The University of Newcastle, Australia

Tapping into tradition for land management

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

University staff and students recently joined members of the local Broke community to participate in the rare immersive experience of a cultural burn, facilitated by the Koori Country Firesticks Aboriginal Corporation.

The invitation to participate in this significant cultural event came via long time University supporter and local Broke resident, Mr Roy Palmer, who is an active member of the local Landcare group and a passionate advocate for the environment.

“It was a fascinating day and very possibly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our students to be so immersed in a cultural event”, the University’s Environment Manager, Daan Schiebaan said.

The day started with a smoking ceremony to cleanse the bad spirits. The burn itself, conducted by Dennis Barber - which was in part bushfire prevention and in part weed management - demonstrated the low heat approach that characterises this Indigenous practice.

Cultural burn Cultural burn at Broke 
Cultural burn for land management Traditional smoking ceremony 

“It really opened my eyes to a more gentle method of land management that was a powerful reminder of what country means to our nation’s Indigenous people,” Daan said.

As the burn commenced, native birds flew down for a look at the same time that the low intensity heat drew out the insect life – creating a feeding opportunity for the birds.

“The burn practice was about creating the right conditions so that the species present can adapt and rejuvenation is easy,” Daan said.

“Indigenous land management practices are starting to experience a revival, which is really exciting.

“I was struck by how the low intensity approach removed the usual fear of fire. We were all in really close proximity.”

The students who attended are enrolled in a Bachelor of Development Studies. The program deals with issues involving development, poverty, inequality and environmental sustainability in a current and global context.

Staff and students at the cultural burn

Mary Anne Gouch, Daan Schiebaan, Zoe, Roy Palmer and Jake

“We are so grateful to Roy for inviting us to this important event,” Planned Giving Manager, Maria Pavela said.

“He has helped to facilitate a profound personal and educational experience for us all.”

Some 40 people attended in total, including several young Indigenous kids.

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