The bushfire and the Australian imagination

There is a good article in today’s Australian by Simon Caterson: Living with the embers.

IT would be hard to overestimate the strength of the hold that bushfire has over our physical environment and over the Australian imagination. When in 1988 a series of ceremonial bonfires was lit during the Australian bicentenary celebrations, historian Geoffrey Blainey viewed the event as honouring "the most powerful, majestic and frightening force in our history: the force of fire".

Bushfires recur every year and occupy an important part of our culture and art. Blainey observes that "every day for millions of days countless fires have been lit or enlarged for countless purposes, and many of those fires had unintended consequences"…

The definitive Australian film (or play) on a bushfire theme may be yet to emerge, but many painters and writers have tackled the subject. In March 2003, the National Gallery of Victoria staged an exhibition of fire-themed art works to raise funds for victims of that summer’s fires.

Among the paintings assembled were works by John Longstaff, Eugene von Guerard and Tim Storrier. One of the best-known is Longstaff’s Gippsland, Sunday Night, February 20th, 1898, which shows a horseman riding swiftly out of a forest at night with the fire front advancing close behind him.

Australian writers have long striven to give expression to the horror of bushfire, while often acknowledging the subject’s indescribability. In his 1853 poem The Bush Fire, Charles Harpur writes: "Where are the words to paint the million shapes /And unimaginable freaks of Fire, /When holding thus its monster carnival /In the primeval forest all night long?"

A 19th-century writer who described a bushfire from personal experience was Marcus Clarke, who found himself suddenly caught up in a mallee scrub fire, which he tried to help contain in a back-burning operation: "But the fiery cohort came up, roaring in the tops of the trees, and was upon and past us almost before we could feel its heat, leaping our little line without a pause, and flying away into the forest. We had to run for our lives and, escaping danger of crushing branches, blazing bark and sudden whirls of yellow fire, that would play and crackle about us from some sappy fern, fell with singed hair and blinded eyes into the company of our reinforcements."

A sinister metaphor for bushfire was used by English author H.G. Wells, who visited Australia in the late 1930s.

"A bushfire is not an orderly invader, but a guerilla," Wells wrote. "It advances by rushes, by little venomous tongues of fire in the grass; it spreads by sparks burning leaves and bark. Its front is miles deep. It is here, it is there, like a swarm of venomous wasps. It shams dead and stabs you in the back. It encircles you so that there is no sure line of flight of its intended victims. It destroys the bridges in your rear. It bars the road with blazing trees." …

longstaff-gippsland

John Longstaff, “Gippsland, Sunday Night” 1898

Advertisements

Sunday 16 November 2008: Telopea Street East Redfern

The ultimate jacaranda picture? Probably not, but I can imagine some motorists wishing Nature was not quite so insistent.

sun16 003

Photo by Neil 16 November 2008

And this post represents a departure too. From here on you get your photos one at a time, two at the most. They will be tagged appropriately, but the series approach I am otherwise doing away with, having documented my three targets rather thoroughly over the past couple of months.

Redfern Visions 24: East Redfern 2 – nature 2

I can’t help reflecting on how pleasant the inner city area now is compared with fifty years ago when I used to frequent it as a school boy. Then there was a constant pall of smoke and many indescribable smells, and Nature was pretty much excluded, except for the parks, such as Moore Park, and even they were scruffy compared to today.

Let’s look at the South Dowling Street edge of East Redfern to give a context for the three other pictures, all taken from much the same spot at the same time of day – morning.

mon27 026

Continue reading

Redfern Visions 23: East Redfern 1 – nature 1

The pics in this and the next six or so Redfern Visions sets have all been taken today in the area bounded by Cleveland Street, Walker Street, South Dowling Street and Moore Park — in other words between here and M’s place, being deliberately vague about where he lives. They were all taken in morning light.

mon27 011

The jacarandas are thriving…

Continue reading