Time to get behind Aboriginal fire management

Posted: Fri, December 09, 2011

The Central Land Council believes that it’s time to take the next step in improving fire management on Aboriginal land.

David Ross, Director of the Central Land Council, said that it’s in everybody’s interests that resources for Indigenous efforts in fire management be significantly boosted to deal with the vast tracts of land across the Territory.

“This year we’ve all been very aware of how critical these resources can be with the huge fuel loads and wildfires burning out of control,” Mr Ross said.

“In 2009 Aboriginal landowners in the Tanami got together and set up the Warlu Committee, and it has done fantastic work over enormous areas of the Tanami region.

“The committee was able to make a tangible difference to the impact of wildfire this year by working with ranger groups and the CLC’s fire management officers to protect vulnerable ecosystems, remote outstations, sacred sites and the boundaries of pastoral stations that adjoin their lands,” he said.

The Warlu Committee [warlu = fire in Warlpiri] is made up of representatives and senior rangers from seven key Tanami communities: Lajamanu, Yuendumu, Nyirripi, Willowra, Tennant Creek, Ali Curung and Daguragu.  It meets annually to plan where to prescribe burning for the following year and talk about other fire issues.

Historically, the primary concern of the NT Government’s bushfire committees has been around protecting pastoral assets. The Warlu Committee, with the large region that it covers, is more able to recognise fire as a landscape process, and plan work both around both pastoral and Aboriginal land.  Working with neighbours is a priority for the Committee.

The  CLC says that there has been a significant and welcome change in the NT Government’s bushfire committees’ attitudes to Aboriginal fire managers in recent years but given the amount of Aboriginal land and the environmental impact of climate change, more needs to be done.

Mr Ross said that the Warlu Committee is a great example of Aboriginal people combining traditional knowledge with modern scientific insights to manage land.

“They are a very effective unit now, and they will only become more important,” Mr Ross said.

“Traditional owners in other areas are now looking at setting up committees in their own areas along similar lines.

“The time has come to build these valuable groups into the way we manage fire.

“And to do that, they need to be properly resourced – at least level with the resources of other regional fire committees,” Mr Ross said.

9 December 2011