Wednesday, February 11, 2009

D Is For Desolation

The Savage Beauty Of A Bushfire Landscape

Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON


The first thing that strikes you when you walk through an area after a bushfire is just how quiet it is. There are no bird calls. The sounds of the Australian bush have vanished. There is not even the sound of wind.

There is nothing. Just the smell of residual smoke, the odour of burnt gums and eucalypts and the sight of blackness everywhere.

There are no bird calls because there are no nests left. The sounds of the Australian bush have gone because the animals have disappeared and the cicadas have not returned - simply because there is nothing for them to return to.

And why can we not hear the wind? Because there is no rustling. Can you guess why there is no rustling? Because there are no leaves. Just as beautifully crafted wood provides the sounding board for a grand piano, the leaves around us are what make us aware of the breeze we cannot see.


Several bloggers asked me last week what happens to wildlife in a fire. Those animals and birds that can move swiftly manage to escape. Those that cannot, perish in the flames or are claimed by the intense radiant heat that accompanies a bushfire.

Even some animals that escape the area in which they live are sometimes claimed by the fire because flames move so quickly and because flying embers, blown ahead of the forefront by intense winds, start new blazes that advance in several new directions.


Any bushfire zone also contains injured animals. These are now cared for swiftly, because of an initiative between the Country Fire Authority (CFA) and accredited volunteers. In the past, it was difficult for volunteers to enter a bushfire zone because of several operational reasons - not the least being their own safety - but this has changed.


Today, the trees are black carcasses. It is as if I stand alone in the forest of Hades.

The bushfire that swept through here last week claimed everything. Like all wildfires, it was capricious. It jumped a road, it burnt along a fence line, but here and there are little havens of greenery where the wind changed and blew the fury of the flames away.

These images were shot at dusk on Monday, in the Churchill National Park area of southeast Melbourne. I rang the Country Fire Authority (CFA) and the police before I headed off to take these photographs. I left my contact details and vehicle registration with them.

Why? Not just for safety, as there is a far more important reason. With arson suspected as the cause for some of Victoria’s fatal bushfires, I do not want anyone to mistake me for a firebug.

My son points out a sign that has been burnt. I turn the car back and photograph the scars. Not only is the wooden support post damaged, but the fire has eaten through the metal as well.


One of the broader trees near the Churchill Park gold course has obviously been marked out for some kind of attention. Around its trunk it sports distinctive red-and-white tape bearing the letters DSE, for the Department of Sustainability and Environment.

The tape is upside down. Little details like this do not matter in a bushfire zone, where experts must assess the charred remains quickly. The red-and-white tape stands out like a beacon among the twisted black tree limbs.


The sun is setting now. There can only be hope that tomorrow will bring cooler weather and some respite for the volunteer CFA firefighters who are our guardian angels.

But here in the black landscape, there is an invisible miracle of which we cannot yet see tangible evidence. There will soon be regrowth occurring.

Strange though that might seem, it is true. The seed pods of these native Australian trees are only opened by intense heat. A bushfire is nature’s way of regeneration. In a fortnight or so, there will be a new leaf here, a tentative young branch there.

The landscape will reveal patches of growth. By mid-autumn, this place will be a concerto of colours and there will be fresh green emerging from the blackened trunks.

Tomorrow, as they say in the classics, is another day.



For the home of ABC Wednesday, go to
Mrs Nesbitt's Place.

66 comments:

Artist Unplugged said...

Those are haunting photos, especially the first one. Keeping up with the news hear, thanks for the up close and personal photos. God bless those affected.

Merisi said...

One can only stand silently in awe of these vivid testimonials of nature's fury.

imac said...

HORRIFIC, Prayers and thoughts to all those that have lost their loved ones and homes.

1st class reporting David, Great shots too.

Fat, frumpy and fifty... said...

Always end with a message of hope, thats best,well done David, quite a poignant post!!

Daryl said...

So sad .. and now I hear there is talk that some of the fires were set... this happened in CA as well ... I hope whoever set the fires is caught and tried for murder

Cheffie-Mom said...

Unbelievable. Thank you for sharing these photos and keeping us updated. Blessings to you and your family.

Bee said...

Beautiful writing, beautiful pictures. I guess that I'm not surprised that you would have a need to be a witness to this awful event.

I'm glad that you struck a hopeful note at the end. Thank goodness for resiliency. (I've been thinking along similar lines . . .)

jinksy said...

Your up close and personal post brings the tragedy into sharp focus for those of us who can only imagine the horror.

Denise said...

Oh dear David, this really brings it to home what you all went through over there. Marvellous post, one that affects deeply. My continued prayers for everyone.

