Category Archives: Fire Ecology & Management

Forested wetland regeneration project, The Gap Road Woodburn, NSW

Julie-Anne Coward

Contract bush regeneration works involving fire and weed management commenced in 2011 in 2.5 ha of endangered ecological coastal floodplain communities at the Cowards’ property on the Gap Road, Woodburn in northern NSW (Fig 1). An area of 7.19 ha of the 10ha property had been recently covenanted for conservation by new owners and 2 small grants were gained to convert the previous grazing property back to forested wetland. Remnant vegetation existed on the property and regrowth was already occurring, although extensive areas were dominated by exotic pasture grasses, particularly >1m high swathes of Setaria (Setaria sphacelata).

Works commenced with spraying of the weed with herbicide and regular follow up spot spraying of weed regrowth. However, because the dead Setaria thatch was taking a long time to break down (and high weed regeneration was likely) a burn was carried out to hasten the recovery responses to fit within the 3 year funding cycle. The works were monitored before and at 6 monthly intervals using 6 (9m2) quadrats in each of hot burn, cool burn and unburnt areas (Fig 1).

Fig 1. Works zones at the Gap Road wetland

Figure 1. Works zones at the Gap Road wetland – mapped in April 2013 where the quadrats were laid out. and data recorded prior to and at 6-monthly intervals after treatment.

Works undertaken. A 2-3m wide firebreak was cut around the burn area and a burn was conducted in dry conditions on Oct 19th 2012 (Fig 2) by the landholders, assisted by Minyumai Green Team and with the local fire brigade on standby. The fire burnt approximately 0.5 ha of the Setaria-dominated area, most of which had been previously sprayed (Fig 2).

Results. A more complete (and presumably hotter) burn was achieved in the sprayed areas (Figs 3 and 4). Setaria and Ragweed germinated prolifically, with a few natives and the site was virtually blanket sprayed with glylphosate. By the second follow up natives had started to regenerate so spot-spraying was used thereafter, taking care to protect the natives. Within 5 months quadrats in the sites that burned hotter achieved over 50% native cover, while the unburnt area achieved only half (25%) that cover. Both areas ultimately achieved similar recovery of natives, but markedly higher spot spraying inputs over longer time frames were needed in the unburnt areas compared to the hotter burn areas.

Over the three year contract, unexpectedly high and prolific regeneration occurred of 35 species of native forbs, sedges and grasses (germinating from buried seed banks) and 7 species trees and shrubs (largely from seed rain) (Fig 5). However, weed germination was also prolific, particularly in unburnt areas, and required at least monthly levels of continual suppression.

fig 2. The burn itself (Oct 17, 2015)

Figure 2. The burn itself (Oct 17, 2015)

Figure 3. Sprayed Setaria prior to the burn.

Figure 3. Sprayed Setaria prior to the burn.

Figure 3. Prolific native groundcover and tree regeneration 2 years after the burn and as a result of consistent spot spraying.

Figure 3. Prolific native groundcover and tree regeneration 2 years after the burn and as a result of consistent spot spraying.

Lessons learned. The proximity of remnant vegetation (within 100m) and intact soil profile was important to the native recovery. At least monthly weed control is essential and can achieve results on its own. However, the project involved substantial volunteer time as well as contract labour – and when labour was insufficient new weed populations formed in the disturbed areas that then required more intensive treatment to overcome. Comparing the demand for weed control in burnt and unburnt areas showed that the feasibility of weed control is very much reduced without the use of fire to flush out weed at the outset.

Acknowledgements: The project is dedicated to the memory of Murray Coward who helped initiate the project. Minyumai Green Team (Daniel Gomes, Justin Gomes, Chris Graves and Andrew Johnston) have kept the project on track over the years, with assistance from Tein McDonald. Thanks is due to the EnviTE team, particularly Virginia Seymour, for their work at the site in the first 18 months. The project is covenanted with the Nature Conservation Trust of NSW (NCT) and received some initial funding from NCT. It subsequently gained a $15K Private Land Conservation Grant (funded by Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife and managed through the NCT) and has now gained a second, similar grant to continue and expand the works.

Contact: Julie-Anne Coward, Gap Road Woodburn. Email:

Operational planning and logistics – introducing fire into the landscape

Robert Strauch

Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub (ESBS) is an Endangered Ecological Community that only exists in the eastern part of the Greater Sydney area – between North Head and La Perouse. From an original estimated area of 5300 hectares there’s only 146 hectares of this community left. From the 3% that’s actually left only 18% of that ESBS is on managed lands. A lot of it is in areas like golf courses, people’s backyards along coastal parts in the Sydney eastern suburbs and small pockets on Council reserves, most locations of it are quite sparse in area, with the North Head community being the largest portion in total area remaining.

