Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Trial tackles a burning issue

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Shawn Colbun and Carol Pettersen
Binalup Aboriginal Corporation ranger Shawn Colbung and Carol Pettersen keep an eye on the fires.
Photo: Courtney Walsh.

The first step in merging Noongar cultural burning practice with contemporary fire mitigation was taken last week with a trial burn along Wilson Inlet.

A small area was selected along the Bibbulmun Track, adjoining Weedon Hill, for the demonstration trial in the big step towards more collaboration between traditional custodians and authorities in bushfire prevention.

Noongar Elder Carol Pettersen was designated to ensure the incorporation of cultural knowledge (cooler mosaic-style burns) for the trial burn.

She said the burn was an opportunity for a two-way learning: “Listening to the old cultural ways of doing things which were in practice for thousands of years and looking at how western science is used today.”

Carol called the collaboration a blessing and a relief.

“It’s important to work together in this changing landscape,” she said.

The trial aims to set the precedent for future cultural burns in the Denmark shire, allowing authorities to reduce fuel loads while working with traditional custodians.

The low-key burn involved research which included seven Noongar families, Noongar Elders and Binalup Aboriginal Corporation rangers.

Cultural burn team
The cultural burn team has the water hose at hand. Photo: Courtney Walsh.
Matthew Palfrey and Carol Pettersen
Binalup Aboriginal Corporation ranger Matthew Palfrey and Carol Pettersen take a low-kay approach to burning. Photo: Courtney Walsh.

Representatives from Shire of Denmark, Department of Fire and Emergency Services, WA University and local bushfire brigades also worked in the project.

Traditionally fire was used as a practical tool in hunting, cooking, warmth and managing the landscape.

It holds spiritual meaning, with many stories, memories and dance being passed down around the fire.

The adoption of cultural burning requires understanding of local conditions to ensure it is effective and safe.

Local conditions, climate, plants and animals, etc, have to be taken into consideration.

Shire president Ceinwen Gearon was proud that the Shire was setting this precedent and hoped the collaborative effort would grow.

“Our community has a deep respect for the Menang and Bibbulmun people who have cared for this land we call home for tens of thousands of years,” Ceinwen said.

She was delighted to be working with the Menang and Bibbulmun people to see a continuing tradition of caring for country.

This involved everyone doing their part to reduce the risk of fire with the health of the environment as a top priority.

She hoped there would be further cultural burning as part of the bushfire mitigation program.

Denmark Bulletin 19 May 2022

The article appeared in the Denmark Bulletin, 19 May 2022.

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