For the first time in its 10 year history, the 2018 National Indigenous Fire Workshop left its birthplace of Cape York in northern Queensland to honour other communities within the Indigenous Fire network.
From 12-15 July, over 380 participants from across Australia gathered on Yuin Country on the New South Wales south coast, generously hosted by the Bundanon Trust and the Mudjingaalbaraga Firesticks Team.
Participants learnt first-hand how to read Country, animals, trees, seasons, and understand the cultural responsibility of looking after Country. During the Workshop and over the fourteen days that followed, 150 hectares of surrounding Yuin Country were treated with the ‘good fire’.
For more detail, make sure to read the Workshop report here
or watch more videos from the Workshop here.
The black fella fire returned
Rainbows filled the sky at Bundanon as workshop participants were Welcomed to Country in Dharrawal language by Jacob Morris, Morris, a Gumea-Dharrawal (Cabbage Palm People) Yuin man and Joel Deaves, Gumea-Dharrawal Man and Dharumba Dhurga descendant from the Yuin People:
Widthouw murrunyang, Ngia Nundhirra Dharnyang
Gudthugal Dharrawal Ngura, Ngiugangguli
Murra Ngala barumunbala orajungya banglipa
Ngarawannyupa Waringulwundu Gaumbiwarra
Hello everyone, I see we all stand on Southern
Dharrawal Country, my people stay between
Crooked River to Shoalhaven River, the ocean and
other side of Canbewarra Mountain further to the
Ngia Gumine Yindigung Murranyangpa
Ngia Gumine Ngiagungguli Magunnda bulliayupa
Gunna bulliaya, Dharrawal murrajang Umbarra Yuin
I acknowledge all you people and your old people.
I acknowledge my old people past and present, the
Cabbage Palm people, Black Duck Yuin people.
Murrajang burragu Ganamapa Ngura billa
Ngundahmurra jang Gunmbi balawilia Dha Nia
Ganmbi jang Ganama Dharan Dhurang.
The people gather and burn country again
The black fella fire returned
The good fire burns always
Jacob shared cultural knowledge of Gumea-Dharrawal Yuin Country and the special place known to many as Bundanon Trust.
“The fire stopped for a long time on the East Coast,” he said. “This could be the first burn that’s happened up here for over 150 years. So it’s a historic, important moment that should be remembered as the time we are starting to bring back the fire.”
A stunning opening ceremony honouring the sacred mountains Biamanga and Gulaga was performed by the Gulaga dancers from Wallaga Lake, led by Yuin/Monaro man Warren Foster, using native cherry branches on the central fire of the river sand dance circle.
Cultural Fire masterclasses
Eight masterclasses were held over the first three days of the Workshop. Masterclass participants were divided into groups and each group rotated through four masterclasses per day.
Masterclass topics included monitoring techniques and indicators, a botanic and cultural walk, invasive natives, firesticks gathering workshop, traditional dancing and weaving, and a cultural water tour. Participants were also able to participate in two Cultural Burns on Gum Tree Country and Sand Ridge Country.
Joel, who is a member of the Mudjingaalbaraga Firesticks Team, led the Sand Ridge Country burn, which is bringing health back to the Country.
“This sand ridge country, this is the medicine country and the bush tucker country. So hopefully we can come back here… there will be more grasses, more yams, more medicines…when we get this country to full health, all the mob from all the communities can come in.. and start getting our medicines, getting our bushtucker and being back out on Country,” he said.
Cultural Fire Day
The fourth day of the workshop was open to the public for a Cultural Fire day. Day visitors and workshop participants witnessed cultural burns on the adjacent ridge, learned about monitoring techniques, participated in weaving and dancing, travelled along the Shoalhaven River, and attended group presentations.
An important plant in this landscape is called the Budawang. Yuin and Thunghutti man, Adrian (Ado) Webster from the Mudjingaalbaraga Firesticks Team explained why Cultural Burning is important for encouraging new Budawang plant growth and seed that can be collected for food.
“You can see the heat and intensity from all these dead branches that have died and just stayed there and all the leaf litter as well. They really go up at the moment because the country is so unhealthy and there’s so much rubbish here. But we’ll fix that.”
Burning decades of leaf litter build up isn’t ideal, he said, particularly due to the type of smoke it creates.
“In these leaves there are a lot of oils…[which create] dark coloured smoke that hurts our eyes and does the same to the trees…when we get the grasses back we’ll get that medicine smoke that will help all these trees and won’t hurt us,” he said.
A women’s gathering was also held where both Aboriginal and non–Aboriginal women shared their experiences and challenges of their work with fire.
Vikki Parsley, a Yuin Wiradjuri woman, shared about the importance of women and Indigenous knowledge.
Sharing song and story
Song and story were present throughout the workshop, including singing, music, art, a spear throwing competition, a Kup Murri ground oven cook-up and cultural dancing from the Djaadjawan Dancers, a women and girl’s dance group from Yuin Country.
Sharon Mason, strong Yuin woman from the Djaadjawaan dancers, said they were so honoured to be able to perform for a great cause and showcase Yuin culture through song and dance to a wider community.
The Gulaga Dancers, also from Yuin Country, performed two dances about throwing a fishing line and spear fishing.
Black Cockatoos are very important on this Country and participants were lucky to hear a story shared by Jacob, who is also a member of the Mudjingaalbaraga Firesticks Team, about the special relationship between Casuarina trees, cultural fire and the Black Cockatoo.
Treating Yuin Country with good fire
For two weeks after the National Indigenous Fire Workshop, 150 hectares of surrounding Yuin Country were treated with the ‘good fire’.
Adrian, one of the people conducting these burns, spoke about how reading Country indicates the right time to burn.
“We don’t decide when to put the fire in. It’s not our decision. We just interpret and read the Country and when it needs it and it’s asking for it, we’ll put it in,” he said.
Feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive, with over 90% of respondents reflecting that the Workshop helped them connect to Country and community and increased their knowledge of Indigenous fire management practices. Over 60% of participants said they are likely to change their fire management practices because of the Workshop.
“We feel more confident in being able to start implementing fire management practices on our property.”
“The workshop gives us information and practices to better undertake conversations with higher level staff to change policy and look at wider inclusion of traditional burning.”
“Everyone coming together from all across the country to focus on the most important thing called fire and the importance of keeping Country alive with cultural practices. Fire is life not death.”
Cultural Fire needs to be brought back because it reunites people with the land, said Jacob.
“It reunites the Indigenous and non-Indigenous people because we’re all living here and fire is something we all have to deal with…when we burn [with Cultural Fire], we burn for life, not for destruction,” he said.