In May 2021 the Kaurna community undertook the first ever cultural burn in a capital city in Australia supported by a Green Adelaide Grassroots Grant. Find out how it went.

On Friday 14 May 2021, the Kaurna community, Green Adelaide and the City of Adelaide took part in the ‘Kaurna Kardla Parranthi Cultural Burn’ project in the city’s south Park Lands, which was funded by a Grassroots Grant.

It was the first time in over 240 years that Kaurna people have been able to practice cultural burning techniques in public since many of their customs were displaced following European colonisation.

People walking behind a small wall of flames in an open parkland environment
Cultural burning in the Adelaide Park Lands

The timing for the burn was agreed between the Kaurna community and their fire crew, Department for Environment and Water (DEW), Green Adelaide and the City of Adelaide, and surveys of the area were done before the burn so they could see how the area was changed afterwards.

Over 200 people, including representatives from other First Nations groups and project partners joined the moving Welcoming Ceremony at the event, highlighting the significant cultural, ecological and reconciliation aspects of this project.

Read on to learn about this iconic Grassroots Grant story:

Why is this grant project important?

Also known as fire-stick farming, cultural burning has been used by Aboriginal people to manage their Country over tens of thousands of years. By introducing new generations of young people to the practice, traditional fire practitioners are keeping this ancient, invaluable Aboriginal cultural knowledge alive.

Kaurna Ngarrindjeri Cultural Bearer, Allan Sumner expressed how important it is for there to be opportunities for young Kaurna people and emerging Elders to express themselves like this.

“In normalising the practice of fire, it's going to create that pathway for our young people. To feel like they can be part of their own culture. For us as Aboriginal people, just the smell of fire and smoke, connects us back to the country. There's something that touches our senses and gives us a sense of belonging,” Uncle Sumner said.

How did the Grassroots Grant help?

The burn was conducted under the watchful eye of nationally recognised traditional fire practitioner, Victor Steffensen whose visit to Adelaide was supported by the Grassroots Grant. A descendant of the Tagalaka people in Northern Queensland, Victor has been sharing his knowledge about cultural burning amongst Aboriginal communities for more than 20 years.

A man stands watching flames beneath him in a grassy environment
Victor Steffensen overseeing the Burn

The grant also allowed workshops to be held prior to the burn which trained Kaurna community members in this important practice and resulted in 2 young Kaurna men being able to ignite the burn on the day.

A group of people stand on a blackened by fire area of grass near a small wall of flames
Young Kaurna men were able to put into practice what they had learned about cultural burning

A short film was also partly funded by the Green Adelaide Grassroots Grant which explains the cultural burn process and why it is important to the reconciliation process.

How did the project improve the environment for the community?

It was the first time a cultural burn has happened in a capital city in Australia.

Along with playing a major part in healing Country, Allan said regular burn-offs will be beneficial to the native grasses and other plants at the site.

“It'll awaken those seeds that have been lying in the ground for many years” he said.

“There is also a large reconciliation aspect to a project like this. To be able to have fire in the city of Adelaide, what that does for me as an Aboriginal man, is it empowers me. Gives me strength. It lets me know that, hey we have a voice here and we're part of some of that decision-making around what happens to our Country on the Adelaide Plains.”

Kaurna Elder Uncle Jeffrey Newchurch summed up the impact of the event by saying, that the burn was about bringing people together.

“It’s about the important partnerships that are instrumental in delivering reconciliation and about the opportunities for our young Kaurna people to reconnect with their culture by caring for their Country.”

Words of advice for future grant applicants

The most important aspect when applying for a Grassroots Grant related to cultural heritage is to engage with First Nations right from the start.

This will help ensure any works are culturally appropriate and respectful of First Nations' rights and responsibilities when it comes to caring for Country.

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