In 2004, the key stakeholders developed a recovery plan for ESBS, with National Parks working with other land management agencies to try and protect and manage this community. One of the recommendations from the plan was high intensity burn at an 8-15 year rotation.

Fire and Rescue New South Wales (NSW) are re-introducing fire as a tool to restore ESBS at three sites: broad area burning at North Head, some windrow burning at La Perouse on the site of the NSW Golf Course and pile burning at Centennial Park in the Moore Park area. This involved three types of burns: an area burn, windrows and burn piles.

Fig 1. Broad area burning at North Head

Fig 1. Broad area burning at North Head

1. North Head

A burn was conducted at North Head, Sydney Harbour in early September 2012. This was done in collaboration with National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust and also the North Head Sanctuary Foundation. Interestingly, the location of the fire is very close to the location Dr Geoff Lambert has identified as the site European people in Australia first recorded their observations of fire being used by Indigenous people on the 28th May 1788.

Methods and risk management. At North Head, three relatively small burns were conducted: third quarantine cemetery (0.8 ha), North Fort (1.5 ha0 and Blue Fish Drive (1.8 ha). These involved very high levels of operational logistics and operational planning, prior to waiting for the appropriate burn conditions.

(a) Public safety. Because of a history of fires getting out of control at North Head, precautions involved restricting public access to the headland, which meant confining all three burns to 1 day to minimise disruption. There was an overall incident controller, Superintendent Kel McNamara for the North Head complex, plus divisional commanders in charge of each of the burns. The divisional commanders essentially were running their individual burns managing their operations officers and resources required. From this we ended up with 10 firefighting appliances (trucks) and (including the incident management and logistical appliance) we had a total of 36 resources contributed by three agencies: Fire and Rescue NSW, National Parks and Wildlife Service and Rural Fire Service Pittwater-Warringah. With all of that we had 121 fire fighters for our very small sites. State Emergency Service assisted us with closing down walking trails and making sure people weren’t actually coming onto the headland. We had a fire truck (Flying Pumper) sitting there as if it was in a fire station, so if any spot fires occurred they could go and deal with the fire and we could still carry on with our prescribed burning that we were undertaking.

(b) On the day of the burns there were 400 kids on the headland, which was worrying. I tried to encourage them to go into Manly for the day but they wanted to stay on the headland for their planned activities at the Quarantine Station. Because of that I then had to go through steps in the local emergency management plan and arrange with Sydney Ferries to make sure there was a ferry ready and available in case we needed to evacuate the headland as we could only evacuate by water. Also we had to speak with Harbour Control in case the fire got away and we had to shut down the shipping channels coming into Sydney Harbour.

(c) Heritage protection. We obtained mitigation funding through the NDRP National Disaster Resilience Funds to do some mitigation work around North Head’s historical stone walls criss-crossing the headland. This involved some clearing along those walls to protect the historical significance of them and this clearing doubled to create a strategic fire advantage zone over the headland.

(d) Miscellaneous risks. Among the other things I had to deal with was underground ventilation. There’s historical war tunnels through North Head with ventilation intakes that I had to make sure were covered and insulated so we weren’t dragging smoke into the underground tunnels, increasing the carbon monoxide load down there. This was so if people walked in there after the burns they weren’t going to asphyxiate themselves. The bonus carry over from Defence was possible unexploded ordinance out on the headland. Furthermore, the Sydney Water treatment plant opposite the blue fish drive burn involves an above-ground storage tank of highly explosive biogas.

(e) We could only burn in certain seasons. The breeding seasons of the Endangered population of Long-nosed Bandicoot (Perameles nasuta) and also the penguins had to be considered. This also involved working in with studies of these that were being done by the University of New South Wales, researching the bandicoot’s pre and post-fire introduction. Then we had to put in a notification strategy. The weather window, given all the other constraints, was very narrow. We put out an email notification system where we were literally going to give people anything from 24 hours notice up to 48 hours notice to actually go ahead with the burn.

This high level of risk meant that I had to win the confidence of senior management of Fire and Rescue NSW to support the burn. We did get that support as well as support from all the other land managers, which was fantastic.

Burns themselves. In terms of the burns themselves, once the fire got into the burn area it developed to very good intensity. It was a very high fuel load situation and one interesting challenge was to try and stop the fire fighters from putting the fires out. The buildings were quite close and they were very small parcels of burns.

Ecological context. The burns that we did on North Head involved a range of experimental treatments that included burning, controlled thinning and untreated controls; with some sites fenced from rabbits, a study conducted by Dr Judy Lambert.

We burnt on a small scale to start with to see what type of regeneration we were going to get from broad area burning out on the headland. The regeneration that we’re getting out at North Head is outstanding. But the biggest problem that we have is the newly sprouted post fire vegetation degradation from rabbits and the bandicoots. So we suggest for any burning in ESBS, the advice is that it needs to be fenced post-burn to encourage the regeneration to thrive.

