Burning our North: So much more than carbon farming

If you thought Indigenous burning practices in Australia’s North were all about accruing carbon offsets, think again.

Speaking at the recent 2023 North Australia Savanna Fire Forum, Yolgnu Senior Traditional Owner Dr Otto Bulmaniya Campion of Arafura Swamp Rangers reflected on how partnerships were a driving factor in supporting successful burn projects.

“Today this industry is bringing more people back to country, supporting seven ranger groups and providing significant capacity for Traditional Owners to manage fire,” Campion said.

Dr otto campion, yolgnu senior traditional owner, arafura swamp rangers.
Dr Otto Campion, Yolgnu Senior Traditional Owner, Arafura Swamp Rangers. Credit: Nicole Brown.

“Old people said: ‘gotta burn ‘em early. Don’t let the fires burn really high and leave a big scorch mark’.”

The seven ranger groups are part of the Arafura Swamp Rangers Aboriginal Corporation (ASRAC), which has its headquarters in Ramingining.

The Arafura Swamp is a wetland of national significance, the largest freshwater ecosystem in East Arnhem Land and one of Australia’s largest contiguous paperbark swamps.

It is surrounded by a catchment extending from Castlereagh Bay to the upper reaches of the Goyder and Glyde Rivers.

As well as annually burning for carbon abatement, the rangers manage feral animals and weeds, monitor saltwater intrusion and cultural sites, collect scientific data and eggs from crocodile nests.

The groups are also consulting on a new Indigenous Protected Area of 14,000 square kilometres.

“We can see what is changing now, we are asking young ones to step up and make right way fire. Need to listen to Traditional Owners.

“Old people told us to get that fire right,” Campion said, “Help people, connect with country.

“After people left the country there was really bad fire. Country was left empty. The old people were worried about animals – emu, kangaroo.”

Also in Cosmos: The real dirt on carbon farming

About 350 people gathered on Larrakia country for the forum – an event hosted by the Indigenous Carbon Industry Network – to explore the topic “Our Past Informs Our Future”.

Held at the Mal Nairn Auditorium at Charles Darwin University in Darwin, the meeting attracted more than 30 Indigenous ranger groups, 35 international delegates from ten countries, and savanna fire management experts from across north Australia.

Topics ranged from biocultural knowledge and monitoring biodiversity impacts to carbon markets, environmental markets, and health impacts from smoke from fire.

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