TS-CRC Student project - An assessment of the effects of fire regime on plant species, plant communities and indigenous natural resources around Kalumburu, North Kimberley, Western Australia

Northern Territory University, Darwin. Completed.

Tom Vigilante

Commenced 1999. Submitted September 2003.

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This project investigated traditional and contemporary landscape burning regimes in the north Kimberley region. It was based on the remote community of Kalumburu and involved areas under claim by Balanggarra and Wunumbal-Gaambera native titleholders.

The project included:

  • a landscape-scale natural experiment comparing the floristic structure and composition of woody vegetation in three major land systems and in areas of contrasting fire histories;
  • vegetation mapping exercise and documentation of current burning patterns along access roads;
  • collaboration with Aboriginal traditional experts in landscape burning, involving documenting traditional and contemporary knowledge and practice;
  • experiments on the effects of fire on the structure and flowering patterns of key native fruit tree species; and
  • documenting the use of fire in the hunting of bustards, emus and kangaroos.

Completing the fieldwork for the landscape-scale experiment was a great challenge as it involved walking long distances alone through rugged and isolated terrain. Trips made to remote locations with Traditional Owners were 'eye-opening' and rewarding experiences.

The project benefited greatly from the contributions of a number of Traditional Owners from Kalumburu and Mitchell Plateau, facilitated by an AIATSIS grant.

Over the last few years mining companies, state government departments and other private companies have asserted greater control over land in the north Kimberley. In some cases this has resulted in conflicts of interests with Aboriginal people living in the area. My research is becoming increasingly topical in the context of land management and the role Traditional Owners will play in the future as native title comes into effect.