My project was to record how last January’s bushfires affected our community. I live in an area that was in the centre of the bushfires on the NSW South Coast last summer. There were many fires in NSW and ours was named the Currowan fire. It was started by a lightning strike in the Currowan State Forest on 26th November 2019.
In late December 2019 the Currowan, then 144,000 hectares, joined with the Tianjara fire (22,000 hectares) to become the monster fire that burned for 74 days and destroyed 499,621 hectares and 312 homes. At 8.00pm on 8th February 2020 the NSW Rural Fire Service announced that it was now officially extinguished.
These images all relate to the fire and were taken within ten kilometres from my home. New Year’s Eve 2019 was a “red smoke day" and conditions were classified as “catastrophic”. We lost all communication with the outside world, first losing electricity (and with it, auto-tellers, card payment for food or petrol and television). Mobile phone towers and radio transmitters were burnt out and all roads out of here were closed. The notice in the shop window was typical of the time.
The burnt-out bush behind a stop sign is where a minor country road joins the Princes Highway, one of the main roads between Sydney and Melbourne that was closed for days, the burnt-out sign taken from our car some days later when the RFS (Rural Fire Service) gave us a few hours to evacuate. There was “bumper to bumper” traffic and the fire was still burning in patches along the highway. It took us nine hours to drive a distance that usually took two.
Country houses were built with wooden frames and corrugated iron roofs so that there was usually nothing left except for the brick chimney and heaps of iron alongside the remains of small domestic items. An unknown “SANDZ” speaks, or writes, for us all on a community blackboard. “Water pilots” refers to the water-bombing aircraft and “SES” means State Emergency Service. Months after the fires, the bush is showing some signs of welcome re-growth.
You can’t plan for a project like this. It all just happens as you watch. No special technical knowledge or equipment is required – very graphic photographs were taken with simple entry-level phone cameras. The photographs taken after it is all over are just a matter of walking around the sites and observing what may be left, always remembering that any site you visit may be a place where a family’s life has been ruined.
I have been asked to prepare an exhibition, including these photographs, to be held locally, and that will complete the project for me. I would like to contribute some more International Projects but I hope I never have to do one similar to this again.