural indicators to help inform the right way of managing Country.
“We need to wake the language of Country up. By deeply listening to Country we will know the right way to care for our landscapes.”
Courtney was also strong on strengthening partnerships with landholders in the Hills and Fleurieu region.
“It’s important that people develop respectful relationships with First Nations communities and learn more about First Nations land management. In doing so, we can build a deeper understanding of the needs of Country, and together, we can then help heal Country and communities,” she said.
Landscapes Hills and Fleurieu’s First Nations Partnerships Officer Lachlan Keeley is optimistic about the opportunities for collaboration.
“It’s great that we were able to support our First Nations partners to attend the gathering. The ideas, enthusiasm and knowledge they have brought back is inspiring, and helps Landscapes Hills and Fleurieu look at ways we can integrate First Nations ecological knowledge to manage Country in our region.
“A key takeaway from landholders affected by the Cudlee Creek bushfire was the willingness to learn more about First Nations cultural burning and how this can be used to manage land. For fuel reduction, pest plant control, ecological restoration and agricultural outcomes, the benefits are becoming more understood.
“Having voices in our community who have gained knowledge from others who are further along the road in re-learning cultural burning practices, and are willing to share it and expand on it, is a really important step towards these practices becoming reapplied in the future,” he said.
The National Custodians of Country Gathering has been held annually for the past 15 years and is tailored to strengthen culture and share knowledge and experiences about the importance of recognising and reviving cultural fire regimes to care for Country.
The Firesticks Alliance is a not-for-profit, Aboriginal-led body that supports indigenous communities to activate and increase the use of cultural burning by facilitating cultural learning pathways to fire and land management.