Activity Introduction

Quick summary: Students discover how Indigenous Australians use fire to manage Country. They investigate the question after viewing videos about cool burning in a tropical savanna. Students work in groups to research one ‘line of inquiry’ question and compile a report. They then produce two checklists that could be used as tools to improve management strategies for the Australian tropical savanna.

Learning goals:

  • Students understand how Australia’s indigenous people use fire to manage the savanna.
  • Students recognise that Australia’s indigenous people use their knowledge of seasons and local conditions to produce cool burns that are sensitive to local ecosystems.
  • Students understand that cool burns have a lower ecological impact than the more damaging wildfires which may occur later in the season.

General Capabilities: Intercultural understanding, critical and creative thinking.

Australian Curriculum content descriptions:

Year 5 Geography:

  • The influence of people, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, on the environmental characteristics of Australian places (ACHASSK112)
  • The environmental and human influences on the location and characteristics of a place and the management of spaces within them (ACHASSK113)
  • The impact of bushfires or floods on environments and communities, and how people can respond (ACHASSK114)

Year 6 Geography:

  • Locate and collect relevant information and data from primary and secondary sources (ACHASSI123)
  • Interpret data and information displayed in a range of formats to identify, describe and compare distributions, patterns and trends, and to infer relationships (ACHASSI128)

Topic: Cool burning

Time required: 95 min

Level of teacher scaffolding: High – introduce new content, assist with student research, confirm that students understand the communication project, assess the achievement of student outcomes.

Resources required: Internet, Student Worksheet, digital projector or Smartboard, Fact Sheet – How do Indigenous Australians use fire? Info Sheet – Indigenous Australians using fire to care for Country

Digital technology opportunities: Observe current status of wildfires using the North Australian Fire Information, digital sharing capabilities.

Homework and extension opportunities: Investigate bushfire mitigation strategies in your state or local area.  

Assessment:  The rubric attached provides one method for monitoring students’ learning based on chosen criteria and guidelines. 

Rubric – Yrs 5&6 – Using fire to manage Country – Upper Primary

Keywords: Indigenous Australians, wildfire, bushfire, prescribed burns, cool burns, seasons, adaptation, savanna, ecology

Cool Australia’s curriculum team continually reviews and refines our resources to be in line with changes to the Australian Curriculum. There is great diversity in histories and cultures among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples throughout Australia. This resource includes investigations into and information about some of them. It has an emphasis, but not an exclusive one, on the histories and cultural practices of the Aboriginal peoples of the Northern Territory. It is underpinned by consultation with Aboriginal communities in various parts of Australia. 

Special thanks to:

Fish River Station, John Daly, Dr Jeremy Russell-Smith, Peter Jacklyn, Peter McConchie, Dr Tommy George, David Claudie, Dale Musgrave, Carolyn George and Victor Steffensen.

Made possible by:



Teacher Worksheet

Teacher preparation:

burning hero

Overarching learning goal: Students investigate how Indigenous Australians use fire to manage the savanna. They build an understanding of how traditional fire management practices, including mosaic burns, are conducted. Students compare cool burns with the more damaging wildfires that occur later in the season. At the conclusion, they are able to explain how traditional fire management is used to protect the ecology of the savanna.

Teacher content information: For tens of thousands of years, Indigenous Australians have actively managed savanna areas using fire. Their knowledge of the seasons and local conditions enable them to manage fire effectively. Indigenous people traditionally burn country to promote the growth of abundant bush tucker, to improve access to certain areas and to protect important sites from destructive wildfires.

Cool burns are a land management technique. Started soon after the wet season, before the grass completely dries out, cool burns

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Student Worksheet

Thought starter: what is this little girl doing?



What do you SEE?

What does it make you THINK about?

What does it make you WONDER?

Step 1 - Watch the cool burning videos

Video 1. Historical burns

Historical burns -

Complete the prompts below with your responses to this video.

I used to think ...

But now I think ...

Video 2. Restoring Country with cool burns

Restoring Country with cool burns -

Complete the prompts below with your responses.

I used to think ...

But now I think ...

Step 2 – Group investigation

Your group will compile a report about how and why Indigenous Australians use fire to manage Country. Select one 'line of inquiry' question to research, to complete the table below. Use the Cool Australia Info Sheet - Indigenous Australians using fire to care for Country

Criteria for your report:

- or - to view worksheets

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