Sue said...

thanks for the update and photos. I have been following as we have friends that raced this past week in Geelong and heard of the horror...Thoughts and prayers for all of those displaced...

Queen-Size funny bone said...

Sad and very telling.

Moannie said...

A terrible tragedy that is brought home to us by the News Agencies and by your vivid reports. Awful, yet majestic pictures.

Our thoughts are with you.

Katney said...

You are wise to remember the hope that remains in the desolation. It may be the only thing to cling to at this point. It will keep you sane.

We drove past the Sylmar community in California in November. A few months earlier some 500 homes had been destroyed there in one of many fires that whipped across California last summer. The scenes were almost a miniature of what you have experienced there.

But it WILL come back. Mt. St. Helens did, Yellowstone did, and other devastated areas. It takes time, and the haunting memories will hang on for a while.

The grieving is part of nature's cycle, too.

Charles Gramlich said...

How fast devestation travels.

A Woman Of No Importance said...

David, thankyou for bringing us your heartfelt first-hand accounts and brave pictures of what is currently Hades, and what will tomorrow be renewed and beautiful once more.

You are right, it is important to remember that, amidst the devastation caused by conflagration.

My thoughts are with you and those sadly affected x

imbeingheldhostage said...

I've been worried for you, your family and friends. We hear about the fires on the news throughout the day and I always wonder how it's effecting you. This is such a tragedy, it makes my heart sick.
Thank you for this post.

Craig Glenn said...

A very moving story David. Our thoughts and prayers go out the the families affected by this.

Craig

Steph said...

I'm so relieved to know that you and your family were spared. I'm from southern California, where we're famous for our wildfires. My heart and prayers go to Australia, her forests and wildlife, and her people.

aims said...

So much just gone with the wind.

quilly said...

Beautiful sunset -- but your fire pictures were so clear and your telling so vivid that I swear I smelled smoke.

Maggie May said...

A hauntingly beautiful post. Sad though.

Craver Vii said...

It breaks my heart trying to imagine all the staggering losses.
The "forest of Hades." Now there's an image!
Thermally activated seed pods are profoundly fascinating. May the Lord pour his grace upon your land.

lime said...

still such a terrible tragedy and to think it may be arson...

i had contact with another friend from melbourne and his description was, "hell visited victoria."

your images would bear that out as well.

Deslilas said...

Dreadful disaster.

Akelamalu said...

Such devestation but a miracle will occur with the regrowth - amazing.

Jen said...

What a terrible terrible tragedy it is. Hell hath no fury like Mother Nature.... the devastation of a bush fire is like no other....

Thank you for sharing

Jen

Tyra in Vaxholm said...

Devastating and absolutely dreadful.
My thought are with you and your people these days.

We all follow it on the news...it is so sad.

Take care/ Tyra

Sylvia K said...

They are indeed haunting photos! It's a sad, but true post for today's D! I hold good thoughts for you all.

cheshire wife said...

Those photographs are both shocking and beautiful.

How apt that your quotation at the end of the post is from Gone with the Wind.

ramblingwoods.com said...

My husband has been a volunteer fireman for over 25 years. We had an arson fire that claimed a fire fighter's life..I don't understand it. Good, yet sad post...Michelle

Müge said...

Very sad photos and news :-( But what exactly is the cause of this terrible fire which destroyed Australia's flora and fauna and killed 200 people (I've heard this number on TV)?

Janie said...

Eerie photos of the devastation. You make a good point, though, that there will be regrowth and rebirth. We saw that in Yellowstone National Park, US, after a huge fire there in 1987. It's just such a tragedy that the Australia fire killed so many and destroyed the homes of so many others.

CrazyCath said...

I can cope with nature's savagery. It is sometimes necessary and often beautiful in it's beastliness.

It's the haunting sight of homes that are gone, houses, livelihoods... lives, souls.

Still thinking of you all and praying. Beautiful, terrifying images and once again, thanks for the update. We all care and need to know our blogger friends are safe too.

Lene said...

D - also for Disaster... It is so sad to see the news from your country this days.... Blessings...

Annie said...

well done David...a comprehensive photo gallery from you as usual...it is hard to put into words the extensive nature of the horrendous weekend, but you do well for us!

Annie

Babooshka said...

The idea of no birdsong I find most chilling.Terribly moving post.

Anne-Berit said...

So sad to see all the damidges the fire has done,and that someone has set the fire is dreadfull to think about.

photowannabe said...

A sad and haunting tale of the horrible fires. My heart goes out to the families that lost love ones. The earth is resilent. I hope we can be too.

Hilary said...

