In 2019 Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation (WGAC) recorded its best Yurrma (early dry season) fire result since the Right Way Fire program began in 2011.

Only seven percent of Wunambal Gaambera Country was affected by late dry season wildfires. This was despite the fact that dry conditions caused record numbers of severe fire weather days and a high number of lightning storms in the Kimberley.

Uunguu Rangers had to fight one major Yuwala (late dry season months—storm season) fire at Mitchell Plateau in October but were able to contain it within a week.

Wunambal Gaambera’s Right Way Fire program is focused on burning country according to traditional principles but utilising available technologies.

Every family has input into the Annual Fire Plan each year and young Traditional Owners take part in the burning activities, with around 30 young people taking part in 2019.

Burning is undertaken from vehicles and aircraft in the early dry season months with a focus on mitigating (reducing the likelihood of) damaging wildfires occurring on less than ten percent of Country in Yuwala, when conditions are likely to be more severe.

Aerial burns of wulo (rainforest on Wunambal Gaambera Country – Ngauwudu (Mitchell Plateau). Photo supplied by Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation.

The burning is also undertaken along roads and around infrastructure to keep tourists, Traditional Owners and communities safe. Wunambal Gaambera’s Uunguu Rangers and Traditional Owners look after important animal and plant habitats and important cultural sites with fire.

Each year fire walks take place on Wunambal Gaambera Country. These are an important time for Wunambal Gaambera people to teach younger Traditional Owners how to burn “right-way” while walking the Country.

“Our ancestors used right-way fire from generation-to-generation,” said Neil Waina, Head Uunguu Ranger.

“They passed their knowledge to us and we will pass it down to the next generation.”

Waina said his people feel good doing burns because they return the Country to good health. But late dry season burns, or wildfires, are different.

“When you see late season burning, the Country isn’t looking good. If there’s a hot fire, hardly anything will grow in that area … no hunting, no life.”

WGAC have a registered Savanna Burning project generating Australian carbon credits by reducing wildfires, with some 186,784 tonnes of greenhouse gas abated since 2012.

This is the equivalent of 5,120 four-wheel drives in the north Kimberley over the same eight-year period—one Landcruiser 70, four-door four-wheel drive driving 20,000 kilometres emits 4.31 tonnes per year.

Burning season started this month and will continue until the end of June. With social isolation practices in place, Wunambal Gaambera’s fire season will be managed slightly different this year, however burning will still involve a combination of aerial burning (from planes and helicopters) and ground burning (along roads and track networks).

“This year, our team will be operating from remote bases and minimising interactions with others,” Waina said.

“We will do some aerial burning as well as ground burning based out of Munurru [King Edward River], Ngauwudu [Mitchell Plateau] and Garmbemirri.”