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.
The reason why Firesticks was established was to create some support for the communities to be able to re-engage with country and to rebuild their knowledge of landscapes and culture and also to find those opportunities of employment and education that are so drastically needed.
Post the 2019 bushfires there's been a real awakening of the importance of cultural burning and Suncorp's a value-aligned partner and that's really important to us as well that we form partnerships with organizations and corporates that are value-aligned to the values of firesticks as well.
We as an insurance company in a bank – we know all so well the impact of fire. The great bushfire event of two years ago and the impact that had not only on property but on people and this is about looking at fire management from a completely different perspective.
What Aboriginal people and knowledge has shown us over thousands of years is that it's crucial that we're connected to landscapes and that we're passing down knowledge of looking out for land and that our culture is a part of that and we celebrate that it's bringing back a practice that's always been there. It's always a gentle fire when we're when we burn the grasslands and the open Eucalyptus systems up here and our window is sort of aligned to those relationships between our grasses, soils and trees.
Getting that knowledge now and training the younger generations – that's the key and passing that on where it creates those avenues of employment and education and that needs to be done through training courses and education courses and they need those courses to be able to learn such knowledge. So we're aiming at training programs from PhD levels to scholarships to diplomas, producing more practitioners to look after country, more monitoring, more scientists. That extensive knowledge of landscapes that aboriginal people had over Australia, it was almost lost in a lot of places and rebuilding that knowledge for a lot of communities is key. Having Suncorp in there as a partner is so significant and to know that this is something that we're all in together – it's all about partnerships and working together and when we see partners like Suncorp get involved it shows us that we're on the right track in sharing and involving everybody and making this huge task of saving our culture and saving our country into the future a task that everyone can be a part of and that everyone can contribute to.
"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 normal, it 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.
1. Trim hoverhanging branches
2. Clean gutters
3. Consider getting fire-resistant gutters or ember guards
4. Check your garden hose can reach property boundaries
5. Check that smoke alarms and extinguishers work
6. Have an evacuation plan ready
7. Pack a survival kit
8. Prepare a list of emergency numbers
9. Learn how to safely turn off your power, water and gas
10. Check if you’re adequately covered by your insurance and if you’re covered for bushfires
11. Take photos of your property and possessions to help you in a claim
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.
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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.