Forest Fire Management (FFMVic) Assistant Chief Fire Officer Scott Falconer has brought many learnings back to Loddon Mallee since his Churchill Fellowship trip to North America, but none more so than the importance of building trusting relationships when it comes to land management.

Mr Falconer recently released a report about his seven-week Churchill Fellowship trip to America and Canada, where he studied Indigenous people’s involvement in land and fire management with a focus on self-determination and returning cultural burning to Country.

Mr Falconer met with First Nations people and other land managers to learn about how indigenous cultural fire management practices are being reintroduced on public land and what practices could be applied in Victoria.

“The trip reinforced my belief that it is people and developing respectful and trusting relationships, not fire or any other management practice, that is at the heart of good land management,” Mr Falconer said.

“I was fortunate to meet with many amazing and inspiring people during my trip and discuss many issues including fire prevention techniques, how communities recover from fire and how governments can work with Traditional Owners On Country to enable self-determination.

“A lesson for me as a non-Indigenous person and someone who works in an organisation that manages public land, is that my role is that of an enabler.  I need to work with Traditional Owners to open the doors for them to manage Country again, then step aside.

“Learning to really listen and engage in a ‘proper fashion’ to build relationships and long-term trust has been a key lesson.  During the trip I also became aware that in many ways here in Victoria we are far ahead in working with Traditional Owners on Country.  

“In central Victoria we have the ground-breaking Dja Dja Wurrung Recognition and Settlement Agreement between the Victorian Government and Dja Dja Wurrung as well as the partnership FFMVic has developed with Dja Dja Wurrung and Barapa Barapa to return cultural burning to Country.

"The people I met with in Canada and the United States were very interested in what we are doing in Australia and were very keen to share information and their experiences.

“I learnt so much and there were many highlights including travelling and sharing the journey with Trent Nelson, Director Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation, and Tim Kanoa, DELWP Director of Aboriginal Inclusion and Support.

“Having Trent and Tim’s insights as Traditional Owners while talking with First Nations people about land management and planned burning was invaluable.

“I am so thankful to have been awarded the Lord Mayor’s Bushfire Appeal Churchill Fellowship and the support I’ve received from the many individuals and organisations in Australia, America and Canada.”

A report of the trip is available at: and includes a range of recommendations for Victorian land managers including FFMVic.  Several recommendations have already been adopted in Victoria.

Mr Falconer has worked in fire, forestry and fisheries for more than 25 years and was appointed Loddon Mallee Assistant Chief Fire Officer with Forest Fire Management Victoria in June 2016.

The Churchill Fellowship Trust was formed with the principal objective of perpetuating and honouring Sir Winston Churchill’s memory by awarding Memorial Fellowships.

The aim of the Trust is to provide an opportunity for Australians to travel overseas to conduct research in their chosen field not readily available in Australia.  It also aims to reward proven achievement of talented and deserving Australians with further opportunity in their pursuit of excellence for the enrichment of Australian society.

Trent Nelson and Scott Falconer inspecting the positive results of a cultural burn at the Flathead Indian Reservation, Montana

Image: Trent Nelson and Scott Falconer inspecting the positive results of a cultural burn at the Flathead Indian Reservation, Montana.