Dja Dja Wurrung elders have returned to one of the sites where traditional Aboriginal burning practices were first reintroduced to the Victorian landscape this year.
The first burns, conducted at Whipstick and Maryborough in May, marked a significant milestone in the recognition of Aboriginal heritage in Victoria, and a change in an approach to land management.
On Wednesday, elders and younger members of the Dja Dja Wurrung community conducted a ceremony at the site of the Whipstick burn in acknowledgement of its significance.
The site has now been named Djandak Wi, which means ‘fire country’ in the language of the Dja Dja Wurrung people.
The reintroduction of traditional burning practices is the result of an ongoing partnership between the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation and Forest Fire Management Victoria.
Uncle Tom Baksh, one of the elders who attended Wednesday’s ceremony, said it was pleasing to see younger members of the Aboriginal community take up the lead with such initiatives and form fruitful partnerships.
He said it was also good to see these people combine their contemporary knowledge with traditional knowledge.
Uncle Gary Nelson said it was important for the Aboriginal community to make connections with the broader community.
He said things were improving for Aboriginal people after the hardships that had followed the arrival of Europeans, and the traditional burns stood for everything the Aboriginal community had been fighting for.
“It’s a matter of working together… for the [good] outcome of everyone,” he said.
Victorian Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio also attended the ceremony and said the government wanted to ensure such partnerships were aligned with the aspirations of the Aboriginal community and made some sort of reparation for past wrongs.
Ms D’Ambrosio told the Bendigo Advertiser that the absence of Aboriginal burning practices from this land for 170-odd years represented a missed opportunity to employ thousands of years of knowledge.
Fire Forest Management Victoria assistant chief fire officer Scott Falconer said the initiative was about “walking together”, referencing a quote from Pastor Doug Nicholls, a Yorta Yorta man.
Local elders were responsible for inspecting and approving suitable sites ahead of the burns, but Wednesday’s occasion was the first time they had returned to the site since then.
Following European settlement, the use of traditional burns in land management in Victoria dwindled and for decades, such practices were only undertaken for ceremonial reasons.