Lessons from Top End Indigenous fire management

Aboriginal people have long traditions of systematically using fire to manage their customary landscapes for a range of purposes, the combined impacts of which can be seen in the defining features and health of Australia’s terrestrial biodiversity and ecosystems. There is strong evidence that Aboriginal communities across the country are seeking to engage with contemporary fire management projects, but also that effective engagement requires a combination of respect for customary practices and openness to new and innovative fire knowledge. It is therefore timely to consider lessons that can be learned from existing efforts to incorporate Indigenous knowledge into fire projects that have already been established across northern Australia, and how these lessons relate to future efforts.

The research has reviewed existing Indigenous fire management partnerships and activities across northern Australia, focusing particularly on what is meant by Indigenous knowledge and practices, how that meaning is locally interpreted into fire management activities, and how it is likely to be shared with others. Perspectives have been drawn from interviews and workshops held with key Indigenous fire managers and partners (Traditional Owners, NGOs, scientists and government agencies) across northern Australia who are actively participating in, or are interested in participating in, fire management projects.

  • Report that draws on the literature review and subsequent case study analysis to identify the key lessons learned from the incorporation of Top End Indigenous fire knowledge into fire management, as well as key protocols and pathways for future IK incorporation;
  • Summaries written for Indigenous communities, and government agencies, both of which outline key messages, with a focus on key lessons learned from the incorporation of Top End Indigenous fire knowledge into fire management, and protocols for effective and appropriate ways to incorporate IK into fire management goals and practices.

This research is applicable across the entire Northern Hub region.

northern region map

Cathy Robinson (Project Leader, CSIRO), Marcus Barber (CSIRO), Ro Hill (CSIRO), Glenn James (NAILSMA)

  • Keeping a close eye on a controlled burn.
  • Indigenous rangers manage some of the largest tracts of land in Australia, photo Glenn Campbell.
  • Controlled burn, Jaana Dielenberg.
  • Cool burn through native savanna grasses, photo Jaana Dielenberg.