Indigenous rangers share ancient knowledge to help fight bushfires on north stradbroke island

22 September 2016

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Australia    Indigenous rangers are passing on generations of traditional knowledge by working with Queensland's Parks and Wildlife Service to better fight bushfires on North Stradbroke Island.

For thousands of years, the Quandamooka Aboriginal people successfully managed fire on the islands of Moreton Bay.

Evidence of that fire management can still be found on those islands off the coast of south-east Queensland.

Now their expertise is being fully appreciated and acknowledged, by helping to manage and contain bushfires in collaboration with the Redland City Council and other local authorities.

Early in 2014 wildfires started by a lightning strike swept through the island during peak holiday season, causing more than 900 people to be evacuated.

Darren Burns, the joint management coordinator of the Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation (QYAC), said fires on North Stradbroke Island did not traditionally behave as they have recently.

"Fire on North Stradbroke is a very critical issue, we've got a lot of agencies involved," Mr Burns said.

"Our oldest cultural heritage site on this island is 20,000 years old a lot of people get blown away when you tell them that, we've been here a long time.

"We can go to those areas that were control-burned by our ancestors 100 years ago, and that bush is relatively intact despite 100 years of wildfires on this island.

"But you go outside of those areas and a lot of the bush on Straddie has been trashed.

"It's just not good structure in the bush and it makes for crazy fire season fuel loads.

"So it's a very big load and it's why we're training all of our community rangers up in fire management, because it will be an ongoing project to bring some level of proper management back into it."

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Mr Burns said fire was the management tool that had the greatest effect on the condition and health Australia's landscape.

"We've got pine trees here that are 1,000 years old, and some blue gums here that are 4,000 years old," he said.

"And we've got those two species of trees living side by side, and that points that the island must have had a fire regime which had cool fires, not the hot fires we see today.

"Traditional methods 'showing progress'

The Quandamooka people have lived on what is now known as North Stradbroke Island since a time beyond memory.

They were formally recognised as the native title holders of the region in a special federal court hearing on the island in July 2011.

Since then, they have taken back some of the responsibility for the land that was taken from them in the past.

The Indigenous rangers program on Stradbroke Island employs 14 Quandamooka people to manage their traditional country.

Patrick Coolwell grew up on the island, and now supervises the community rangers program.

"Mainly getting back working onto country as well is a good feeling, looking after the land and bringing it back to what it was," Mr Coolwell said.

"How the land management works and how our people used to look after the land, it paints a good picture that our people have been on this land years and years before and they managed that land as well.

"It's up to us now to keep doing that job as young rangers."

Kathryn Crouch, ranger and administrator, said she could already see the progress being made by using a more traditional Aboriginal approach for managing the land.

"At the moment we're doing a lot of back-burning, because we've had a lot of hot fires, it's actually made the growth of the bush quite thick," she said.

"So managing fire sort of thins that out and we're trying to get it back to the way it originally was when our ancestors burnt every season."