Category Archives: Queensland

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:

Threats to Native Bees (Sugarbag) Project – one of the pathways of the Traditional Knowledge Revival Pathways Kuku Thaypan Fire Management Program

Key words: Traditional ecological knowledge, native stingless bees, Trigonia sp., Indigenous training, fire management

The project and its aims: From February to April 2010 the Kuku Thaypan Fire Management Research Project through the Elders’ Traditional Knowledge Revival Pathways (TKRP) in Cape York, North Queensland – extended their Indigenous led action research methodology to begin implementation of the “Threats to Native Bees (Sugarbag)” project.

One aim of this project was to design a methodology for mapping bee nesting sites (“sugarbag”) using both Traditional and non-traditional knowledge systems. Another was to assess the potential usefulness of stingless bees Trigonia sp as an indicator of biodiversity health in Woodlands.

Outputs of the action research project included two short trailers, a short case study film and a CD Rom Powerpoint Presentation outlining the project.

Shared elements of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) )and western science on sugarbag management issues affecting stingless bees included inter-relationships with flowering events and fire timing, frequency and intensity.

The final short film acts to communicate the project as a case study presenting key elements of the relationship between stingless bees, sugarbag, people and fire, while practically demonstrating land management from a grassroots community perspective.

The CD Rom Powerpoint presentation highlights key elements of the project methodology, method, challenges, achievements and findings and begins to describe the classification system as recorded by TEK and western science through the project.

Lessons learned. The potency of the training tools is that they enhance on-country training methods as they re-enforce the experience and recollection of country as close as possible to actually being there, triggering reliving of the knowledge exchange that encompasses deeper learning.

The Sugarbag project has directly assisted communities by demonstrating a structure where transfer in Traditional Knowledge occurs through culturally appropriate means. Undertaking TEK transfer in the field, while practically demonstrating knowledge through action research case studies and training in multi-media tools, provides a diverse number of outcomes beneficial to the environment and community well-being. This methodology directly empowers communities because they are implementing their own projects and control how information is shared across Australia and abroad.

Acknowledgements. Partners to the Sugarbag research project were Mulong Pty, Ltd, The Importance of Campfires Research Project, Caring for Our Country Open Grants, James Cook University Australian Tropical Forest Institute Centre for Sustainable Indigenous Communities, Charles Darwin University.

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:

Eels on Wheels – An evaluation of the trap-and-transfer method of Long-finned Eel (Anguilla reinhardtii) at the Ross River Dam, Townsville

Key words: fish barriers, fish passage, migration, fishways, eels, Anguilla reinhardtii

Carla Hutchinson-Reade

Freshwater eels, like many other species, need to migrate to and from marine environments to complete their lifecycle. Throughout Australia large dams are restricting the migration success of native eels contributing to the overall decline of eel numbers. NQ Dry Tropics (the natural resource management body for north Queensland’s dry tropics) is conducting a project focused on removing fish barriers which will help to reverse this trend. An Eels on Wheels device is a simple yet effective method that can be employed in many locations that are impassable to eels. The device facilitates upstream migration of eels during the early stage of their lifecycle.

NQ Dry Tropics commissioned a study Eel passage over large dams of their catchment region in the dry tropics in Queensland, Australia. During the study no eels were recorded above the Burdekin Falls Dam while many were recorded below. This suggested a very real problem. The study identified the Ross River Dam as a major barrier to the Long-finned Eel (Anguilla reinhardtii), as several thousand elvers were observed attempting upstream migration by climbing dam wall abutments without success.

Elvers scale the blue netting up the sheer wall to get to the Astro Turf

To overcome this barrier an eel trap-and-transfer trial was established on 17 December 2010 prior to wet season rainfalls. (Local knowledge of previous migration history gave NQ Dry Tropics insight into migration events.) Since then around 3000 upstream migrants have been captured using a custom-designed trap we call Eels on Wheels and safely relocated within 48 hours. Trapping went on for 3 months.

Entry ramp lined with Astro Turf leads to a modified wheelie bin. The bin is filled with water and contains a live adult eel whose scent attracts elvers. The bin is then wheeled by project staff to the upstream side of the barrier.

The trap consists of a wheelie bin fitted with an Astro Turf-lined entry ramp which delivers a flow attraction fed from the upstream storage. The main drivers for trapping success and retention are in the level of attraction flow and trap accessibility. Once the elvers are in the wheelie bin they are transported and released by the project staff on the upstream side of the barrier. The Eels on Wheels device is a low cost and effective option to assist eels to overcome dam barriers. The same device can be replicated by natural resource managers around the country.

Contact: Paul Duncanson, NQ Dry Tropics (07) 4724 3544 or email

Townsville’s environmental awareness-raising ‘Celebrate the Sea’ Festival

Key words: environmental education, science-practice collaboration, marine debris, Clean Up Australia Day, National Seaweek

Carla Hutchinson-Reade

On Clean Up Australia Day 2011, NQ Dry Tropics hosted a new event called Celebrate the Sea Festival in Townsville to promote National Seaweek. The aim of the event was to place a spotlight on the achievements of local environment groups and marine scientists.

