Whilst much of the NSW coastline has been decimated by fires, it seems the worst of the fire season might not be over with communities in the south coast gearing up for the coming conditions.

Although many communities are focusing on preparing for what’s to come, one question remains prominent in the national discussion – what changes will be made moving forward to protect community and Country?

The voices of Aboriginal communities are finally coming to the forefront of the discussion, community groups and organisations such as Firesticks Alliance and the Aboriginal Carbon Foundation (AbCF) are advocating for cultural land practices to be prescribed across southern Australia.

AbCF is an Aboriginal not-for-profit organisation first established in 2010 by founding directors, Tracker Tilmouth, David Ross and Allan Cooney in the Northern Territory.

AbCF have been applying a successful regime of cultural burning across northern areas of Australia that have protected lands from bushfire and earned many First Nations ranger groups and landowners carbon credits.

Australia Carbon Credits (ACCUs) have been issued to programs working towards lowering emissions caused by fire through the Federal Government’s Emission Reduction Fund. Many of these projects are savanna burning projects.

In northern Australia in 2018, there were 78 savanna burning projects of which 30 percent were managed by Aboriginal ranger groups.

AbCF noted that currently, over four million ACCUs have been produced with 70 percent produced by Aboriginal savanna burning projects.

AbCF Chief Executive, Rowan Foley, is a proud member of the Wondunna clan of the Badtjala people. Foley is a ranger by trade and lives in Alice Springs.

“[AbCF] are helping to establish carbon economies on Aboriginal land but we also work with non-Indigenous farmers as well because they can see the value in the approach we [take].”

“There are 36 different methodologies that people can use in Australia, there’s only about half a dozen that are commercially viable. The main one we use in Cape York is savanna burning, which is burning the Country in the early season when it is cool and slightly wet so your carbon emissions are quite small.

“We then measure the difference between the small emission and your average big emissions and the difference between the small and big creates an abatement which is your carbon credits … [One] carbon credit is a tonne of greenhouse gas,” Foley said.

AbCF is an organisation that centres and prioritises Aboriginal knowledge and community in its land management practices.

“We use a peer to peer strength-based approach to measure the environmental, social and cultural outcomes. No whitefullas, no third parties and no consultants.”

“That is the first time it’s ever happened in Australia and it took us two years to do the research and development on this, now we have done it and it works. We are creating jobs for blackfullas.”

“The carbon farming stuff is a minor part of what we do, it’s the stuff around it, particularly the carbon verification framework … which is where we use the peer to peer strength-based approach.”

“We are acknowledging the skills and experience of the Traditional Owners and we are using those skills and experience to work with other Traditional Owners. We are building a network where we share knowledge and learn from each other. Rather than having whitefullas coming in and telling people what to do all the time.”

The practice of traditional and cultural land management can dramatically affect the health and prosperity of landscapes whilst protecting it against the threat of wildfires.

Foley hopes that southern Australia can adopt AbCF or savanna burning projects.

“We hope this year the approach that we take around northern Australia is adopted by Southern Australia.

“The peer to peer strength-based approach is the way to go … we think health and education are the next logical places for this too.”

He invites people to consider their own carbon footprint and what they can do about limiting their impact on climate change.

“People can go carbon neutral, you can complain about the coal fire power stations in China or you can actually do something about your own carbon footprint. You can go carbon neutral.”

For more information on AbCf, visit: www.abcfoundation.org.au/.

By Rachael Knowles