University of New England PhD candidate works with Banbai rangers to re-introduce cultural burning

Michelle McKemey is looking into ways to re-introduce an ancient cultural practice to support fire management.

The Guyra Rural Fire Service volunteer and University of New England PhD candidate has been working with Banbai Indigenous rangers since commencing her PhD studies.

She said it’s all about looking into how Indigenous rangers and scientists can work together to monitor the ecological and cultural changes that occur when Indigenous cultural burning is re-introduced into the landscape.

“It’s really important to have the right type of fire and if you don’t actively manage it – you’ll end up with the wrong type of fire which is a really destructive wildfire,” she said.

“The Banbai group have been really proactive in their fire management and they’re going out and looking at areas of country that need to be burnt.

“Then they can burnt it off regularly, with low-intensity so a big wildfire doesn’t come through and burn the whole thing out.”

Last week Mrs McKemey joined the Banbai rangers at Wattleridge – an area about 35 kilometres north-east of Guyra.

The group have picked the echidna to monitor how the low-intensity burning is impacting the landscape at Wattleridge.

“I’ve done this type of work ever since I was at uni as an undergraduate … it’s always something I’ve had a passion for,” she said.

“Looking after the environment is really important to me.

“Aboriginal people have the world’s oldest living culture so we really need to help them look after that.

“Fire management is one way they can reconnect with an ancient cultural tool that they can use to manage their land.”

But it’s not always easy juggling her studies and a family.

“I’ve got a very supportive husband and we share the workload,” she said.

“I guess it’s all about making every minute count when I’m with the kids.

“At the moment I’m working on the first two papers I’m hoping to get published in scientific journals.

“Finishing those will be a major milestone for me.”

Mrs McKemey and the Banbai group have also developed a Fire and Seasons calendar – a tool for fire management.

Mrs McKemey has received sponsorship from RFS Association to help her research.