Residents were invited to contribute towards creating a more sustainable future on their local beach of Pallarenda in a practical way. The 146 volunteers removed 52 bags of rubbish that were destined to become deadly marine debris. All volunteers of the clean up were rewarded with a free BBQ lunch, educational activities including a bush tucker walk and marine scientist presentations.

Seven experts spoke about sea turtle conservation, our changing climate, wetlands, creating sustainable behaviour changes and permaculture design. The presenters were from organisations including James Cook University, Reef and Rainforest Research Centre and Marine Wildlife Australia. Seven environment groups had displays and ran educational activities for both young and old. Additional awareness was raised through television and radio interviews on the day and NQ Dry Tropics’ events leading up to the Festival. NQ Dry Tropics’ Laura Dunstan spoke about marine debris in four television and three radio interviews.

Children grabbed their chance to hug and talk to three giant mascots including NQ Dry Tropics’ favourite employees, Duey the dugong and Tiny the Tern. Duey asked people to protect their precious seagrass and to slow down and look out for dugongs when boating. Tiny’s concern is protecting precious nests on beaches. Reef HQ’s Lucky T Turtle sold the ‘say no to plastic bags’ message and the ‘4 R’s of rubbish – refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle’.

The Celebrate the Sea Festival inspired and educated residents about marine science and conservation and encouraged environment groups to collaborate and learn collectively. Its success has meant that NQ Dry Tropics is keen to host Celebrate the Sea Festival in 2012.

Donations towards the event were kindly supplied by Bunnings, Ergon Energy, Doug Edes Party Hire, local food suppliers and the environment groups that exhibited including Conservation Volunteers Australia, Reef HQ Great Barrier Reef Aquarium, Marine Wildlife Australia, Permaculture Townsville, Sea Turtle Foundation, Coastal Dry Tropics Landcare Inc and NQ Fly Fishing.

Contact: Laura Dunstan, Community Support Officer, NQ Dry Tropics, (07) 4724 3544 or email

Thiaki Creek: Cost-effective Rainforest Restoration for Carbon & Biodiversity

Key words: landscape resilience; rainforest fragments; connectivity; endangered species

Noel Preece

A large-scale reforestation experiment has begun in the Wet Tropics to examine the best and most cost-effective ways of reforesting a long-cleared grassed landscape to rainforest. The project is on Thiaki Creek, a highland tributary of the North Johnstone River which flows onto the Great Barrier Reef of Far North Queensland. The project is based on a fully replicated experimental design of 64 plots, covering over 20 hectares.

Part of the 20 ha experimental area in which the 64 plots are laid out. Rows were sprayed to suppress the exotic pasture grasses and the planters are planting the seedlings directly into the ground with planter spades.

The local ecosystem is moist complex notophyll vine rainforest (type 7.8.4) which can be seen in the background. This is State-listed (endangered) rainforest, home to endangered Cassowaries and six species of possum, and more than a hundred species of bird including the rare Grey Goshawk.

Aims: While forestry practices using monoculture tree species are well developed, reforestation practices using mixed native species for carbon sequestration and biodiversity are relatively poorly understood. Results of mixed plantings have been variable, regularly producing less than optimal outcomes and high establishment and maintenance costs have resulted in poor returns from investment. This is due to inadequate research on optimum site preparation, species mixes, spacings and propagation to achieve more cost effective outcomes.

Results and lessons: 27,000 trees were planted in January 2011, a few days before Cyclone Yasi. Early lessons learned are that spraying pasture grasses in strips, rather than blanket spraying the whole planting area, provides protection from erosion, wind and desiccation. Planting when the ground is saturated improves survival rates. An early experimental result demonstrates that forestry planting methods using planting spades take ¼ the time and 1/6 the expense of using augers, a common practice among landholders in the region, and the responses of mixed rainforest species is very good, with less than 6% loss.

Future directions: A range of studies has commenced on the site, including studies on soil carbon and nutrients; above ground carbon; plant diversity and plant functional traits; bee, fly, ant and dung beetle diversity and function; review of restoration practices; and economics. Future studies could include vertebrate roles and responses; competitive effects of tree mixtures; relationships of spacings and species to site capture rates and natural suppression of grasses; diversity versus productivity and resilience; mycorrhiza and other soil microbiota studies; soil hydrology and micro-climatology.
Stakeholders: The project is supported by a 5-year Australian Research Council Linkage grant, with the Universities of Queensland, Adelaide, Charles Darwin, Cambridge and Lancaster and Linkage partners Stanwell Corporation, Terrain NRM Ltd, Greening Australia and Biome5 Pty Ltd.

Contacts: Dr Margie Mayfield, University of Queensland,; Dr Noel Preece, Biome5 Pty Ltd, Outlines of the Thiaki project are shown on: and