Building climate resilient landscapes through cultural burning

14 December 2021

Wildfires are known and feared across the globe, but no country quite has a relationship to the power, fury and potential of fire quite like Australia. Our relationship with fire continues to shift and evolve – the devastating fires over the summer of 2019/20 marked a significant change in this relationship. But where fear might have increased, so too has our appreciation for older ways of living with and cultivating fire. From royal commissions to discussions over the dinner table, two words have been increasingly discussed as a hope for building resilient landscapes: cultural burning.

What is cultural burning? 

Fire was cultivated over tens of thousands of years by Australia’s First Nations peoples as not just a land management tool but a deeply ingrained part of life and a connection to place. One aspect of this ancient relationship with fire comes in the form of what is commonly referred to as ‘cultural burning’.   

Where fire is used across Australia by government bodies to manage landscapes, cultural burning is seen as a similar but more nuanced and potentially more effective method to use fire to manage bushfire risk. In 2020, the NSW Government accepted the recommendation of the NSW Bushfire Enquiry for an increase in cultural burning as part of its fire management strategy. It joins other states and territories in building up a wider understanding and use of cultural burning to reduce the impacts climate change is having on our fire seasons.

There are many aspects of cultural burning to be mastered by practitioners, but a core principle of cultural burning is the use of smaller, ‘cooler’ fires that clear away ground-level debris, depriving future fires of a fuel source and reducing the risk of major fire events. A deep knowledge of seasons and local flora and fauna also plays a major role in the cultural burning.  

An industry response to wildfires

The effect of climate change on more damaging and unpredictable weather events, including bushfires, is front-of-mind for communities and industries across the country. Suncorp regularly sees the impact of fire on everyday people, and has identified cultural burning as one avenue of land management it wants to support and grow. 

To drive conversations and an exploration of cultural burning, Suncorp entered into a community partnership in 2021 with the Firesticks Alliance Indigenous Corporation. This partnership will help support the training, assessment and certification of Indigenous Fire Practices in Cultural Fire for 14 different country types. 

"It’s about getting people out onto Country and using Good Fire to heal the land,” says Firesticks co-founder Victor Steffensen. “Because we know when we improve the health of the landscapes, we improve its resilience against wildfires.”

The increasing need for cultural burning

In a 2019 Climate Council briefing paper, This is not normalit was found that the 2019/20 bushfires that ravaged the east coast of Australia were exacerbated by climate change. One of the most important statements made by the briefing was that bushfire seasons were extending beyond typical time periods, reducing opportunities to reduce fuel loads between seasons. 

Climate change is making it harder for us to apply the techniques firefighting bodies have typically used to manage fires. Cultural burning is becoming an increasingly important part of the conversation about how we manage our land and protect our people and homes from fires. 

Being prepared for fire

While we continue to grow and develop our understanding and application of cultural burning, there are things you can do to protect your home from fire. 

A key part of your fire-ready plan can be having insurance coverage that’s right for you and your property. If you’re unsure what coverage best suits you, you can get a quote and discuss home insurance options below. 

Get a Home Insurance quote

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Insurance is issued by AAI Limited ABN 48 005 297 807 trading as Suncorp Insurance. Consider the Product Disclosure Statement before making a decision about this insurance. This advice has been prepared without taking into account your particular objectives, financial situations or needs, so you should consider whether it is appropriate for you before acting on it.