Purposeful, passionate and powerful people, Firesticks Alliance is an Indigenous-led organisation pushing towards change and bringing together people from all walks of life.
Firesticks works with communities, land and fire agencies, and organisations across Australia to heal Country by drawing upon traditional knowledge, skills and experience in both cultural burns and contemporary fire management and practices.
With fire moving across the country, Firesticks Alliance holds the power to move towards positive change in healing and recovery.
CEO Oliver Costello said it’s a time of struggle watching fire burn across Country whilst holding the knowledge to stop it.
“For us, it’s really hard right now. We’re seeing all these impacts on Country and on our people, that we could have avoided, and the only reason we haven’t is because government agencies and the broader community haven’t gotten behind us,” Costello said.
“We’re a grassroots movement, we’re not that big yet and I can’t blame people who don’t know about us for not supporting us. But when we are on the ground running our workshops, everyone seems on board and everyone loves it.”
Costello said the landscapes have a culture, which people are a part of and therefore play a role within.
“We want to apply the right fire, the cultural fire for that Country, and if we do that everybody else is better off. We’re not doing it just for ourselves, we’re doing it because that’s our responsibility to Country.
“If we don’t do that, we lose our identity, which is physically happening right now when we lose all our plants and animals, our Kinship stories – our identity is being destroyed by fire.”
Costello is currently under immense pressure but finds strength in responsibility.
“There’s been a lot of mismanagement of fire responses over the last few months, it’s under hard times and I wouldn’t criticise individuals – it’s the framework that is there.”
“I can’t guarantee we would have stopped [all the fires], there is always going to be fire in the landscape that is unplanned. But I can guarantee you that there are places, really special places for me and other Custodians, that we could go to right now and show people what we had done, how we had saved this.”
A proud Bundjalung man, Costello grew up in a society that didn’t make sense to him. However, through his learning with fire he has been able to strengthen his own identity.
“The knowledge that I have acquired and been able to pass on, and the knowledge I’ve learnt from people like Uncle Nook and his sons … has taught me so much about his land. You feel so humbled.”
“Young men are there and they have all this knowledge, and people don’t even know. We have these Aboriginal Custodians walking around the landscape, sitting in lounge rooms behind Xboxes instead of out on Country … why aren’t we supporting people to do it?”
With discussion of cultural burning swirling through the media, Costello hopes this prompts people to think deeper about supporting First Nations Peoples and investing in Indigenous knowledge and practices.
“We are still seeing troubling signs, a lot of the visual communication around the fire is hard to see … where are the Aboriginal people on TV being supported? I’m not seeing them.
“All this money that is going back to government agencies because they’ve seen firefighters protecting their homes, they want to help them. But that money isn’t really helping them, people that have been affected need help and the agencies are under-resourced by government.
“But government make decisions about how it uses government money – the government needs to get its priorities right.
“A lot of the money that have gone into these agencies can be used for training and resourcing development so maybe they will fund Aboriginal fire programs that are led by Aboriginal fire practitioners – we don’t want to be colonised and subverted into the systems – we want them to invest in us.
“Cultural burning is a learning methodology that everybody can relate to because everybody’s ancestors, doesn’t matter where you come from, they have fire knowledge. Everybody’s ancestors grew up around campfire.”
“People often ask, ‘Okay how do we burn?’ No, no. This is a cultural framework for living – how do we respect each other? How do we learn from each other? How do we give back more than we take from one another and the land? That is what cultural fire management teaches you.”
Firesticks Alliance has been calling for support and solidarity.
Costello hopes that with tragedy sweeping Country, the broader Australian public start investing in Indigenous knowledge and leadership.
“It’s about Custodianship, it’s about respect, it’s about responsibility and recognition.
“We really think that times are going to change. If this doesn’t wake up the nation what hope do we have? That is what we are hanging on to, the hope.”
For more information on Firesticks Alliance, visit: https://www.firesticks.org.au/.
To donate to the organisation, visit: https://chuffed.org/project/firesticks-alliance?fbclid=IwAR3b89evknr93lvT9IteGyVlZ3DoyjQREsEmVB74TE1TlF2SvNxjNz04Ios.
By Rachael Knowles