A CFA Koorie Inclusion Project initiative – A Culture of Fire – is a finalist in the Innovation Award category of the Volunteering Victoria State Awards.
The project involved a team of 30 CFA volunteers, staff and local Traditional Owners, who in July 2018, travelled to a remote area of the Gulf of Carpentaria to participate in the Jigija Indigenous Fire Training Program run by the Gangalidda and Garawa Traditional Owners.
Project coordinator Regional BASO Elaine Hamilton said the aim of the project was to give CFA volunteers and staff an opportunity to learn about traditional burning practices, biodiversity, protection of sacred sites, Indigenous culture and ancient ways to care for country.
“We chose to include local Traditional Owners in the project to give them an opportunity to re-learn some of the cultural practices that have been lost in Victoria as well as to get to know members of CFA and to build relationships,” Elaine said.
“Since the trip, the individual team members have taken the lessons they learned back to their local communities and developed partnerships with their local Traditional Owners to implement a wide range of initiatives.”
Tarnagulla CFA Captain George Filev said the trip broadened the group’s understanding of the role fire plays in the landscape through the eyes of Traditional Owners.
“Our role as firefighters is to extinguish fires and make things safe, but through this program we learned about the important role fire has in land management, story and spiritual belief systems,” George said.
“The Jigija Indigenous fire training program resonated strongly and I continue to benefit from the knowledge gained.”
Boort CFA member Russell Talbot said the experience changed his personal perception of cultural heritage for the better.
“The Gangalidda representatives that hosted the project were instrumental in changing the way we approached the concept of planned burns and fuel reduction, and the importance of conveying that message to others,” Russell said.
“The commitment stemming from the enthusiasm of the participants is keeping these discussions going, with the hope that one day in the near future what is considered a new approach now will become routine.”
Milawa CFA member David Bienvenu couldn’t recall many previous training courses that came close to passing on the amount of knowledge gleaned from this trip.
“To burn 75 hectares, with 5km/h wind gusting around 15kmh, 30 crew, rake hoes, several branches and some matches in very dry conditions with full confidence of being in control, showed us what could be achieved in other areas,” David said.
Maude CFA member Peter Stray said the involvement of people with indigenous heritage among the group helped everyone learn about the challenges faced by Traditional Owner groups locally.
“This program will have positive impacts for years to come, not just amongst those who attended the training, but more broadly in the community as linkages are made between Traditional Owners, CFA and community members,” Peter said.
Whether successful at the award ceremony, the learnings from this project continue to have a ripple effect across CFA and Victorian communities.