A new program has been launched at four sites across regional New South Wales that is supporting Aboriginal cultural land management practices in order to increase the bushfire resilience of vital transport corridors. 

The $4.5 million Transport for NSW (TfNSW) Aboriginal Cultural Landscapes Project is a land management pilot created in response to recommendations from the New South Wales Bushfire Inquiry which followed the Black Summer disaster. 

The outcome-driven project supports local Aboriginal communities to use traditional land management methods, including cultural burning, to reduce the risk of bushfires impacting key New South Wales roads. 

Pilot sites are located: 

  • Near the Bruxner Highway northwest of Grafton on Bundjalung Country
  • Near the Oxley and Newell Highways at Coonabarabran on Gomeroi Country 
  • Along the Princes Highway at Bega and Batemans Bay on the South Coast on Yuin Country

A joint TfNSW and La Trobe University research project will accompany the pilots and explore how traditional and cultural land and water management can be used to build resilience to natural disasters into the transport network. 

The Department of Regional NSW Regional Aboriginal Partnerships Program will support Aboriginal groups within a culturally safe environment to ensure their business models can deliver landscape management services to landowners and government once the pilots conclude in mid-2025. 

The pilot is part of the New South Wales Government’s $28 million Network Resilience Program being delivered by TfNSW over four years to improve the State Road network’s resilience to bushfires.

The Department of Planning, Housing and Infrastructure, Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water, NSW Rural Fire Service, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Forestry Corporation of NSW, NSW Local Land Services, local councils and Local Emergency Management Committees are working on the pilots with TfNSW.

New South Wales Minister for Emergency Services, Jihad Dib, said that hazard reduction and mitigation play a key role in managing fire risk and the Bushfire Inquiry has shown that there are many different approaches that can be taken to prepare as much as possible for bushfires.

“This project will support Aboriginal communities to carry out and expand cultural landscape management, making our road network more resilient and promoting the use of local traditional knowledge to better prepare our landscape for natural disasters,” Minister Dib said. 

New South Wales Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Treaty, David Harris, said that Aboriginal people have been caring for Country as custodians and knowledge holders for tens of thousands of years.

“It makes sense for Aboriginal people to manage the landscape at these sites now and into the future,” Minister Harris said. 

“Through this initiative, we are Closing the Gap by creating jobs and empowering Aboriginal people and communities to be decision-makers.

“The project will strengthen Aboriginal communities and build knowledge and cultural heritage across the generations.”

New South Wales Minister for Regional Transport and Roads, Jenny Aitchison, said that having travelled extensively through Bega during the 2019-20 bushfires, she knows the first-hand trauma and devastation they caused.

“It’s a win-win situation that could pave the way for this important work to expand after the pilot,” Minister Aitchison said.  

“It will contribute to a model of closer working with Aboriginal people to build the framework for future land management partnerships with TfNSW, other government agencies, and private landholders.

“This won’t just help reduce the risk of catastrophic fires impacting our transport links, it will also help the Aboriginal communities strengthen their cultural connection with Country.”

Featured image: Cultural burning at the Batemans Bay pilot site. Image credit: New South Wales Government.

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