Cultural Burning Conference: A Milestone for Land Management Collaboration

Last week, a much-anticipated conference marked a significant milestone in the ongoing efforts to integrate cultural burning practices into land management across Southeast NSW. The Cultural Burning Conference, facilitated by Batemans Bay LALC and ABV, brought together Local Aboriginal Land Councils (including Batemans Bay, Bega, Bodella, Illawarra, Ngumbaay – Brungle-Tumut, Merrimans, Wagonga), fire services, and government agencies. Through genuine collaboration and an eagerness to learn, the conference showcased how cultural burning methods can naturally complement existing land management practices. This article delves into the profound impact of the event and the transformative conversations that unfolded, fostering hope for a more sustainable and respectful approach to caring for country.

During the Cultural Burning Conference, listening and understanding were profoundly emphasised. ABV's CEO, Liz Mackinlay, said, "The event centred around listening. There was a lot of listening, in a way that participants expressed to me has never happened before." This shift in approach proved essential in paving the way for a more inclusive and equitable conversation about land management practices.

Ros Carriage, Batemans Bay Local Aboriginal Land Council's CEO, spoke to the urgency of breaking down barriers, "Most of the agencies we work with are on board with cultural burning, however cutting through the red tape within their organisations is a barrier," Ros emphasised how caring for country can effectively become established in widely used land management practices, laying the foundation for fruitful relationships. 

"The approach that we have been able to take collectively was one where First Nations voices were heard and respected, and people approached the event with a real sense of learning and collaboration," Liz reflected. This respect for First Nations knowledge and practices was a promising step towards reconciling land management practices in Australia.

The conference catalysed efforts to obtain public liability insurance for Local Aboriginal Land Councils to conduct controlled burns more extensively. By establishing a viable business model around land, fire, and risk management, these councils aim to uphold caring for country while also developing a sustainable economic model. This holistic approach ensures that land management's spiritual, social, environmental, and financial aspects are considered at the same time.

First Nations voices took centre stage during the conference, generously sharing parts of their knowledge about burning practices and their deep connection to the land. Participants engaged in crucial conversations that broke longstanding barriers impeding land management in Australia. As the Walbunja Rangers poignantly stated, this country needs healing, and the knowledge lies within their communities. The responsibility, however, cannot be solely placed on the Land Aboriginal Land Councils. The event highlighted the urgency for fire services and government agencies to collaborate with First Nations fire practitioners, offering support and adopting a mindset of "what can we do for you" instead of "what can you give us." This shift is crucial to avoid the exploitation of First Nations practices and knowledge.

As a tangible outcome of the event, efforts are underway to establish a dedicated working group that will foster ongoing discussions and prioritise the integration of cultural burning in land management systems. The aim is to ensure that cultural burning remains a forefront consideration in driving positive changes for sustainable land management practices.

The Cultural Burning Conference was supported by ABV's corporate program partner, NAB who provided the expertise of two corporate volunteers Louise Longley, NAB Director, Resilience Risk and Adam Fletcher, Associate Director for Indigenous Business and Community NSW and ACT. Louise solved the conundrum of finding an insurance company that would be comfortable enough to provide the Local Aboriginal Land Councils' (LALC) insurance by sourcing a local insurance broker. Tying into this work, Adam Fletcher moderated a session at the conference called "Creating a Business from Cultural Burning." This panel covered insurance, policy and the practicalities of making Cultural Burning an accessible service. 

The event was also supported by ARUP, whose dedicated team helped the event run smoothly. This partnership underscores the importance of cross-sector collaboration to drive positive change in land management practices.

This project is funded by the Disaster Risk Reduction Fund (DRRF) which is jointly funded by the Australian and New South Wales governments.

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