Integrating Indigenous knowledge into UNSW bushfire research
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Integrating Indigenous knowledge into UNSW bushfire research

The theme for NAIDOC Week 2024 is ‘Keep the Fire Burning! Black, Strong and Proud’. The NAIDOC National Committee said: “Fire represents the enduring strength and vitality of Indigenous cultures, passed down through generations despite the challenges faced.

“By honoring this flame, we ignite sparks of pride and unity, igniting a renewed commitment to recognize, preserve and share the cultural heritage that enriches our nation.”

UNSW Bushfire Director Professor Jason Sharples, who is from Bundjalung, said understanding Indigenous knowledge of bushfires added depth to modern bushfire research while respecting cultural practices common across Australia before colonisation.

“Fire management was an integral part of rural life for Aboriginal people and involved the whole community,” Professor Sharples said.

“A lot of our current fire practices, like prescribed burns, are based on Indigenous knowledge, even if people don’t necessarily realize it.

“Local indigenous people knew the land was ready to burn when certain environmental indicators aligned, such as when the acacia flowers were falling and when certain cloud formations were observed over prominent mountains. Essentially, the country was telling them when the time was right to burn, and people were offering fire as a gift to the country.

“From a Western scientific perspective, this comes down to selecting the right season based on the native flora and only burning on a day when the temperature and relative humidity conditions are within an acceptable range, as indicated by cloud formations.