Cultural burn spiritually rejuvenates land

It started as an idea in a paddock.

During a walk on Country with local Aboriginal leaders in 2020, Walbunja elder Bunja Smith raised the idea of conducting a cultural burn on the site of the New Eurobodalla Regional Hospital.

Senior Project Director Matthew Malone and Uncle Bunja Smith discussing plans for a cultural burn.

“I was pretty sure it had never been done on a major infrastructure project in NSW – maybe even Australia,” Uncle Bunja said.

“I knew it would show everyone just how serious we are about making this hospital a place that is culturally safe and welcoming for community.”

In September 2022, a traditional Aboriginal cultural burn was held on the site of the new Eurobodalla Regional Hospital, in Moruya. It is the first time a cultural burn has been held on a NSW Health Infrastructure project site.

Cultural burning is an ancient fire practice which has been used by Aboriginal people for over 60,000 years.

“For millennia Aboriginal people managed the land through cultural burning - it was one of our farming and land management practices to care for Country,” Uncle Bunja said.

“Cleansing the land is an integral part of connection with Country and restores and rejuvenates the land spiritually.”

Uncle Bunja said the collaboration between Health Infrastructure and the local Aboriginal community has had a positive impact on everyone involved in the new hospital.

“To my knowledge this is the first time that any government in Australia has partnered with the Aboriginal community to undertake such a task and to recognise Aboriginal spirituality in such as meaningful way,” Uncle Bunja said.

“I think it's something that should be adopted by anyone who wants to build anything in NSW.

"What happened here was true reconciliation. It was people working together on a shared vision – for a shared outcome and a joint goal, and that goal is a better, stronger, and healthier community.”