Fig 2. High biomass vegetation before burn, North Head

Fig 2. High biomass vegetation before burn, North Head

Fig 3. During burn at North Head

Fig 3. During burn at North Head

Fig 4. Water deliver from air, North Head

Fig 4. Water deliver from air, North Head

Fig 5. Mopping up after burn at North Head

Fig 5. Mopping up after burn at North Head

2. La Perouse

At the New South Wales golf course at La Perouse the dominant species, Coastal Tea Tree (Leptospermum laevigatum) was cut and dropped on the ground. They let it cure and then they come in and burn it in isolated pockets.  Burning on the golf course is a lot easier than North Head because there are far fewer risks to plan for and manage, and the eastern boundary is the Pacific Ocean. With this type of environment and preparation we can get extremely high intensity burns which are required for the ESBS. Once again the land managers fence the area to stop exposure to rabbits. At the La Perouse golf course site, we had arson this fire season so we had an additional 21 hectares of wildfire. We’ve put measures in place to monitor what introduced fire has done compared with what wildfire has done in the same vegetative area along Henry Head.

3. Centennial Park

Centennial Park, in the middle of Sydney, has an area of ESBS which is not even a hectare. The Park’s owners, the Centennial Park Trust, have been manually clearing weed from the ESBS, piling it and then conducting pile burns on the area, spreading the ash from that. Once again some really good regeneration has occurred there and the burn area is also fenced off to stop rabbits.

That’s our story of how Fire and Rescue NSW has been involved in broad area burning, windrow burning and pile burning, working with land managers for the recovery of Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub.

Acknowledgements: Fire and Rescue NSW acknowledge this project could not have happed without the collaboration of National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, North Head Sanctuary Foundation, Rural Fire Service Pittwater Warringah, Road and Maritime Services, NSW Police, Manly Council, Sydney Water, Sydney Ports, Sydney Ferries, Harbor Control, Department of Defence and many others.

Contact: Robert Strauch, Bushfire Officer – Metro East Command, Fire and Rescue NSW (Operational Capability, Specialised Operations, Bushfire Section – Level 1, 55 Dickson Avenue, Artarmon, NSW 2064. Tel: +61 2 9901 2445, +61 448 597 547; Email: E

[This project summary is a precis of a talk presented to the Nature Conservation Council of NSW’s 10th Biennial Bushfire Conference, ‘Fire and Restoration: Working with Fire for Healthy Lands’ 26-27 May 2015. For full paper see:

Fig 6. Windrows before the burn, La Perouse

Fig 6. Windrows before the burn, La Perouse

Fig 7. Burn La Perouse

Fig 7. Burn La Perouse

Fig 8. Mopping up after burn, La Perouse

Fig 8. Mopping up after burn, La Perouse

Re-introducing burning to Themeda Headland Grassland EEC, Narooma, NSW.

Tom Dexter, Jackie Miles, Deb Lenson

Key Words: Fire management, threatened ecosystem, Kangaroo Grass, weed management, Themeda

Introduction: In 2012, Eurobodalla Shire Council commenced a project to preserve local stands of declining Themeda Headland Grassland on Council managed land on three small headlands north of Narooma, NSW. Themeda Grassland on Seacliffs and Coastal Headlands is an Endangered Ecological Community (EEC) that grows on higher fertility soils and is listed under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995.

Burning was trialed at two of the three sites to test whether fire could improve the environmental integrity of these sites. This trial has potential implications for the much larger stands of this EEC in various conservation reserves scattered along the NSW coastline as there are many which are not currently actively managed.

The three sites were slashed annually until 2010. While the dominant grass, Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra) was still present on all sites, the sites exhibited some decline in Kangaroo Grass cover and vigour, with weed present on all three sites (Fig 1). Slashing had kept the headlands free from shrubs however windrows of slashed grass suppressed Kangaroo Grass and appeared to encourage weed invasion. One of the sites, which was left unburnt for logistic reasons, was initially in worse condition than the other two due to the presence of an old vehicle track and more extensive weed cover particularly from Kikuyu (Pennisetum clandestinum).

The intensity of a burn is likely to vary on a seasonal basis and is dependent on the build-up of dead thatch and the prevailing conditions on the day. There is basis to believe that the traditional aboriginal burning would have taken place in Autumn and would have been a relatively cool burn. The optimum time to burn when considering the constraints of weed invasion is early spring.

Fig 1. Mowing damage at Duesburys Beach headland

Fig 1. Lines of bare ground indicate the location of windrows of dead grass from a history of mowing at Duesburys Beach headland

Works undertaken: Two successive burns were conducted in early spring on 2 of the 3 headlands, in August 2013 and August 2014 (Fig 2). The burn in 2013 was hotter than the burn in 2014 due to a higher build up of Kangaroo Grass thatch prior to the burn.

