Fire & Land ManagementMany people do not realize the amount of careful consideration that aboriginal people have for fire management of their lands and absolute love and respect they have for every living thing therein. We will attempt to demonstrate this great love and understanding through the sharing of knowledge.
Fire to aboriginal people could be a useful tool or a terribly destructive force and as their very existence depended on good fire management, fire was used with great intelligence and caution.
“In the Nyul Nyul tribe there were two old men, elders, bush doctors, grandfathers of our tribe. They were professors of the land and knew what it held. It was them that instructed us men in land caring and it was our job to keep the country safe from fire and make sure that the trees were healthy and fruited regularly. Everything relied on aboriginal land management. Women also had their elders, grandmothers our medicine women. The girls and boys were taught when the time was right for them to learn. Women were the main harvester’s but everyone worked together and pitched in to make sure we had everything we needed to survive each day. This is how we survived so long in this country.” Bruno says “Every one has a role to play and everyone fulfilled their purpose.” We were happy and satisfied with what we have and what we’ve got.” “White people such as the police or priests from the Mission said to our old people, “You people are useless and hopeless people and never did anything with this land. “You don’t deserve to have this country.” ”This broke my old people’s heart. This country meant everything to them.”“Our old, old people kept this country clean and pure as the time it was created and that was what was important to us, that was the job we were given by our great creator. “We, the Nyul Nyul People!”
Aboriginal people, we know went with the land followed the shapes we know as contours. When they practiced fire management it was achieved by this method and was very carefully implemented. Land was dived up into areas and systematically burnt in season for hunting purposes and to reduce fuel. Each section was then in turn only burnt every few years in a rotation system allowing huge areas to be left untouched as wildlife and aboriginal people depended on flora in these areas for their food sources.
Fire was a seasonal tool and not used for hunting most of the year. In the Kimberley it’s done traditionally in the cool, dry, dewy season on windless early mornings or late afternoons. We start burning mid May when the lower storey is still green and the grass and leaves burn cool.
At the twin lakes we burn our contour sections using fire resistant areas such as lakes, springs, walking tacks and roads as our fire breaks and with cold fires we find this technique effective. If a fire jumps over a road or track we have a water tank on hand or use green branches of fire resistant plants to smother the flames. Main thing is to stick with the fire and burn into breaks and fire resistant areas. Also back burning can be effective if the fire looks like it’s getting big where there is an excess of fuel.
We always clear fuel from along our tracks and roadsides which widens breaks considerably. This is also done around special sites, vine thickets, rare and endangered flora and wild life homes or any other places of special interest.
Old dead trees and hollow logs are left as they are homes of wild life.
The purpose is not to clear areas but to manage them taking into consideration every living thing in that area
When we first started managing the land there was forests of dry dead wood left from previous fires and it was really tough going. Some of this wood we piled up and burnt because there was just too much of it but now we have found we can leave the excess wood because our contour strips are clear of excessive fuel.
Wood is piled up away from the trees making it safer for them during the cold burning fires. These woodpiles are left for the termites and give protection to lizards, snakes and even birds. Some animals and reptiles make their homes under wood piles or scratch around looking for termites to eat. Termites are a great food source for a lot of different species and that’s another reason to leave the piles and try to refrain from burning them.
The woodpiles also break down naturally over time and improve the soil.
We use the woodpiles regularly placing the dead branches on piles after they have fallen from trees. It’s just like house keeping! The initial clean up is the hardest part and you will find that by caring for each contour section of bush it just gets easier and easier to manage over time, and will change naturally to become healthy and beautiful.
For working out contours it is essential to get a topographical map of your property or area from the Local Shire Councils or the Department of Indigenous Affairs. By having this aerial view it becomes easier to see where the wet areas are and how the contour strips can be mapped in. It’s very important to have a plan and we would not recommend trying out cold burning without one. As you can see from our reference map the contour strips are defined. This way we can keep a record and burn in sequences. We walked all over our area mapping in important sites and found that the land speaks for itself. It’s very important to go into each area and to listen and learn before making any decisions. This takes time and so did removing our excess fuel and piling up dead wood.
Some of the larger trees produce a lot of bark which can ignite easily and must be removed away from the trunks before burning. Cold fires can commence after this initial work is completed.
Our Twin Lakes, Gunmamirrd and Goolyaroodk Area of 62hectres took eight years to cover our land management plan. There is bush land, vine thickets and wetlands. After a cold burn the country should look healthy by this we mean that trees will still have leaves intact, bird’s nests will be untouched and wildlife can escape the slow moving fire. The only visible difference should be on the ground as the excess fuel has been burnt.
The Kimberley’s is a very old piece of the world and bush fires have caused so much damage; we treasure what we have left. The vine thickets or rain forest patches are never burnt by us. We manage them by creating clearings around these areas, a good wide space, so fire never touches them. The vine thickets naturally grow thicker and become healthier over time.
A quote from Bruno Dann, Winawarl ( his bush name).
“My elders used to talk to trees they would hold onto them and let a tree feel their heart beating.” “Rub them down and make them feel special.” They’d say. “Talk to trees because they are living things, its only nature! They give us shade and shelter and sometimes we take refuge under them. Most times we don’t notice them at all, but they can see and feel us at all times.”