Damian and Di Cullenward are farmers from Eugowra, Central NSW.
Damian grew up in the west of the state, and continues to spend time there as a farm contractor.
Damian has drawn attention from his surrounding farming community for the interesting work he carries out on his property. The land had been intensively farmed for a decade prior to his ownership, and sections of the land of were struggling with the impacts of overgrazing, weed infestation and historic chemical use.
Damian grew up using fire as a land management tool, yet as Aboriginal people were removed from the land, the use of fire as a tool ceased. As the numbers of knowlegable individuals deminished, knowledge of fire use was lost, and fear of fire grew.
As a result, when Damien introduced fire as a weed management tool on his Eugowra property, the practice was met with scepticism by surrounding landowners. His initial trials were partially successful. Ar first some weeds returned, yet with perserverance native grasses have now overtaken weeds.
The combination of managed fire, with fencing and controlled grazing, has stopped erosion on his property. His success drew interest from the Catchment Management Authority, and its staff now support Damian in spreading the information he has gathered on using fire as a land management tool.
Damian says that convinceing reticent landholders to use traditional fire management will be the biggest achievement in regional land management practices.
“People are happy to spray, use chemicals, to get country to do what they want, but country is getting sicker and sicker.
Country will look after itself with a bit of assistance, and getting back to nature is a big part of it.
Everyone seems to be scared of fire.
Respect it don’t be scared of it,” Damian said.
According to Damien, the conceprt of completely baring the ground surface through burning country seems to go against the ethics of most pastoralists and graziers. Yet when I burning is carried out in a mosaic pattern, in a cool burn at right time of year, the ground recovers within weeks.
“Fire can be used to replace chemicals in the eradication of weeds.
Fire acts as a natural selection process, as it is a key mechanism of evolution and native plants can handle it.
Especially when burning at the appropriate time with current practices and knowledge, fire works most effectively, especially on country that has been over farmed," he says.
"Fire is a cheap and practical way of rehabilitating country that has been subject to intensive grazing and farming.
Grazing sheep and cattle can go hand in hand with burning, as it’s all part of the big picture,” Damien says.
Prior Damian and Di taking over their land, a 140-acre paddock on the property had been farmed continually for at least eight years. Now after the paddock has been rested for two years, Damian is amazed at how native grasses and clovers have come back. He is a believer in the recovery of country, with a bit of assistance to eradicate weeds and lingering soil diseases.
Damien also holds that with sufficient levels of carbon returning to the soil from leaf and other organic matter, the need for soil health assistance is less urgent.
While sections of eroded or especially fragile land may be beyond the point of recovery without assistance, over time all damaged areas have restoration possiblitly, and benefit from the reintroduction of traditional fire regimes.