Follow-up weed control was implemented after the burns as the fire created gaps between the grasses and allowed targeted chemical control minimizing off target damage to Kangaroo Grass and other native species.

Data were collected on three occasions using ten 1 x 1 m quadrats, established along a 50 m transect spaced at 5 m intervals (one of these for each headland). The initial baseline data were recorded in Nov 2012, prior to the spring burns, and in each successive summer (2013/14 and 2014/15) following the burns.

Fig 2. Dalmeny Headlands burn 2015

Fig 2. Typical burn on the headlands

Results to date: The burnt areas (Figs 3 and 4) showed a significant decrease of annual exotic grasses; especially of Quaking Grass (Briza maxima) and Rats Tail Fescue (Vulpia spp.). The burnt areas also showed vigorous Kangaroo Grass growth and moderate seed production of that species. Two native species -Dwarf Milkwort (Polygala japonica) and Matgrass (Hemarthria uncinata Fig 5) not recorded prior to treatment were found after treatment in the quadrats. The most abundant native forbs, Swamp Weed (Selliera radicans) and Indian Pennywort (Centella asiatica) have persisted on the quadrats but not increased (Fig 6). Some exotic forbs – e.g. Yellow Catsear (Hypochaeris radicata) and Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) have taken advantage of the removal of grass biomass and have also increased, further future analysis will determine whether this increase will impact on the native forbs. Perhaps the most important finding is the Coast Banksia (Banksia integrifolia) seedlings were killed by the fire allowing the sites to remain grassland.

The unburnt headland continues to deteriorate, with ongoing evidence of continued senescense of Kangaroo Grass, no Kangaroo Grass seed production, and exotic plants continuing to replace Kangaroo Grass in parts of the site. Kikuyu is the main exotic species on this site and is responsible for continued suppression of the native components of the grassland. There is also evidence of shrub invasion beginning to occur. It is anticipated that this site will be burnt in spring 2015.

Fig 2. Duesburys Point just after fire, Sept 2013

Fig 3. Duesburys Point just after burning, Sept 2013

Fig 3. Same site 11 months later, Aug 2014

Fig 4. Same site 11 months later, Aug 2014

What we learned: Kangaroo Grass remains vigorous throughout the burnt sites. The results to date show annual burning to be generally beneficial to the herbaceous components and associated grasses of this EEC. There was a higher success of exotic annual grass control in the first year which is most likely attributed to a hotter fire and perhaps timing. The first year also had accumulated multiple years of thatch which may have assisted fire intensity. Supplementary chemical control was effective, particularly when the fire created gaps between the grasses, allowing for better targeted chemical control.

Future directions: So far the results have shown that an August fire followed by the targeted chemical control of exotic grasses has considerable positive influence on the overall environmental integrity of this ecosystem. The annual burning allows the EEC to remain a grassland by killing off Coast Banksia and Coastal Acacia seedlings. It invigorates Kangaroo Grass growth and reduces the biomass of exotic perennial grasses at least in the short term. This again creates an opportunity in the aforementioned targeted chemical control. The herbaceous composition of the headland also remains intact and future analysis will determine whether burning has either a neutral or positive effect on growth. Kikuyu, Paspalum (Paspalum dilitatum) and annual exotic weeds continue to be the main problem. Increased post-burn selective herbicide application or hand weeding and planting of Kangaroo Grass tubestock may help to restore the grassland more rapidly than use of fire with limited weed control alone. Ongoing funding is being sought to continue the works over coming years and achieve further positive future outcomes.

Acknowledgements: The works were undertaken by Eurobodalla Shire Council with funding from the NSW Environmental Trust. Fire assistance from the NSW Rural Fire Service and cultural advice provided by Elders of the Walbunja people.

Contact: Tom Dexter; Environment and Sustainability Project Officer; Eurobodalla Shire Council (PO Box 99 Vulcan St Moruya 2537, Australia. Email:

Fig 5. Hemarthria uncinata was more evident after fire. (Duesburys Beach headland.)

Fig 5. Hemarthria uncinata was only evident after fire. (Duesburys Beach headland.)

Fig 5. More forbs among the grass after fire at Duesburys Point – e.g. Sellaria radicans

Fig 6. The forb Sellaria radicans persisted  among the grass after fire.


Restoration of Tuart (Eucalyptus gomphocephala) during prescribed burning in southwestern Australia

Katinka Ruthrof, Leonie Valentine and Kate Brown

Key words:  fire, regeneration, coarse woody debris, ashbed

Regeneration of Tuart (Eucalyptus gomphocephala), in many parts of its fragmented distribution in Western Australia, is nominal. Previous work has shown it has specific regeneration niche requirements, recruiting in ashbeds within canopy gaps. We conducted a field trial to determine whether regeneration could be facilitated by creating coarse woody debris (CWD) piles that would become ashbeds during a low-intensity, prescribed burn.