David, that's heart-wrenching. It's horrible when nature turns on itself. That's bad enough, but to think that it may have been arson is impossible to fathom.

TheWritersPorch said...

There is nothing like seeing the images of fire destruction to cleanse the mind of frivilous things and cause it to focus on what really matters and how fast a raging fire can alter so many lives. My thoughts and prayers are with your country David!

Poutalicious said...

You are all in my thoughts and in my prayers.

Helena said...

My throat's been in my mouth watching this on the news. Every report seems worse. As well as the people losing so much, I worry for the wildlife, too. Such a terrible thing. ANd is it true that there are floods up in Queensland? Good grief! All that water, all in the wrong place...

Karyn said...

Thank you for the description of the aftermath of a terrible tragedy - and the message of hope as well. Your words and photos have taken me to a place I would otherwise never experience.

To think these fires may have been deliberate!

The final photos convey your message that life will regenerate in a beautiful way.

My heart goes out to all those who lost their homes and loved ones in this horrible event.

Dora said...

Hot weather in SG also and a number of bush fires.

Tiaras and Tantrums said...

ahh - this is very sad indeed

Paula Scott said...

Yes, hope springs eternal!
Very sobering images indeed and I am glad that you ended it with the message of the rebirth to come.
Beautifully crafted post!

Lew said...

From the ashes a new life arises! Touching post on a horrific fire.

stan said...

U've made scenes of desolation into beautiful images of art through your shots. I like the order of the images which end with a final shot of hope! Hope the situation improves soon!

spacedlaw said...

A burnt forest does have its own tormented beauty, as if it was haunted by the spirit of the trees that have died in the fire.
So sad, though.

ArneA said...

I would nominate this post as potd. Strong story from one living there,
and:
A bushfire is nature’s way of regeneration. In a fortnight or so, there will be a new leaf here, a tentative young branch there.
this makes me remmber that nature will always be on the top of all.

Alice said...

You have taken death and destruction and managed to make it look beautiful in these photos. It must be very strange to stand in such a place.

One of my nephews is currently in the Melbourne area, traveling around Australia. He's loving it and not in any hurry to return home to Canada.

Tessa said...

Luminous words. Tragically beautiful photographs.

Neva said...

your bush fires were front page news here.....amazing how nature works....even something will grow after a volcano erupts.....sad to see all the ravaged land.

Woman in a Window said...

It's something to ponder, isn't it, the regeneration of forests?

Rose said...

Thank you for this wonderful post. As Neva said, this has been a news headline here in the US, too, but your photos and storyline really bring this devastation home. Such a sad scene.

Brother Tobias said...

Thanks for this post. More immediacy even than a news report somehow. Suddenly no one in the Northern Hemisphere is envious of your heatwave any more, and we are with those affected

Linnea W said...

Thank you for this descriptive and moving post. We get lots of wildfires here in California, but thankfully, I've never had to experience any of them up close. I hope that the authorities can find the person who caused this devastation. Hoping for a speedy recovery for all those involved...

nikkicrumpet said...

I read your comment on my blog and realized I should quit my bitchin. I've followed the news in Australia and my heart goes out to all of the people and land that is effected by this tragedy. Your photos are such a stark reminder of the devastation caused by fire. I hope the land and people can find a healing place and I'm so sorry for the great loss.

Tranquility said...

We've been watching your fires on the news and it sounds as though it has been a very intense ordeal!
It is interesting to get a firsthand account of what is happening over there.

Jay said...

What desolation! Yet there is a certain savage beauty, especially in those sunsets. It's good to remember that nature has evolved to deal with bushfires by ensuring the survival of seeds, and also good to hear that the injured wildlife is cared for.

I feel very sad for the people in the affected areas. :(

Kim said...

This is a very moving post. My thoughts are with the victims and their families as well as all of the wildlife affected by this tragedy.

Mojo said...

Given the suspected source of a couple of these fires, I'd say "D" is also for "Desecration". Glad to know you're still safe there David.

So if I understood this correctly, these tress have actually survived the fire? Amazing.

joan said...

Your country has been in my thoughts and prayers David. Your photos tell it all. Take care.

Corey~living and loving said...

What a touching post! I'm sorry I haven't been around earlier to check in on you. I live in a bubble...I purposfully turn the news off, as it often hurts my heart. I was blissfully unaware of these fires until today.

your post is beautiful. thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.

katherine. said...

poignant devastation.

grateful you and yours are safe!

Anonymous said...

CNN showed a clip where a koala bear was rescued from the forests in Victoria. And they named HER Sam. She looked so relieved to be rescued and soon found a companion in her new home.

Rene.