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Will Smith, Timothy Neale, Jessica K. Weir
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Fire & Traditional Knowledge

NRFSN number: 22947
FRAMES RCS number: 62744
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Catastrophic and unprecedented wildfires have unfolded across fire-prone landscapes globally over the last three years, with highly publicized loss of human life, property destruction and ecological transformation. Indigenous peoples within many nations have persuasively argued that traditional fire management can enhance existing wildfire mitigation strategies. However, there are considerable barriers to the further incorporation of Indigenous practices into existing wildfire policy. This paper explores the potential of Indigenous fire management to achieve broader institutionalization, emphasizing the social labour involved producing and sustaining intercultural collaboration in bureaucratic contexts. Our focus is southern Australia where Indigenous peoples' fire management, often termed 'cultural burning', has been facilitated by an Indigenous-led social movement and growing state support. We draw on interviews conducted with Aboriginal and white land and hazard management practitioners actively engaged in intercultural fire management collaborations largely occurring on public lands. In the absence of institutional clarity, established networks and accreted experience these practitioners work to generate enthusiasm, stabilise Aboriginal peoples' environmental authority and nullify pervasive societal fears surrounding the risk of fire. The case study demonstrates the significance of interpersonal factors in the emergence and maintenance of fraught intercultural collaborations. Despite global optimism, such insights highlight how the revival of Indigenous fire management in nations such as Australia is highly contingent and depends upon routine persuasive labour and fragile intercultural diplomacy.


Smith, Will; Neale, Timothy; Weir, Jessica K. 2021. Persuasion without policies: the work of reviving Indigenous peoples’ fire management in southern Australia. Geoforum 120:82-92.

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