US dignitaries visit the Bushfire Centre of Excellence
On Tuesday 14 February, the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) had the honour of welcoming the US Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland and the US Ambassador to Australia, Caroline Kennedy to the Bushfire Centre of Excellence Karla Katitjin in Nambeelup.
Secretary Haaland is the first Native American woman to serve in the US President’s Cabinet, overseeing nation-to-nation relationships with hundreds of tribes and managing and protecting thousands of hectares of land.
Secretary Haaland’s Australian trip highlighted the importance of Indigenous knowledge, collaborative conservation and international partnerships to inform the global effort to fight the climate crisis and preserve land and marine environments for future generations.
Bushfire Centre of Excellence Chief Superintendent John Tillman said it was a privilege to have Secretary Haaland visit the centre to learn more about our purpose and work, particularly the Cultural Fire Program that was established in 2020.
"Led by Kaurareg man David Windsor and Walmajarri man Clifton Bieundurry, the program is working with First Nations Australians to enhance cultural burning activities and better integrate cultural knowledge and practices into WA fire management,” Chief Superintendent Tillman said.
“Integrating cultural elements in the centre has also been a key part of our design strategy, and we’ve had great support and input from the local Bindjareb community, who gave the centre its Nyungar name Karla (fire) Katitjin (knowledge).
“We have a wonderful and well-respected relationship with the Bindjareb community, and it was very pleasing to have Bindjareb Elders and Traditional Owners attend and participate in the event proceedings.”
Bindjareb Traditional Owner Theo Kearing welcomed the US delegation to Bindjareb Boodja. This was followed by a traditional dance and smoking ceremony.
Bindjareb Traditional Owner Karrie-Anne Kearing gifted Secretary Haaland with traditional ‘fire sticks’ and a copy of the ‘Mungah’ artwork she created for the centre with her mother, Bindjareb Elder Aunty Gloria Kearing. The large-scale mural, located on the centre’s grounds, depicts the local landscape and the Nyungar people’s traditional practice of catching mullet in the waterways using wicker fences called ‘mungah’.
Chief Superintendent Tillman guided the US delegation around the centre, showcasing the facility’s collaborative and engaging spaces, cultural elements and firewise gardens.
An exciting and interactive burnover drill demonstration by the West Murray Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade showcased the brigade’s training and skills in preparing for the potential impact of a bushfire.
Next was the yarning circle, which was the perfect setting to hear about the Cultural Fire Program. This was followed by an Australian-themed afternoon tea including ‘bush tucker’ prepared by the Bindjareb Park mob.
Running simultaneously with this event was a Women in Leadership Forum for DFES staff and emergency services volunteers from across the state. The forum aimed to equip emerging female leaders with the skills and knowledge to lead thriving teams and enact change.
DFES executive leaders Deputy Commissioner Melissa Pexton, Executive Director Georgina Camarda and recently appointed Assistant Commissioner Kate Vivian shared their stories with the group. A consistent theme was the empowerment in knowing they can make a difference in their wellbeing and success at work. Forum participants then had the opportunity to interact with the international guests over afternoon tea.
Secretary Haaland acknowledged her great respect for firefighters and her appreciation of the relationship that the US and Australia share, particularly in the exchange of firefighting personnel and resources during major bushfires.
Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Darren Klemm AFSM expressed his thanks to the US delegation for the opportunity to spend an afternoon together and share some of the work DFES undertakes to protect our communities from the devastating impacts of bushfires.