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Forum Showcases Indigenous Fire Management Across North Australia

350 people at the 2023 North Australian Savanna Fire Forum, hosted by the ICIN (Photo: Adnan Reza, CDU Media)

Indigenous fire managers from across north Australia shared their experiences with 350 people at the 2023 North Australian Savanna Fire Forumhosted by the Indigenous Carbon Industry Network this week on Larrakia country. Attendees included representatives from over 30 different Indigenous groups, scientists and 35 international delegates from ten different countries, who explored the theme ‘Our Past Informs Our Future’.

Olkola elder, Mike Ross, of the Cape York region (pictured below) explained how colonisation resulted in ‘orphan country’, as Aboriginal people were dispossessed of their lands, so too was their careful management of country using fire.

“Fire is a living cell. It lies dormant during wet and comes alive in the dry. It can bite you - but can also be kind, keep you warm, cook your food. Once we had nothing, then suddenly we had land, this land that had not been looked after for so long by all these people – miners, pastoralists.”

“We want to show the young people where to burn, like our old people did, how to read our country. It makes me feel good to sit here and see a lot of young people taking the lead, the front role, taking the lead in managing fire.”

Batavia Traditional Owner, Joanna Nelson, spoke of how her detailed knowledge of fire management had been passed down for thousands of generations, and that this had supported the creation of 100,000 carbon credits on her country since 2015.

“My granddad taught my dad, and then my dad taught me - that’s how we know to burn in the cooler months, when the dew stops the fires. Fire, family and country is important to us.”

Wrapping up two days of presentations and networking, ICIN Co-Chair Cissy Gore-Birch stated that the rich knowledge sharing, and depth of wisdom shared this week was life-changing for many people.

“These savanna fire management carbon projects create amazing benefits, by getting people back on country, enabling Traditional Owners to be able to make own decisions and choose what we want to do on country, as well as building partnerships, and more funding benefits through our shared vision and purpose.

“We all have a responsibility to manage country and fire is very important. We must continue to share resources, knowledge and to share this vision, to create even greater benefits for us all.”

Yolgnu Senior Traditional Owner, Dr Otto Bulmaniya Campion of Arafura Swamp Rangers (pictured below) reflected on the importance of Mala,of partnerships, in supporting the achievement of goals for sustainable savanna burning projects as these are about so much more than just carbon abatement.

“Today this industry is bringing more people back to country, supporting 7 ranger groups and is providing significant capacity for Traditional Owners to manage fire.”

“Old people said – gotta burn ‘em early. Don’t let the fires burn really high and leave a big scorch mark. Old people told us to get that fire right. Help people, connect with country. After people left the country there was really bad fire. Country was left empty. The old people were worried about animals – emu, kangaroo.”

“We can see what is changing now, we are asking young ones to step up and make right way fire. Need to listen to Traditional Owners.”

International Savanna Fire Management Initiative director, Dr Sam Johnston, said that the experience for international delegates attending had been invaluable.

“International delegates attending the forum were so inspired to learn of how Indigenous people of north Australia had been able to leverage their ancient local wisdom through partnerships with scientists to create a niche carbon industry for their people. They are considering ways to take these learnings back to their home countries.”

Forum MC, Nova Peris OAM said that she was grateful to learn from the wisdom of many elders who spoke of the importance of fire in maintaining country and culture, and how they were using modern technology to enable better fire management practices.

“Building and coming together, was certainly what this forum did. I have so much inspiration from the knowledge sharing, and an immense pride in the deep love everyone showed for sustaining country. It was good to facilitate whilst learning from the deepest knowledge holders and those bringing modern technology to fire management.”

The ICIN thank Silver Sponsors the Clean Energy Regulator, Northern Territory Government, Raindance Systems, The Nature Conservancy as well as Bronze Sponsors the International Savanna Fire Management Initiative, JCU Drought Hub and Charles Darwin University.

Footage of the forum is available on request.

Videos of each session will be published later next week.

Further information, including the program is available at

Photo Gallery:

Mike Ross, Chairman, Olkola Aboriginal Corporation (Photo: Nicole Brown)

Dr Otto Campion, Yolgnu Senior Traditional Owner, Arafura Swamp Rangers (Photo: Nicole Brown)

International Savanna Fire Management Initiative delegates (Photo: Nicole Brown)

L-R: Dr Andrew Edwards, CDU Senior Research Fellow Bushfires, The Hon. Minister Lauren Moss, Prof. Suresh Thennadil, CDU Pro Vice Chancellor, Ms Cissy Gore-Birch, ICIN Co-chair (Photo: Adnan Reza, CDU Media)

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