Wp/nys/Karla (Fire)

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Wp/nys/Karla (Fire)
Ballardong kalla
Wudjari karla
English fire

Nyungar have been using karla, karlak, kalla or kaarl for a very long time. It also means a camp, camp-fire, or hearth. See the Perth suburb Kalamunda. It can be used for:

ceremonies like the smoking ceremony
cooking food
making medicine or glue
warmth wer heat
firestick farming, where fire was used to rejuvenate environment
for light

Jack Williams was born in the bush il the west side of Gnowangerup in 1933. His Noonidj (totem) is kaarl (fire) wer he is a Kaarl Poorlangar (people of the fire) man of the Koorintj tribe.[1]

History[edit | edit source]

CSIRO ScienceImage 391 Burning as Land Management

Noongar culture embraces karla (fire) in many aspects of life wer includes but not limited to the following uses[2];

  • For boodjar management or ‘cleaning country’
  • For campfires wer cooking
  • Keeping away the spirits
  • Smoking ceremonies
  • Hunting fires both large wer small
  • Protecting vulnerable patches or significant areas
  • For tool making e.g. melting resins wer spear straightening
  • Medicine preparation or medicinal smoke

Karla - Cleaning Country - land management[edit | edit source]

Wagerup area after the Waroona fires of 2016 which destroyed the town of Yarloop[3]

The Australian landscape has been subject to bush (wild) fires for over 30 million years. However, Aboriginal people of Australia have harnessed karla in a system of boodjar management potentially dating back approximately 60,000 years. Nidja form of care for boodjar resulted in a mosaic of different vegetation wer fuel ages across the landscape [4], it protected forest canopies from the destruction of wild fires wer was an effective wer sustainable method for a subsistence lifestyle.

Fire is a friend in boodjar management when used the correct way, it is a method to 'clean country'[2] wer promotes a diverse range of plant species which attract animals into an area. Unfortunately, today many boodjar management agencies see 'burning off' as the removal of fuel wer organic matter il a large scale which results in a fierce fire that simplifies the ecosystem down to a single age[5]. Whereas traditionally, karla is used to protect wer sustain boodjar (country) wer her valuable resources il smaller wer karro intimate scales creating a rich mosaic of different aged patches. Even individual fruit bearing berry bushes can be protected by frequent burning of the surrounding vegetation. Traditional practices resulted in a karro resilient landscape wer helped reduce the threat wer damage wild fires created, thankfully these traditional techniques for boodjar care are making a resurgence around the country.[6] [2] Indigenous karla kaartdijin is being looked at again, especially in response to catastrophic fires such as in Queensland in November 2019[7] and NSW, Victoria and South Australia in the Black Summer 2019-20.[8][9]

Birak is traditionally the bonar for fire management. Unfortunately climate change may make Birak too hot and dry for safe fires, but wetter seasons may become dry enough to enable fire management. Kaartdijin (traditional knowledge) is not fixed, it is about adapting to climate. Aboriginal people know this as they have lived on the land for over 60,000 years and have seen an ice age come and go.

title Cultural Burning

Kaartdijin (knowledge)[edit | edit source]

Living a subsistence lifestyle sustainably over many thousands of years was not via technology nor labour but from Kaartdijin(knowledge). Kaartdijin extended to everything from resource locations to growth cycles of plants wer animals.[10]

Karla is a significant part of traditional Noongar culture wer the kaartdijin of when wer how to use karla has been retained wer shared between countless generations. Decisions such as burning from the top of the hill down, with the wind or against, from keny ignition point or several ignition points are key to lighting the correct fire for that part of boodja. Additionally, an understanding of the ecological cycles of the fauna, consideration of weather such as cloud patterns, wind direction wer temperature variability would also contribute to the timing of the correct karla to use.

The Western Australian grass tree or balga (Xanthorrhoea preissii) have been used to study the history of burning in the landscape. Mature balga plants of 200 years old are common wer by studying their old leaf remnants which lie in repetitive coloured rings researchers found that burning by Aboriginal people in the south-west of WA was quite frequent. An average interval within the jarrah forest region was found to be 3-4 years. [11]

Glen Kelly is a Noongar man wer environmental scientist who believes that current practices are degrading our landscapes wer we should be using a combination of traditional Noongar Kaartdijin wer modern scientific methods to establish a robust boodjar management system. In an article published in Boodjar scope by Glen Kelly he discusses the two main types of karla used by Noongar people, cool fire wer hot fire. [12]

A link to Glen Kelly's article can be found here.

