Tropical Savannas CRC > Research > CRC Research 2001-2008 > Fire Managers > Effective conservation and camp fires

The importance of campfires to effective conservation

 Traditional Knowledge Recording Project | Kuku Thaypan Fire Management Research | TKRP Research Component | Research Partnerships | PhD Aims | Outcomes | Who else is involved in the project? | How can I get involved? | More reading |

This PhD research project, undertaken by Peta-Marie Standley from JCU, is a pilot project that aims to demonstrate how two knowledge systems, Indigenous and Western, can integrate to develop successful cultural and natural resource management outcomes.

The project uses fire and vegetation change in the Laura Basin, Cape York as a case study.

Peta accompanies Elders on Country and assists them with the recording and monitoring of their burning sites. The burning stages are recorded by a video camera, while the Elders describe and practically demonstrate the application of fire from their inherited perspective. The recorded information goes into the Kuku-Thaypan database; an information base that belongs to and is controlled by their clan group.

The PhD research project needs to demonstrate the application of its findings over a wide area and draws on knowledge and experiences of fire from the wider Cape York Indigenous and non-Indigenous community.

This project contributes to a much wider undertaking: The Traditional Knowledge Recording Project, established and run by the Balkanu Cape York Development Corporation.

Traditional Knowledge Recording Project

In past negotiations for the wellbeing of people and country, previous efforts have failed to fully recognise Traditional Knowledge. Few opportunities are available to demonstrate how Traditional Knowledge can help improve contemporary methodologies and management practices.

The Traditional Knowledge Recording Project (TKRP) was developed by Elders and is taking on initiatives to demonstrate how their knowledge system can help. The TKRP supports Elders in recording and storing their knowledge in order to demonstrate its application to a wide variety of contemporary environmental, social and economic problems. It does this through many different initiatives—one is the TKRP research component.

Kuku Thaypan Fire Management Research

While recording their Traditional Knowledge, the Kuku-Thaypan Elders, the late Dr. George Musgrave (Snr) and Dr. Tommy George, demonstrated their fire management knowledge on areas of their country in Lakefield National Park, Cape York, Australia. For many years these Elders have seen the country change for the worse, and are now trying to revitalise it. The Kuku-Thaypan Fire Research Project was developed to support these Elders to undertake action research on their own terms. This is an opportunity they have long been waiting for.

Both Elders were awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by James Cook University in 2005 (see story in Savanna Links: link at end of page).

TKRP Research Component

Supports Traditional Knowledge Management projects using scientific knowledge systems to create better understanding while recognising Indigenous lead management practices. The case study approach of the research projects can provide examples of how to improve ways to manage the land while actively undertaking land management.

Research Partnerships

Because it has been a long time since the Elders have had the opportunity to undertake burning on their own terms, they are now being supported by western scientific research while they reinstate their traditional regimes.

Due to contemporary land-use impacts including; cattle, feral animals and plants, changed vegetation composition and poor water management practices, the Elders are dealing with a highly modified environment. Consequently, they have to adapt the application of their Traditional Knowledge System to ensure that they create the best opportunity to rebalance and heal country. The Elders are also evaluating their own and other management burns in the surrounding area.

The TKRP identified the need to support a PhD Research project to assist the Elders to translate their shared knowledge into a language that is more easily understood by non-Indigenous land managers. To help demonstrate the application of their fire management knowledge a partnership PhD project—the Importance of Campfires to Effective Conservation—was launched.

PhD Aims

  1. Provide an opportunity for Traditional Owner Elders to mentor and participate in the PhD research project and for their communities to become involved through their leadership.
  2. Support the demonstration of Traditional Fire Knowledge.
  3. Evaluate the effects of Traditional Owner and other land management burns on biodiversity.
  4. Assess and examine current burning practices, using both Traditional and Western Scientific Knowledge systems and their tools of observation.
  5. Share and better understand knowledge systems on fire and how it affects vegetation and fauna responses, local ecology, and land management.
  6. Examine historical and current practices and attitudes to fire management, including future aspirations of the wider community and land management agencies/organisations.
  7. Evaluate attitudes of other land managers as a result of Traditional owner-implemented burning regimes.


  1. Create learning tools that are useful in natural and cultural resource management planning.
  2. Demonstrate research and operating frameworks that respect cultural and intellectual property rights.
  3. Improve understanding of what a healthy landscape is.
  4. Demonstrate the environmental, social and economic benefits of supporting Traditional Owners to implement their fire management practices.
  5. Show how Traditional Knowledge systems and practices can interface with the Government and the wider community for successful cultural and natural resource management outcomes.

Who else is involved in the project?

Support to the Kuku Thaypan Fire Management Research project and the associated PhD “The Importance of Campfires to Effective Conservation” is provided through TKRP. TKRP has formed partnerships with various organisations to enable Traditional Knowledge transfer, recording and storage, on-ground management, research, training and education relating to fire to take place.

Present partnerships that are linked directly to the Fire Research Management project and PhD include;

Al partnerships are enabled through successful negotiation with these organisations for funding to assist with the important work of the Elders.

Why should I get involved?

Improve opportunities for sustainable futures for the Cape York Community

How can I get involved?

Agree to be involved in on-ground research assisting the study if you are contacted; complete and return survey forms; agree to be interviewed; provide historical and contemporary information about fire management in Cape York. TKRP continues to seek support for this important initiative donations can be made on the TKRP website, link below.

To get involved Contact Peta-Marie Standley, contact details below.


Celebration of knowledge

TWO Kuku-Thaypan Elders George Musgrave (Snr) and Tommy George (Snr) were awarded doctorates from James Cook University in May George Musgrave and Tommy George are the only two surviving Elders of the Kuku-Thaypan clan with traditional… [read more...]

Management Project - Kuku-Thaypan Fire Research Project

The Kuku-Thaypan Fire Research Project in Lakefield National Park involves fire management research based on traditional knowledge systems It was developed to support Elders to undertake action research on their own terms Since the Elders… [read more...]


Ms Peta-Marie Standley
Tel: 07 4042 1546

Mobile: 0400 966 223

187 Gavin Hamilton Crescent