Agency support for cultural fire

In 202223, Traditional Owners led the delivery of 23 cultural burns on Country. There were 6 Traditional Owner groups that led these burns across four FFMVic regions (Loddon Mallee, Grampians, Hume and Barwon South West) and one CFA region (South West) with planning, delivery, and post-fire management support from FFMVic and the CFA.

Cultural burns are led by Traditional Owners for a range of land management and cultural outcomes. They are supported by the fire agencies, and while they may have risk reduction benefits this is not generally the primary purpose.

Over the past 12 months, there has been a notable increase in the number of cultural burns supported by FFMVic and the CFA, increasing from 14 in 202122 to 23 during this reporting period, a 39% increase across the state.

Cultural fire grants

With funding secured through the Cultural Fire Grants Program many Traditional Owner groups have now employed dedicated cultural fire staff enabling the groups to develop or further define their Cultural Burning Strategies, effectively plan for their burn programs, and provide training opportunities for their staff and communities. The Cultural Fire Grant funding has provided many groups with the financial confidence to establish fire-specific roles within their organisations and has resulted in a notable increase in the number of burns delivered. Given the foundational work that many of the groups have been doing it is projected that the number of cultural burns will continue to grow over the coming years.

In response to the growing demand from Traditional Owner groups to reintroduce cultural fire on Country, FFMVic has employed 5 Cultural Burn Officers to work closely with groups and support them in delivering their cultural burn programs. The Cultural Burn Officers also work closely with CFA to share work programs and activities that assist fire agencies to support Traditional Owners.

Cultural fire strategy

The Victorian Government is committed to reconciliation and a Treaty for Victoria’s Traditional Owners.

In response to the needs of Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians, DEECA developed Pupangarli Marnmarnepu(opens in a new window) 'Owning Our Future’ Aboriginal Self-Determination Reform Strategy 2020-2025 (the Strategy). The Strategy is a 5-year roadmap that enables self-determination at DECCA by fostering an environment that honours the rights and dignity of Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians. The Strategy is founded on cultural authority that sets the strategic direction and actions for us to advance Aboriginal self-determination.

DEECA acknowledges the diversity of ways Traditional Owner groups want to use cultural fire and participate in land management. FFMVic continues to build partnerships with Traditional Owner groups to deliver cultural burning on public land, build capacity through the Cultural Fire Grants Program, and provide operational support for the implementation of the Victorian Traditional Owner Cultural Fire Strategy.

The CFA is working with Traditional Owner groups and First Nations communities to enable more cultural fire, linking in with the Victorian Traditional Owner Cultural Fire Strategy and CFA Koori Inclusion Action Plan.

Cultural burning activity

In 2022–23, the CFA supported the delivery of 3 cultural burns by Traditional Owners covering 49 hectares and FFMVic supported Traditional Owners to deliver 20 cultural burns covering 369 hectares.

These Traditional Owner cultural burns were additional to planned burning undertaken by FFMVic and the CFA for bushfire risk management purposes. While cultural burns may reduce fuel-driven bushfire risk (and are included in risk calculations), the objectives of cultural burns are varied and are defined by the Traditional Owners leading the burn.

The groups who undertook cultural burns were the:

  • Barengi Gadjin Land Council Aboriginal Corporation
  • Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation
  • Eastern Maar
  • Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation
  • Wadawurrung Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation
  • Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation.

Table 3: Traditional Owner cultural burns by region, Victoria, 2022–23.

Region supporting cultural burnsNumber of burnsHectares
DEECA Barwon South West216
DEECA Grampians674
DEECA Hume198
DEECA Loddon Mallee11181
Total DEECA20369
CFA South West349
Total CFA349
Total all burns 23418

Case study - Wadawurrung Cultural Burns and the Western Treatment Plant

Wadawurrung people continue to care for Dja (Country) and Nyubitj (Water) today and aim to restore Country and its Murrup (Spirit). Their cultural burning program and the nominations of Point Wilson (T-Section Grassland) and Lake Borrie (Zone 11) burns at the Western Treatment Plant align with the Wadawurrung Country Plan Paleert Tjaara Dja (Let’s Make Country Good Together 2020-2030). These burns also achieve on key deliverables within the Wadawurrung Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation / Melbourne Water Corporation Partnership Agreement WunggurrwilNgitj (Strong Together), the CFA and DEECA Statement of Intent, the CFA Koorie Inclusion Action Plan and DEECA’s Pupangarli Marnmarnepu Self-Determination Reform Strategy.

CFA and DEECA worked closely with the land manager Melbourne Water to support the planning and delivery of 2 cultural burns nominated by Wadawurrung Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation within the Western Treatment Plant. Some of the area that surrounds the Western Treatment Plant not only contains high-quality critically endangered volcanic plains grasslands but also many culturally significant species for the Wadawurrung people. These are highly significant sites for Wadawurrung Traditional Owners, and the cultural burns provided an opportunity to renew cultural and spiritual connections to Country.

CFA, DEECA and Melbourne Water worked together to support Wadawurrung’s nominations, including supporting the delivery of 2 burns at Point Wilson (T-Section Grassland) Burn and Lake Borrie (Zone 11) in 2023. While government agencies are there to support the burns the final decision on where, when and how the burns occurred rested with the owner of the burns, Wadawurrung. The delivery partners, including Wadawurrung all meet in the lead-up to the burns, discussing and working through the burns, Wadawurrung’s preferred approach and all other operational and safety considerations.

Better collaboration between government agencies and land managers is critical to provide greater opportunities for Traditional Owners like Wadawurrung to deliver on their cultural obligations. Agencies are constantly learning from each other at these burns and continue to modify their approaches to ensure they are enabling groups such as Wadawurrung to deliver their burns the way they want them delivered.

It is also important to acknowledge that some of the previous burns and the first of the 2 Western Treatment burns described here have not always gone to plan. At the start, Wadawurrung did not always feel empowered, and at times the number of agency staff who attended the burns didn’t align with Wadawurrung aspirations and mitigation measures required to protect a threatened species didn’t align with Wadawurrung’s more holistic approach to land management. Learning from these early challenges and building on them and other successful collaborations demonstrates how agencies can acknowledge different approaches and continue to work together to support Traditional Owners to deliver on the Victorian Traditional Owners Cultural Fire Strategy and Wadawurrung’s cultural fire goals.