Norman Clarke is helping young Indigenous Australians renew a skill that is tens of thousands of years old and just as vital today as ever - the management of fire.
Acting Station Officer Clarke became a fireman in 1976. In recent years he has been a shining light in the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service’s Indigenous Liaison programme, volunteering and winning admiration for his promotion of the ideals of the service and engaging the interest and support of the Indigenous community.
Today, says Norman, more and more young Indigenous people see the emergency services as a chance for valuable, respected and permanent employment.
‘Fire authorities are also recognising that Indigenous people have something to teach the fire brigades,’ he says. ‘Fire has always been a part of our culture, and we know how to use it.
‘Aboriginal people know about thinning the undergrowth with fire,’ says Norman. ‘We know how to identify trees in the bush which burn fiercely, and others which act as a fire retardant.
‘The fire authorities are starting to listen to the elders and learn from them.’
Today, in addition to his fire duties, Norman continues to work for a safer community through a programme which helps young people avoid risky road use.
Norman is the first Indigenous Australian to receive the Australian Fire Service Medal. It was awarded to him in 2004 for his distinguished service, professionalism and dedication to the Fire Service and to the community. The Medal recognises distinguished service by members of the Australian fire services.