ICS Seminar Series - Dean Freeman and Jessica Weir

Date: Thursday, 19 March 2020
Time: 11.30am–1pm
Venue: Please join us via zoom ID: https://uws.zoom.us/j/304189054

How Not to Burn: Dispatches from the Fire Front

Presenters: Dean Freeman (Aboriginal Fire Officer, ACT Parks and Conservation) and Dr Jessica Weir


This summer’s bushfires burned with a fierce intensity, generating fire storms and punching up into the atmosphere. The conditions were so extreme that fire fighting operations were marginalised and entire regions were evacuated. Alongside, Indigenous peoples’ burning practices were raised in diverse forums as an important consideration for the inevitable inquiries, as also affirmed by the Prime Minister. This is a shift from the Victorian (2009) and ACT (2003) bushfire inquiries, whose ostensibly comprehensive reports did not mention Indigenous peoples nor their burning practices, except once in the past tense in a scene-setting preamble (Williamson et al. forthcoming).

The wake of a catastrophic disaster is an important time for learning. In this panel presentation we share: the experiences of Wiradjuri man and ACT Fire Officer Dean Freeman, who leads a cultural burning program and was one of the first response units to arrive when the Canberra fires hit; and, the preliminary findings of our Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC research collaboration (opens in a new window) on cultural burning and the natural hazard sector in southern Australia. We show how meaning and assumption from different viewpoints affect the possibilities we see before us, and the consequences for how the nation might respond to this unprecedented fire season.


Dean Freeman is a Wiradjuri man from Brungle Aboriginal Reserve, at the Northern foothills of Kosciuszko National Park. His parents are also Wiradjuri. For twenty years, he has worked in cultural heritage with NSW National Parks (Tumut) and now ACT Parks, where he leads the cultural burning program (opens in a new window). He enjoys locating and protecting cultural sites as an Aboriginal man, as well as fighting fires on Country as part of his cultural obligations to his family. His links with the ACT Aboriginal community are through his father. Through this knowledge, He is able to pass on information to the community, but most importantly, he can receive cultural knowledge from the Elders, and pass on as appropriate. During bushfires, he has helped locate and protect unrecorded sites that remain unrecorded.

Jessica Weir is a descendent of the colonial invaders and seeks to be an ally with Indigenous peoples’ leadership. She has collaborated with Indigenous people for over twenty years on native title, and land and water management. She works as a Senior Research Fellow (opens in a new window) at the Institute for Culture and Society (ICS) and draws on human geography, Indigenous studies, decolonial studies, the environmental humanities, and science and technology studies. She examines how diverse knowledge practices interact to circumscribe and transform public sector and societal understandings.