On Country with SETAC

11th November 2023 | Local Landcarers spent the afternoon at Murrayfield Station on Bruny Island (Lunawanna-allonah) learning about how the South East Tasmanian Aboriginal Corporation (SETAC) land management team use fire and other techniques to keep Country healthy.

(Image Credit: Landcare Tasmania)

James Shaw works for SETAC conducting cultural and cool burning on private land and reserves across southern lutruwita. Throughout the day, he shared his extensive knowledge from years of listening and learning from Country while working in various roles that utilised fire as a management tool. Participants were encouraged to actively participate in the discussion to create opportunities for knowledge-sharing. 

The crowd was diverse, including representatives from local environmental organisations, students, land management practitioners, local property owners, local Landcare groups and even a group all the way from the East Coast. The conversation flowed while we took a walk around the property to observe the outcome of different burning approaches.

This event is only the beginning of a journey to increase engagement between Landcarers and the First Nations community. Continuing two-way communication will be crucial in moving towards a more holistic approach to looking after your local patch of bush, including how to use fire to not only reduce bushfire risk but to also increase ecological values. 

We feel very grateful to have been invited to Murrayfield, a place of cultural significance for First Nations people for thousands of years, and thank James Shaw, Meg Lockley and Nicole King from the South East Tasmanian Aboriginal Corporation land management team for hosting an informative day.

Some key takeaways from the day:

  • Getting out onto Country is the best way to learn from it. Be part of Country before you burn.
  • Fire behaviour is dependent on the condition of the site. Consider soil moisture, vegetation type, vegetation structure and fuel loads.
  • Cool burning methodologies create fires that burn at low intensity and don't require extinguishing. This includes treating each patch of bush differently depending on what the condition is. For example, James explained how flattening bracken, by stomping on the plants, reduces the amount of oxygen fueling the fire, creating a low-intensity fire (this should only be done at the time of a burn, otherwise it will dry out remaining load if left).
  • Fire reaching the canopy is not good. This means the burn is too hot. The trees will probably die after the burn.
  • One of the main indications of what healthy bush looked like pre-settlement is European photos. In areas where aboriginal people lived and collected food, the bush was generally easy to walk through, and there were more grasses and higher diversity.
  • We have seen that planned fuel reduction burns often ignore ecological values as reducing fire hazards is prioritised. However, these high-intensity burns tend to create more issues than solutions as they are restricted by timing and boundaries, meaning that even if the conditions aren’t right fires go ahead.
  • The lack of government funding for correct burning practices and the potential of community ownership of fire management were discussed. 


(Image Credit: Landcare Tasmania)


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Author: Lily Fraser 


This workshop is part of Landcare Tasmania's Landscape Restoration and Community Outreach programs funded by the State Government's Landcare Action Grants Round 6, delivered with support from South East Tasmanian Aboriginal Corporation (SETAC).