Regeneration experiment. Paganoni Swamp Bushland, a peri-urban Eucalyptus-Banksia woodland, was due for prescribed burning in 2011. Prior to the burn, twelve canopy gaps within the bushland were chosen to have CWD piles built up in the centre (5mx5m wide, 0.5m height). Six gaps were chosen to have no ashbeds, and so had any naturally occurring CDW removed. Adjacent to each plot (whether ashbed or no ashbed), an extra 5mx5m plot was marked out as a control.

The six gaps without ashbeds, and half of the 12 ashbeds, were broadcast with Tuart seed in plots of 5m x 5m following the prescribed burn.  Approximately 375 seeds/per 25m2 plot (after typical forestry seeding practice) were sown within one month of the prescribed burn.

The temperature of the control burn that moved through the area was measured in the gaps using pyrocrayons. These temperature-sensitive crayons were used to draw lines onto ceramic tiles. Five tiles were placed into each gap, either on the surface in the non-ashbed plots, or beneath the CWD piles, totaling 90 tiles.

Results. The majority of CDW piles burnt during the prescribed burning activities.  These piles burnt at high temperatures (~560Co) compared with the control plots (~70 Co). After six months, the ashbeds, especially those that were seeded, contained a significantly higher number of seedlings (0.7/m2 ± 0.3) than ashbeds without added seed (0.01/m2 ± 0.01) or control plots (0.0-0.05/m2 ± 0.0-0.05).

Lessons learned. Tuart regeneration can be facilitated at an operational scale as part of prescribed fire activities, through creation of CWD piles and broadcast seeding. However, higher rates of seeding could be used. Raking the seeds following broadcasting to reduce removal by seed predators may also increase seedling numbers.

Acknowledgements. Thanks go to the  State Centre of Excellence for Climate Change, Woodland and Forest Health, Murdoch University; Western Australian Department of Environment and Conservation; and to Friends of Paganoni Swamp.

Contact: Katinka Ruthrof, Research Associate, Murdoch University, South Street, Murdoch, 6150, Western Australia; Tel: (61-8) 9360 2605; Email:

A created coarse woody debris pile within a canopy gap, ready for the prescribed burn

A created coarse woody debris pile within a canopy gap, ready for the prescribed burn

A created ashbed following the prescribed burn

A created ashbed following the prescribed burn

Pyrocrayon markings on - a tile showing the temperature of the prescribed burn

Pyrocrayon markings on – a tile showing the temperature of the prescribed burn

Tuart seedlings recruiting following ashbed creation and broadcast seeding. Note that this is the same ashbed as in Figure 2.

Tuart seedlings recruiting following ashbed creation and broadcast seeding. Note that this is the same ashbed as in Figure 2.

Burning for pasture, biodiversity and culture

Key words: Indigenous land management, patch burning, grassland restoration, native perennial grasses

Russell Hill

This innovative project is trialing traditional burning values in the Lachlan catchment to provide agricultural, biodiversity and cultural outcomes.

Burning trials across the Lachlan will be conducted with 10 landholders. This partnership between the Lachlan CMA and the NSW Rural Fire Service will set up 8 Indigenous community fire teams for the project. These trials will provide vital information about interactions between fire tolerant and fire sensitive species and the long term dynamics of habitats under varying fire regimes.
Members of the community (Indigenous and European) will better understand how ecological communities can be managed to improve agricultural returns, resilience and enhance biodiversity.

Figure1. Lachlan CMA Traditional Burning Technical Advisory Panel members observing one of the Pitfall sites where 6-12 months of monitoring will take place prior to any burn.

Focus of the project
• Issues in the role of carbon storage by native grassland pastures,
• The loss of perennial native grasses in the landscape and
• The role of cool burn fires as a positive tool for future management in a landscape under the influence of climate change.
• The project will develop the NRM skills of Indigenous Australians
• Increase biodiversity and improve the resilience of natural environments

Traditional Mosaic Burning. The innovation of gaining knowledge through investigating the role that traditional Indigenous mosaic burning can play in the future of pastoral management has obvious benefits in resilience building in both pasture care and the farming community.

Potentially mosaic burning can be a simple tool to empower everyone as conservationists and promote sustainable land management change.
The importance of bringing back native perennial grasses in the design of more productive grazing programs is understood, yet we know little about the ecology of these grasses. Australian native grasses have evolved in an environment where mosaic burning was a positive management tool. It has been demonstrated in native grasses of northern Australia that appropriate fire can have strong productive consequences on growth and seed production.

