“For me personally, and for Aboriginals, it’s emotional,” Kaurna elder Jeffrey Newchurch tells CityMag, “but it’s a feeling of excitement because we get this opportunity to do a cultural practice in relation to maintaining country."
A Kaurna-led cultural burn will light up the Adelaide Parklands this week
In November 2019, traditional Indigenous fire practitioner Victor Steffensen – also the author of novels Fire Country and Our Voices – flew to Adelaide from Northern Queensland.
The purpose of the trip was to lead a workshop on fire-stick farming (also known as cultural burning) for City of Adelaide horticulture workers and members of the Kaurna community. This would see them trained up for a cultural burn scheduled to take place a couple months later, in April.
That burn was postponed and rescheduled for 2021, and will take place on Friday, 14 May, in the southeastern corner of the Parklands, at Tuthangga Carriageway Park. It will be led by the Kaurna people.
For Jeffrey Newchurch, this is a big deal.
Jeffrey is a chairperson of the Kaurna Yerta Aboriginal Corporation, the Native Title group recognised by the Federal Government in 2018 as the original landholders of the Adelaide Plains.
He says the cultural burn not only celebrates Aboriginal culture, but it’s the first time since colonisation a cultural burn has occurred under the auspice of local government, signalling a strengthened relationship between the Kaurna people and the City of Adelaide.
“The cultural burn is about bringing that… practice back to Kaurna land, on Aboriginal land,” Jeffrey says.
“When this place was colonised we probably did cultural burns here and there, but not under a system of government, or the white man’s system.”
Three years ago, Jeffrey says he and the Adelaide & Mount Lofty Ranges Natural Resources Management Board proposed to the Adelaide City Council the idea of a Parklands cultural burn.
They were receptive, he says, and with State Government’s Department for Environment and Water set up the initial fire-stick farming workshop with Victor Steffenson.
Fire-stick farming is a land management practice consisting of slow controlled burns which maintain the health the landscape and its plants and animals. This technique has been used by Aboriginal communities to manage and regenerate land for tens of thousands of years.
Brenton Grear, the director of the Department of Environment and Water’s Green Adelaide initiative, says he’s proud to support this practice with the Kaurna community and deliver a cultural burn in the Parklands.
“The burn has been in the works for a while, and Green Adelaide was keen to make it a reality through our Grassroots Grants program.
“With the City of Adelaide, Kaurna, and cultural fire expert Victor Steffensen, this cultural burn demonstrates our support to keeping this ancient, invaluable Aboriginal knowledge alive.”
While the burn itself is important, Jeffrey says the cultural aspect of camping on country is also meaningful.
“For me, the significant part of it is camping the night before and the night after,” he says.
“It allows us to sit by a campfire, to share each other’s stories, to share conversations with other people that we get to know. And from my perspective, an Aboriginal perspective, it allows a journey of healing.
“We’ve been at risk since settlement… what was done to us in the past. To have a position to sit down by camp and share, it’s very important. Healing is something we take for granted. We’re returning to country and sitting on country.”