What is cultural burning?

Here is a quote that we think sums it up quite well:

The key dimensions of fire management encompass customary law, economies, social relations, ecology and diverse technologies, such as seasonal indicators…, as well as culturally embedded mediating and explanatory factors. These mediating factors include signals that are received from country when it is the right time for burning, such as the flowering of trees; the kinship relationships that determine who can light fires for country; the knowledge of cultural sites and cultural resources that influence the pathways of fire at a very fine scale across the landscape; and the economies that benefit from certain fire regimes, including tourism economies, which benefit from burning designed to protect assets such as picnic tables and camping grounds. For this reason, it is important to document and understand the wider context in which Indigenous fire management takes place. 1 (p.13)

For a thorough introduction to the potential of cultural burning, read Fire Country, by Victor Steffensen.

You can also read our Issue 1 March 2020 Yarnupings which has some articles on cultural burning.

Cultural burning has been highlighted in two 2020 inquiries:

The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements Report 

Recommendation 18.1 Indigenous land and fire management and natural disaster resilience 

Australian, state, territory and local governments should engage further with Traditional Owners to explore the relationship between Indigenous land and fire management and natural disaster resilience.

Recommendation 18.2 Indigenous land and fire management and public land management 

Australian, state, territory and local governments should explore further opportunities to leverage Indigenous land and fire management insights, in the development, planning and execution of public land management activities.

and the

Final Report of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry 

Recommendation 25 That Government adopt the principle that cultural burning is one component of a broader practice of traditional Aboriginal land management and is an important cultural practice, not simply another technique of hazard reduction burning. 

Recommendation 26 That, in order to increase the respectful, collaborative and effective use of Aboriginal land management practices in planning and preparing for bush fire, Government commit to pursuing greater application of Aboriginal land management, including cultural burning, through a program to be coordinated by Aboriginal Affairs and Department of Planning, Industry and Environment working in partnership with Aboriginal communities. This should be accompanied by a program of evaluation alongside the scaled-up application of these techniques.


One of the most important things to remember is that cultural burning is an Indigenous land management practice and the intellectual and cultural ownership and control needs to be recognised and respected.


  1. Robinson, CJ, Barber, M, Hill, R, Gerrard, E, James, G (2016). Protocols for Indigenous fire management partnerships, CSIRO, Brisbane

Posted in: About Aboriginal Culture