Cool burning has the ability to drive the production of increased seed yield and higher protein; hot fires can induce negative growth in many native grasses and over a long period leads to a loss of perennial ground cover. This project will experimentally question the effects of fire on southern Australian flora (with a grass focus) and fauna over a 10 year period.

What is being done? The Lachlan CMA commenced working with communities in February 2011 through community information evenings, followed by visits to community centre’s and field sites. During the first year of the project community fire teams of Indigenous community members will be trained by the RFS in fire fighting. These teams will then assist scientists, Lachlan CMA staff and RFS in conducting experimental burns at 10
locations across the Lachlan region.

Figure 2. A ‘cool’ burn conducted in Lachlan catchment grasslands.

Ten properties containing eight treatments (4x 5ha 2011 Spring burns, 4 x 5 ha 2012 Autumn burns total = 40 ha), with five paired replicates will be used in the design (total burns & controls = 360 ha). In conjunction with the burns, field sites will be monitored for biodiversity using Indigenous community members supervised by biologists.

Contact:  Russell Hill, Catchment Officer, Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Program Lachlan CMA, PO Box 726, FORBES NSW Australia, 2871. Tel: +61 2 6851 9514; Mob: 0428 423 991; Email:

Natural and cultural resource management – The aspirations of the traditional custodians of the Bunya Mountains

Key words:  Araucaria bidwilii, Bunya, fire,  South East Queensland, traditional custodians

David Calland

Prior to colonisation, the Bunya Mountains was a place of large gatherings of the Aboriginal people of South East Queensland for the ‘Bonye Bonye’ festival; a time of feasting, ceremony, trading, betrothals and the settling of disputes. In years when there were heavy crops of the nutritious bunya nuts (from the native Bunya Pine, Araucaria bidwilii), invitations from custodians went out to groups towards the coast and to people as far away as the Clarence River in northern NSW and the Maranoa River over 350k to the west. Festivals took place from December to March and the last big recorded gathering was in the 1880s.

In August 2008 the first of a series of Stakeholder Forums were held on the Bunya Mountains of SE Queensland to discuss natural and cultural resource management issues and to explore ways for the Murri people of South East Queensland to become more actively involved in planning, research and on ground management of lands in the Bunya Mountains region.
Traditional Custodians from about twelve groups met with scientists, Government and Non Government Organisations and business representatives and as a result the Bunya Partnership Coordination Group (BPCG) and the Bunya Elders Council were formed to create Natural and Cultural Resource Management opportunities for Traditional Custodians.

Stakeholders on Mt Kiangarow (1126m).

Australian Government funding was secured to develop a Caring for Our Country Action Plan for the Bunya Mountains. The plan was published in late 2010.

In September 2009, a bid to the Australian Government for the Working on Country program was successful. This project is called the Bunya Mountains Murri Ranger Project. The project has employed 4 Indigenous Rangers, a Coordinator Ranger and a part time Administrative Assistant. The group is working collaboratively with Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service on the Bunya Mountains National Park and the Western Downs Regional Council on Russell Park.

The Bunya Mountains support a unique assemblage of plants, animals and ecosystems and have been likened to an island of biodiversity surrounded by an ocean of plains of mainly cleared farmland. They are a biodiversity refuge, harbouring ancient species, distinct plant and animal communities and more than 30 rare and threatened species.

One hundred and nineteen grasslands, known locally as “balds”, are dotted across the Bunya Mountains. These balds have important cultural significance as they were maintained by traditional burning practice.

The first traditional burn in 100 years; Bunya Murri Rangers 2010.

A large component of the project involves the management of fire on the grasslands through experimental burns of varying frequencies and intensities. Researchers and rangers are working to find the right fire regimes to maintain the open character and species diversity of the balds before they are lost forever.

Contact: Dave Calland, Natural Resource Officer -Indigenous Engagement, Department of Environment and Resource Management. PO Box 573, Nambour Qld 4560, Australia.  Tel: +61 4 5451 2401 Mob: 0427 427246, Email:

The Hotspots Fire Project

Key words: Indigenous land management, fire, ecological burning, community education

Waminda Parker and Lana Andrews

Fire is a fundamental driver that continues to shape our ecological communities. Fire is also a fundamental component of Aboriginal cultural practice. Aboriginal communities throughout NSW are currently seeking opportunities to engage with contemporary fire management practices with an emphasis on revitalising and incorporating traditional knowledge to improve cultural and biodiversity management of their country.

The Hotspots Fire Project (Hotspots) is a NS training program which provides landholders and land managers with the skills and knowledge needed to actively and collectively participate in fire management for the protection of life and property while at the same time ensuring healthy productive landscapes in which biodiversity is protected and maintained. It operates under the guidance of the nine project partners in the Advisory Committee, and is delivered through the coordinated efforts of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW and the NSW Rural Fire Service.

