Teacher background information


Year 7 Science Content Description

Science as a Human Endeavour

Nature and development of science

Science knowledge can develop through collaboration across the disciplines of science and the contributions of people from a range of cultures (ACSHE223 - Scootle )

  • investigating how land management practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples informs sustainable management of the environment to protect biodiversity (OI.5, OI.9)

This elaboration allows students to investigate the role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ fire regimes in protecting biodiversity and how the knowledge that underpins these practices is contributing to scientific understanding and sustainable land-management techniques. 

Scientific research has reaffirmed these traditional practices as an effective means of managing a range of ecosystems and has provided the evidence framework for their reintroduction into a number of Australian environments.

The introduction of Western agriculture has had a detrimental impact on the sustainability of a range of Australian environments. Part of this impact is due to the introduction of exotic species, be they livestock, domestic animals, feral animals, crop plants or weeds. The impact has been further compounded in many areas by the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as carers of country and, as a corollary, the disruption of traditional fire regimes. 

As a result of this impact over the past two hundred years, there has been significant ecosystem degradation and substantial losses in the biodiversity of many Australian environments, particularly in tropical savanna regions.  

To conserve biodiversity, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are working in collaboration with farmers, community groups, government agencies and research scientists from a range of disciplines to restore traditional land management practices across a range of landscapes and environments. One particular practice, the controlled burning of land, has proved to have a long history of positive social, cultural, economic and environmental benefits. By carefully managing fire timing, frequency and intensity, destruction of native plant communities and animal populations can be mitigated, as can negative impacts on soils and water quality. Research into traditional fire management techniques has reaffirmed that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ practices involving cooler, more controlled burning assist in the regeneration and propagation of native flora, thus protecting biodiversity and increasing the availability of key resources.  

Furthermore, some scientific research organisations are collaborating with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community groups to use controlled burning as a highly effective tool in managing and/or eradicating infestations of invasive, noxious species, such as rubber vine, Cryptostegia grandiflora and C. madagascarensis, and non-native hymenachne, Hymenachne amplexicaulis.   

In the case of hymenachne infestations, the use of fire as an adjunct to other control methods is a cost-effective way of improving the overall result. The control and eradication of rubber vine is best achieved by two successive annual burns. The first fire kills rubber vine plants but also promotes a build-up of fuel load by encouraging grass growth. The second fire is used to kill any rubber vine regrowth that occurs after the first fire. 

Without adequate management practices, these plants, each of which has been classified as a ‘Weed of National Significance by the Australian Government, outcompete endemic species and rapidly take over entire ecosystems leading to significant declines in biodiversity.  

An example of these two-way modern fire management programs is the Fire and Weed Project. Like other two-way projects, it is founded on the confluence of traditional knowledges and practices and the data-collection and electronic mapping capacities of contemporary science. This project, initiated by the Gangalidda and Garawa People with support from the Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation, covers an area of 73,000 km2 across Queensland and the Northern Territory. Traditional understandings of when, why and how country is burnt are used in conjunction with scientific data from agencies such as the Bureau of Meteorology to plan strategic burns that target specific weeds such as rubber vine. This plant is listed as a Weed of National Significance due to its ability to spread quickly and to form dense, sometimes impenetrable, thickets. Rubber vine smothers riparian vegetation and prevents access to waterways for many native animals preventing, for example, turtles from nesting on certain beaches. 

Modern fire management strategies increasingly recognise the importance of collaborative approaches to protect the environment and conserve biodiversity. These approaches also acknowledge the importance of the cross-generational transfer and documentation of traditional ecological knowledge to ensure that it is not lost, as well as the potential economic development and well-being benefits to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples that can ensue from these programs. 

By investigating the land-management practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and, in particular, traditional fire regimes, students can develop an understanding of how the biodiversity of Australian ecosystems can be protected through reinstating those practices. Students also have opportunities to appreciate how collaboration between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ranger groups and science agencies culminates in the co-generation of strategies to combat weeds of national significance that are directly contributing to a loss of biodiversity.

