Stories of cultural burning in southern Australia

New research-backed storytelling resources are helping fire agencies and land management departments better understand cultural burning.

The Cultural burning in southern Australia illustrated booklet and poster series amplify Indigenous people’s perspectives on cultural burning by sharing six personal stories of what burning means. The stories showcase the diversity of this cultural practice and the common elements shared across Australia, and are accompanied with stunning illustrations.

Four of the contributions centre on burning one’s own Country across southern Australia, while two stories reflect on experiences in academic and government roles that aim to learn from and support Traditional Owners and cultural burning. The stories are shared from members of the Noongar, Gunditjmara, Palawa, Ngunnawal, Bundjalung/Woonarua and Keytej peoples.   

Dean Freeman (ACT Parks and Conservation Service) and Bhiamie Williamson (Australian National University) provided cultural oversight in bringing the collection together, as led by Dr Jessica Weir (Western Sydney University) with support from Dr Yasmin Tambiah (WSU), through the Hazards, culture and Indigenous communities project. The Aboriginal artwork featured is by Wiradjuri artist Lani Balzan, and the story illustrations are by Nicole Burton from Petroglyph Studios.

Dr Adam Leavesley, project end-user from the ACT Parks and Conservation Service explained that it is critical for fire and land management agencies to continue learning more about cultural burning.

“As fire and land management agencies in southern Australia, we need to continue to build relationships with Traditional Owners. These resources will help a broader range of land managers with a starting point for learning and engagement on cultural burning,” Dr Leavesley said.

“This was the genesis for these resources to be produced, as we knew that agency practitioners wanted and needed more guidance and knowledge about cultural burning to partner and engage with Indigenous groups, but there is a lack of resources to assist with this.”

Dean Freeman, end-user and Wiradjuri man explained the pride Indigenous people feel about cultural burning, “If I couldn’t be connected with my past, I don’t think I’d be here today,” Mr Freeman said. “The feeling to burn with your family, that’s the ultimate. That’s how we heal.”

Also included in the booklet are 10 cultural burning principles, co-authored by the Indigenous authors involved in the project.

Dr Weir explained that the purpose of these cultural burning principles was to provide guidance to a broad audience unfamiliar with cultural burning. 

“These principles help articulate some of the core matters at hand, which Aboriginal leaders have been raising for generations. These voices can be hard to hear when they are the minority in the room, and so different from the dominant culture of governments and universities.

“We hope the Cultural burning in southern Australia booklet and posters will help address this by providing the opportunity to see a different viewpoint, to stand in someone else’s shoes. This is critical in developing more respectful relationships between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people. We are all living together on Country.”

Find the Cultural burning in southern Australia illustrated booklet and posters here.

Read Dr Weir’s blog about the collaborative process and value of the resources here.