Hotspots recognises that there are many long term benefits in supporting Aboriginal communities to revitalise their cultural fire knowledge and practices. These include, but are not limited to, reducing the threat and impact of inappropriate fire on Aboriginal owned country, improving fire management practices in support of optimising biodiversity conservation (therefore building in landscape resilience) and improving Aboriginal community health by enabling communities to re-engage and practice fire and biodiversity management.

Working with six Aboriginal community groups, Hotspots has developed a training program that caters to individual property fire management planning. These map-based property plans aim to explore ways to plan for and implement fire management strategies which address cultural, biodiversity and risk management values.

Already Hotspots has worked with three Local Aboriginal Land Councils (Cobowra, Darkingjung, Jali, and Wanaruah) and two Indigenous Protected Areas (Boorabee/Willows and Wattle Ridge). Hotspots continues to look for opportunities to maintain working relations with Aboriginal communities and already for 2012 Hotspots is aiming to work with Ngulingah and the Nambucca Heads Local Aboriginal Land Councils and the Mingaan and Yarrawarra Aboriginal Corporations.

Contact: Waminda Parker, Hotspots Manager, Hotspots Program: Nature Conservation Council of NSW, Tel: +61 2 9516 0359, Email; or Lana Andrews, Coordinator Hotspots Programme, NSW Rural Fire Service, Tel: +61 2 8741 5555, Email: For further information visit

Three action research projects: (i)Traditional Knowledge Revival Pathways Fire Program, (ii)Kuku Thaypan Fire Management Research Project and (iii)the Importance of Campfires to Effective Conservation – Cape York Peninsula Australia

Key words: Traditional ecological knowledge, natural resource management, Indigenous research, Indigenous training, fire management

Location and purpose of the projects. Kuku-Thaypan (Awu Laya) country is part of the Cape York bio-geographical region, Cook Shire, North Queensland.  Every year, areas of Cape York Peninsula burn through prescribed and uncontrolled fire in the late dry and storm seasons.  Although increasing, little burning generally occurs throughout the early dry season. The effect of fire on the environment is under study through a number of research initiatives including the Traditional Knowledge Revival Pathways (TKRP), the Kuku Thaypan Fire Management Research project (KTFMRP) and the “Importance of Campfires to effective conservation research”.  However, it is clear that more recent fire regimes are different to those practiced by traditional Indigenous land managers and that these more recent fire regimes do not ensure the maintenance of native vegetation communities that require specific fire management regimes or protection from fire.

Victor Steffensen Mulong Director with participants at 2011 TKRP fire workshop

Fig 1. Victor Steffensen Mulong Director with participants at 2011 TKRP fire workshop on Kuku Thaypan Country sand bank at Gno Coom – Saxby Lagoon – principal study site for the TKRP KTFMRP and The Importance of Campfires 2004-2011.

Prior to European occupation, for example, fire management in Kuku Thaypan country was carried out throughout the year for a variety of purposes. Traditional owners tended different ecosystems with burn regimes at different times of year and actively managed country to keep fire out. Various scales of between and within ecosystem burning resulted. Each implemented action undertaken in response to a suite of cultural and environmental indicators.

In order to understand the significance of Mo (fire) for Kuku Thaypan people it is necessary to recognise that every square inch of Kuku Thaypan country is embedded with cultural meaning, that their exists interconnectivity between all things; and that all things are animate and sentient. Fire is sacred and as such its use brings great responsibility. Fire maps have been developed for Early season, Dry season and Storm season fires over a ten year period from 2000 to 2010.
What we are doing. The TKRP, KTFMRP and the “Importance of Campfires to effective conservation research” projects have actively supported the ambitions of two senior Kuku Thaypan Elders, Dr. Tommy George and the late Dr. George Musgrave since 2004. The Indigenous Elders wanted to demonstrate the benefits of their fire knowledge, practically implementing fire to heal country while teaching others and recording it for generations to come and as such initiated their KTFMRP. This was the Elders’ response to seeing their country burnt “too hot, at the wrong time and in the wrong places.” Every year since 2004, the programs have  undertaken successful on-country Indigenous led and centered co-generative action research and training programs focused on fire management.

Peta Standley TKRP KTFMRP co-researcher

Fig 2. Peta Standley TKRP KTFMRP co-researcher working with 2011 workshop participants undertaking monitoring at a non-TEK burn site.

Achievements to date. The evolution of this work has led to the development of the TKRP Indigenous Fire training program in 2010 and the description of a research practitioner model for “integration” of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) in contemporary resource management with a focus on fire and biodiversity. The TKRP fire program is educating both Indigenous and non-Indigenous natural resource management practitioners and researchers from diverse communities across Australia in Traditional fire management and research practices derived from the recordings and teachings of the two Kuku Thaypan Elders. In each new community that engages with the program, TEK and western science fire and biodiversity knowledge is being shared, invigorated and co-generated through on-country action.