In the construction of this teacher background information, a list of consulted works has been generated. The consulted works are provided as evidence of the research undertaken to inform the development of the teacher background information. To access this information, please read and acknowledge the following important information:

Please note that some of the sources listed in the consulted works may contain material that is considered culturally offensive or inappropriate. The consulted works are not provided or recommended as classroom resources.

I have read and confirm my awareness that the consulted works may contain offensive material and are not provided or recommended by ACARA as classroom resources.

The following sources were consulted in the construction of this teacher background information. They are provided as evidence of the research undertaken to inform the development of the teacher background information. It is important that educators recognise that despite written records being incredibly useful, they can also be problematic as they are often based on non-Indigenous interpretations of observations and records of First Nations Peoples’ behaviours, actions, comments and traditions. Such interpretations privilege western paradigms of non-First Nations authors and include, at times, attitudes and language of the past. These sources often lack the viewpoints of the people they discuss and can contain ideas based on outdated scientific theories. Furthermore, although the sources are in the public domain, they may contain cultural breaches and cause offence to the Peoples concerned. With careful selection, evaluation and community consultation, the consulted works may provide teachers with further support and reference materials that could be culturally audited, refined and adapted to construct culturally appropriate teaching and learning materials. The ability to select and evaluate appropriate resources is an essential cultural capability skill for educators.

Berryman, J. (2006). The role of fire regimes and dispersal patterns on the composition of rock ringtail possum groups. Paper presented at the Australasian Bushfire Conference, Brisbane.

Bliege Bird, R., Bird, D. W., Codding, B. F., Parker, C. H., & Jones, J. H. (2008). The “fire stick farming” hypothesis: Australian Aboriginal foraging strategies, biodiversity, and anthropogenic fire mosaics. In K.V. Flannery, & A. Arbor (Eds.), Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 105(39), 14796-14801. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0804757105

Bowman, D. M. J. S. (1998). The impact of Aboriginal landscape burning on the Australian biota. New Phytologist, 140(3), 385-410. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8137.1998.00289.x

Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation. (2013). Indigenous Fire and Weed Project: Late season rubber vine eradication. Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation Newsletter, Edition 17(Oct-Dec), 12-13.

Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation. (2015a). Indigenous Fire and Weed Project. Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation Newsletter, Edition 23(Jul-Dec), 6-7.

Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation. (2015b). Nijinda Durlga (Gangalidda) Indigenous Protected Area Management Plan. Retrieved from http://www.clcac.com.au/sites/default/files/downloads/clcac_gangalidda_ipa_management_plan_web_ready_final.pdf

Charleston, K. (2006). Control methods and case studies Hymenachne (Hymenachne amplexicaulis).  Retrieved from http://weeds.ala.org.au/WoNS/hymenachne/docs/hymenachne_control_methods.pdf

Hill, R., Pert, P. L., Davies, J., Robinson, C. J., Walsh, F., & Falco-Mammone, F. (2013). Indigenous land management in Australia: Extent, scope, diversity, barriers and success factors. Cairns: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation Ecosystem Sciences.

Mimal Land Management. (2017). Our work. Retrieved from https://www.mimal.org.au/our-work/

Queensland Government Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. (2016). Hymenachne or olive hymenachne: Hymenachne amplexicaulis and hybrids.  Retrieved from https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/77092/IPA-Hymenachne-PP54.pdf

Queensland Government Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. (2017). Rubber vine: Cryptostegia grandiflora and Cryptostegia madagascarensis. Retrieved from https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/52544/IPA-Rubber-Vine-PP11.pdf

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

Taylor, T., & Parkinson, M. (2017). The Jigija Fire Training Program: Indigenous fire ecology training in the lower Gulf of Carpentaria. Retrieved from http://www.jigija.com.au/perch/resources/thejigijafiretraining-program31102017.pdf