Graduate Research School Available Projects Planning with Fire: hazard, heritage or habitat

Planning with Fire: hazard, heritage or habitat

Title of Project

Planning with Fire: hazard, heritage or habitat


Dr Sharon Harwood, Prof Iain Gordon

College or Research Centre

College of Science & Engineering

Summary of Project

The purpose of this PhD project is to: Recognise the connection between Aboriginal people and their ancestral lands to create planning codes and overlays that reflect the knowledge, culture and traditions of using fire in land management. Background There is a disjunct between the current land use planning practice and the cultural interpretation of land management as it relates to fire management. Fire management can be practiced by Aboriginal people to reinforce cultural connections to both country and kin, it can also be used by graziers in the summer time to gain sweeter grasses for their cattle in the summer months after rain, fire is also used in mid-winter by the Rural Fire Brigade to reduce fuel loads before the hot dry times leading up to the wet season and conservation organisations also use fire to protect or enhance fire dependent habitats such as the Northern Bettongs. Fire has many meanings to many people, and to simply view fire as a hazard fails to allow for the conduct of customary law to be undertaken by Aboriginal people. Added to this disjunct are the complicated types of tenure, property rights and conflicting statutes that affect the use and management of the Indigenous Estate. The statutory planning system in Queensland requires all lands within a local government planning scheme to include bushfire hazard assessment and to be mapped accordingly. The required mitigations to bushfire hazards differ from one local authority to another. Further disjuncts include the restriction on the use of fire within Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUA’s) with conservation organisations such as between the Wet Tropics Management Authority and native title holders permitting the use of fire for weed suppression only (see for instance the report by the Cultural Values Project Steering Committee 2014). The Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area (WTQWHA) spans the Ancestral homelands of 20 distinct Traditional Owner groups, which includes approximately 120 clans comprising about 600 distinct family groups (Schmider, 2014). One such Traditional Owners group is the Aboriginal nation of the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people (represented by Jabalbina Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation, who must comply with the provisions of three planning schemes (Cook (2017), Wujal Wujal (2013) and Douglas (draft)) in the regulation of fire management. There are many statutes affecting the use of fire in land management such as the Vegetation Management Act (1999) – where fire is treated as ‘clearing, and the Native Title Act (1993) (C’wealth) and associated determinations that protect the Native Title rights and interests. The statutes are in conflict with one another, where one prohibits the use of fire, another promotes it as a cultural heritage. For instance the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999) (C’wealth) that included the Wet Tropics of Queensland in the National Heritage list, also recently included the following for recognition in its schedules (Commonwealth of Australia 2012:2): Aboriginal peoples specific uses of fire to manage and alter their rainforest home, including the purposeful use of fire to alter vegetation communities and plant specific techniques to control the lawyer vine. These cultural practices are the expression of the technical achievements that made it possible for Aboriginal people to live year round in the rainforest of the Wet Tropics. These disjuncts between policy and statutes creates conflicts between Aboriginal groups and state agencies. There is a distinct need for an in depth and philosophical approach to be undertaken to create a coherent policy framework that recognises fire as a hazard in land use planning and development, fire for conservation and fire in the protection of National Heritage values.

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Updated: 08 Apr 2020