Dr. Tommy George

Fig 3. Dr. Tommy George monitoring the 2011 Fire Workshop on Kuku Thaypan country

Significance. The benefits of the program are not just for country, but also for people. The TKRP Indigenous research methodology embodies an ancient way to undertake cultural practice, where the right people have a voice to ensure that interactions with country and people are undertaken according to protocol, kinship and lore. This Indigenous methodology and the CAMPFIRES research practitioner model, applied in co-generation, have created unified ways to do research and culturally appropriate ways to bring Indigenous knowledge of fire and biodiversity into contemporary environment and resource management. Together they have worked with others on multiple pathways for engagement between TEK holders and western science knowledge holders that have been culturally relevant and naturally benefited country and community. One of the pathways is the Indigenous led participatory action research project – “Threats to Native Bees (Sugarbag)” which was initiated and led by the Indigenous participants.

Acknowledgements. Partners in the project include Mulong TKRP, James Cook University, and CSIRO.  Thanks go to the funding agencies, partners and supporters of the projects over the last eight years.

Contact: Peta-Marie Standley, Program manager, Cape York Natural Resource Management Ltd, CSIRO Atherton. PO Box 907, Atherton Q 4883, Australia. Tel: 0418 198 244, Email:

Fire management at Two Peoples Bay – Mt Manypeaks, Western Australia

Key words: environmental management, threatened species, collaboration, communication

Allan Burbidge

Fire management is a major challenge where there are multiple conservation values and potentially conflicting adjacent community values; the challenge is further exacerbated in landscapes involving rough terrain where access for fire management is difficult. All three factors occur in the Two Peoples Bay – Manypeaks area in south-western Australia, which is mostly conservation estate, with some water reserves, and surrounded by private land. In this often steep and rocky landscape, there are threatened vertebrates such as the Noisy Scrub-bird and Gilbert’s Potoroo, threatened plants and short range endemic relictual invertebrates, all with different habitat requirements, and therefore different management requirements. Superimposed on this are community values which involve the surrounding relatively small private holdings, with homes, timber plantations, stock and agricultural infrastructure

Bushfire on Mount Manypeaks (Photo: Ed Hatherley)

Fire management by the State conservation agencies in the area during the 1970s focussed on fire exclusion, as it was believed that this was optimal for the locally endemic and newly rediscovered Noisy Scrub-bird. However, this resulted in dangerous fuel levels, posing a threat to this species and other conservation values. Despite the need to reduce the threat, only minimal use of prescribed fire was able to be applied to manage fuel levels, because of the area’s difficult terrain and the requirements for many species for long interfire intervals.

Water bomber on route to fire (Photo: Sarah Comer)

The problem seemed intractable until local managers, researchers, senior agency managers and policy makers were brought together to debate the options in a focussed meeting. After considerable debate, this group agreed that selected prescription burns in the untracked zones of Mt Manypeaks could be carried out and some patchy ignition could be initiated on the upper slopes by aerial ignition, in a way that minimised negative impacts on populations of threatened species. This in itself was a challenge, as virtually everywhere in the 28 000 ha study area provided habitat for at least one threatened species.

Noisy Scrub-bird (Photo: Alan Danks)

This process is ongoing and adaptive, particularly in the sense that wildfires extent and impact can never be predicted, but some key points have emerged. First, no single group had all the answers or expertise to understand the complex situation, underlining the importance for all practitioners to embrace dynamic and ongoing partnerships. Progress only came with co-ordinated and collaborative commitment from researchers, policy makers and managers. Second, we found that generalised models are inadequate for (complex) individual cases, particularly where there are multiple species of interest, and these species have different management requirements. Third, the old linear model of management was simply not functional; new knowledge and assumptions concerning the dynamic nature of the threatened fauna and flora populations demanded dynamic management, preferably in an adaptive management framework.

Mount Manypeaks after fire (Photo: Sarah Comer)

Major players in this process have come from Nature Conservation Division and Science Division staff within the Department of Environment and Conservation, with species specific input from the South Coast Threatened Birds Recovery Team, Gilbert’s Potoroo Recovery Team and the Albany District Flora Recovery Team.  Strong collaboration with other land managers such as Water Corporation and plantation managers is essential for the successful management of the conservation interface with other land uses.

Further reading:
Comer, S., and Burbidge, A. H. (2006). Manypeaks rising from the ashes. Landscope 22(1), 51-55.

Contact: Sarah Comer (Department of Environment and Conservation, 120 Albany Highway, Albany, Western Australia 6330; tel (08) 9842 4500; email ) and Allan Burbidge (Department of Environment and Conservation, PO Box 51, Wanneroo, Western Australia 6946; tel (08) 9405 5100; email