CFA team wins innovation award

By Ivy Jensen

SIX district firefighters were part of a CFA indigenous fire training project which recently won a statewide innovation award.

CFA District 20 was awarded joint winner at the Volunteer Victoria State Awards on November 20 for its Koorie inclusion project initiative, A Culture of Fire.

A team of 30, including District 20 Commander Bryan Suckling and brigade administration support officer (Campaspe catchment) Lisa Brettschneider, Wyuna Fire Brigade captain Harold Montgomery, Bamawm Extension Fire Brigade captain George Calleja, Wolthiga traditional owner and Echuca Fire Brigade volunteer Colin Atkinson and Colbinabbin Fire Brigade secretary Leo McEvoy, travelled thousands of kilometres to one of Australia's most remote roadhouses in July last year to hone their fire-management skills.

Based at the Hell's Gate Roadhouse on the Queensland/Northern Territory border, the Jigija Indigenous Fire Training Program is based on using small fires as a tool to stop dangerous bushfires destroying the landscape.

The trip to the Gulf of Carpentaria aimed to give CFA volunteers and staff an opportunity to learn about traditional burning practices, biodiversity, protection of sacred sites, indigenous culture and ancient ways to care for country.

“The Jigija Indigenous Fire Training Program is one of a kind in Australia and it was a privilege to be immersed in an indigenous culture that has continued to practice cultural burning to care for country,” Mr Suckling said.

“The rangers from the Gangalidda people have combined traditional practice with modern science to offer a very unique program.

Mr Suckling said members returned “lost for words”.

“To learn some of the local stories and local history, every single one of us has had our eyes opened and keen to open them more,” he said.

“The immersion experience enabled participants to learn about indigenous fire management techniques which have been used for hundreds of thousands of years with principles being brought back to our communities and applied to local planning.”

Since the trip, team members have taken the lessons they learned back to their local communities and developed partnerships with their local Traditional Owners to implement a wide range of initiatives.

“This program will have positive impacts for years to come, not just amongst those who attended the training, but more broadly in the community as linkages made between Traditional Owners, CFA and community members expands,” Mr Suckling said.

“The learnings from this project continue to have a ripple effect across CFA and our local communities.”

Project manager Elaine Hamilton said the award recognised how significant it was for its people to work closely with Traditional Owners to carry out initiatives.

“The project was a great learning and relationship-building opportunity for our people and we’re hoping to further develop our knowledge and relationships in this area in future,” she said.