Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Canberra bushfire legacy

I'm back from Canberra - tired, but glad I went. It was good to have some time with the family.

Canberra is a beautiful city, known as the 'Bush capital' because it is surrounded by wild space including the huge wilderness area of Namadgi National Park to the west of the city. Just on the edge of the city were large (non-native) pine plantations. I grew up there, spending much time in the national park, at the Cotter River reserve, visiting the Observatory at Mt Stromlo, and walking in the extensive pine forests.

In January, 2003, a huge bushfire swept through Namadgi, then through the pine forests - on a day that was so hot and dry and windy that the firestorm raced through 15 kilometres of bush and pine forest in about 20 minutes - and then destroyed 500 homes not far from where my parents live and where I grew up. I wasn't there at the time, but I spoke on the phone to my parents as they were preparing the house in case of flyng embers, when fires were only 2 streets away. Fortunately, the wind was blowing those particular flames away from them - but embers from the fires destroying homes (including my cousins' and some friends) a suburb away were dropping all around them.

I've been down to Canberra a few times since, and I can't get used to the changed landscape. It's hard to describe to those who have never seen the city, because its design is unique, but in the areas I travel most, from my parent's place to the city, or to the northern suburbs, you travel around the edge of the city - through what were once pine forests. And now there's nothing but wide empty space, and tiny fledgling seedlings. In the bush areas, the gum trees (eucalypts) are regenerating, but it's not the same as it was - and the mountains to the west, which I always loved catching glimpses of, you can now see more often - except they look grayer and... different. When I was down there last year, I went into Namadgi National Part, and walked around for a while, and although there was new leaf growth on the trees, many hadn't survived the intense heat, and the new growth on those that had was close to the main trunks, with ghostly, dead outer branches. And it was very, very quiet - the wildlife populations were drastically affected by the blaze and the destruction of habitat and food.

I love those areas, the way it was, and I feel the loss of them. I can't get used to the strangeness of it. The land will recover - is recovering - but it will take time, and some places will be forever changed.


Anonymous said...

Glad your back and that you had a good time!

Lyn Cash said...

vivid descriptions, and sad. sorry about your relatives and friends caught in the blaze and losing their homes, bron. that's a lot of land and many homes lost within minutes.

glad you & your folks are okay.