In one of those ‘Why hasn’t this happened before?’ moments, Forest Fire Management Victoria recently joined forces with Central Victoria’s Dja Dja Warrung people to reintroduce traditional burns to the bush around Bendigo – documenting the occasion in this terrific film, above.
Incredibly, before the collaboration, traditional burns hadn’t been practised in Victoria for more than 170 years.
Yet incorporating the time-proven wisdom of this ancient practice into an overall land management plan makes the most stunning, practical sense. Dating back tens of thousands of years, traditional burning is underpinned by its cultures’ deep connection with, and understanding of, Country. Unlike modern techniques, which are hot and fast, traditional burns are slow and easier to control, with cooler flames. They preserve native shrubs, tree canopies and the habitat of the local fauna, protecting biodiversity at the same time as they reduce the risk of bushfires.
And in a land as flammable and species-rich as Australia, that’s gotta be a good thing.
But there’s even more to this win-win situation than that. Besides ‘healing country,’ the traditional burns are healing people: reconnecting Dja Dja Warrung locals with the land of their forebears and strengthening their sense of identity in the process. At the same time, they’re opening paths for younger generations to find work they can be proud of.
Dja Dja Warrung Ranger Trent Nelson describes it as picking up the flame from where their ancestors dropped it 170 years ago. His analogy couldn’t be more apt: on the morning of the first traditional burn, elder Aunty Fay Carter says she “can feel our ancestors’ spirits… We’ve made them happy and at peace.”