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A Satellite Time Series of Kaiadilt Fire History in the South Wellesley Islands

Anna Kreij
James Cook University / CABAH

Co-Authors
Sean Ulm, ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, James Cook University
Damien O’Grady, James Cook University / CABAH / NGIS
Christian Reepmeyer, James Cook University / CABAH
Rebecca Bliege Bird, Penn State University / CABAH
Simon Haberle, Australian National University / CABAH

The integrated benefits of Indigenous fire management are becoming increasingly recognised world-wide, and Aboriginal Australian fire practices have provided a leading example in international fire management. However, Aboriginal land management strategies are diverse, and there is yet much to learn about the intricates and cultural, social and geographical variability of fire technologies. We investigate past fire practices of Kaiadilt, the highly specialised marine people of the South Wellesley Islands, southern Gulf of Carpentaria, northern Australia, to add to the current understanding of Aboriginal Australian fire technologies. The four Kaiadilt island occupation phases of pre-colonisation of the islands (>3500 BP), traditional lifeways (3500 BP–AD 1949), forced abandonment (AD 1949–AD 1984) and outstation living (AD 1984–present) allows us to investigate changes in fire expression through time.

Using satellite data, Google Earth Engine, extension PatchAnalyst, and spectral Modified Soil Adjust Vegetation Index (MSAVI), a time series of fire events on Kaiadilt country is created. By comparing fire scar characteristics, in conjunction with local weather observations, topography and Kaiadilt activities, we start to tease out the effects and contrasts between an actively managed country and a uninhabited savanna island landscape.

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