Karla Nyidiny[13] (Cool/Cold Fire)[edit | edit source]

Nidja type of karla is used frequently wer generally performed to clear undergrowth wer promote easier access wer movement through the country. The cool karla is low intensity wer does not damage the middle or upper layers of the bush. Movement through the bush wer access to sacred sites is vital for Noongar culture. The cool karla also promoted a diversity of new growth, especially plant types that have a high food value which in turn attract animals to these areas. Additionally the cool karla is used to maintain large tracts of grazing habitat which need to be coordinated in a mosaic pattern every two years. Without these cool types of karla a dramatic ecological shift would occur like large areas in Tasmania which are now covered in thick scrub.[12]

Karla Karlang (Hot Fire)[edit | edit source]

CSIRO ScienceImage hot karla extending into the canopy

Hot fires are used less frequently wer are required in dense thicket areas which provide habitat for certain species such as wallabies wer quokka. These thickets require a high germination rate to re-establish wer after long periods of growth loose their structural integrity wer require a hot fire to re-start the cycle wer promote new growth.[12] According to Kelly it is extremely important to protect these areas from cool fires in-order for a kwop seed bed to be developed.

Karla Ngardanginy[13] (Hunting Fire)[edit | edit source]

As well as using karla for 'cleaning the country', it was also used to hunt for food. During Birak (the height of summer) large sections of the boodjar would be set il fire to chase out animals such as kangaroo wer emu which would escape into the open wer make karro easier hunting. [2]

Small Scale Karla[edit | edit source]

Noongar women would also carry a firestick to hunt wer cook foods wer there is historical evidence of burning around special areas such as berry patches wer spear shaft thickets.[2]

Karla - campfires and cooking[edit | edit source]

Kaartdijin (knowledge)[edit | edit source]

Karla - keeping away the spirits[edit | edit source]

Kaartdijin (knowledge)[edit | edit source]

Karla - smoking ceremonies[edit | edit source]

See the page Smoking Ceremony.

Kaartdijin (knowledge)[edit | edit source]

Hunting fires both large and small[edit | edit source]

Kaartdijin (knowledge)[edit | edit source]

Karla - For tool making[edit | edit source]

Kaartdijin (knowledge)[edit | edit source]

Karla - Medicine preparation or medicinal smoke[edit | edit source]

Kaartdijin (knowledge)[edit | edit source]

Additional Resources[edit | edit source]


"Steffensen has been practicing traditional methods of fire management for over 20 years and says our way of managing and regulating bushfires needs to change drastically."


"Firesticks is an Indigenous led network and aims to re-invigorate the use of cultural burning by facilitating cultural learning pathways to fire and land management. It is an initiative for Indigenous and non- Indigenous people to look after country, share their experiences and collectively explore ways to achieve their goals."


"The ‘‘fire stick farming’’ hypothesis: Australian Aboriginal foraging strategies, biodiversity, and anthropogenic fire mosaics - A Stanford research team is exploring what makes aboriginal hunting grounds molded by fire more biologically diverse than lands untouched by humans."

Ngiyan waarnk - References[edit | edit source]

  1. Jack Williams. Noongar Language Centre. Retrieved 10 February 2017
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Harben, S., year unknown. Avon Basin Noongar Heritage and Cultural Significance of Natural Resources, Perth: Murdoch Project Team.
  3. Andrew O'Connor. "Waroona fire: Bushfire management system 'failing its citizens', Yarloop report finds". ABC News. 23 June 2016. Retrieved 10 February 2020
  4. Parks and Wildlife Service, 2015. Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions - Traditional Aboriginal Burning. [Online] Available at: https://www.dpaw.wa.gov.au/management/fire/fire-and-the-environment/41-traditional-aboriginal-burning [Accessed 22 10 2017].
  5. Ward, D., 2005. Jennifer Marohasy - Noongars Knew Best. [Online] Available at: http://jennifermarohasy.com/2005/06/noongars-knew-best/ [Accessed 28 10 2017].
  6. Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, 2016. Indigenous Fire Management. [Online] Available at: http://www.tmag.tas.gov.au/whats_on/exhibitions/current_upcoming/exhibitions/1967_bushfires_indigenous_fire_management [Accessed 22 10 2017].
  7. Marian Faa. "Indigenous leaders say Australia's bushfire crisis shows approach to land management failing". ABC News. 14 November 2019. Retrieved 14 November 2019
  8. "Scott Morrison moves to set up royal commission into 'Black Summer' bushfires". SBS News. 5 February 2020. Retrieved 10 February 2020
  9. Monique Ross and Annabelle Quince. "The history of fire in Australia — and how it can help us face the bushfires of the future". ABC News. 10 February 2020. Retrieved 10 February 2020
  10. Rose, D. B., 1992. Dingo makes us Human, life and land in an Aboriginal Australian culture. Hong Kong: Cambridge University Press.
  11. Ward, D. J., 2009. Bushfire history from grasstrees at Eneabba, Western Australia. Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia, Volume 92, pp. 261-268.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Kelly, G., 1998. Karla Wongi Fire Talk: A Noongar Perspective on Forest Burning. Landscope, 14(2), pp. 9-13.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Whitehurst, R., 1997. Noongar Dictionary. 2nd ed. Bunbury: Excelsior Print.