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Born in Flames - the Toodyay bushfire

John Toohey | Australia

In December 2009 a bushfire in Toodyay outside of Perth Australia destroyed 34 homes and razed several thousand hectares of bush and farmland. The State Government declared the area a natural disaster. When I visited the area six weeks later the landscape was scorched and still smouldering. Returning in August 2011 I found it was already regenerating and transformed. This is a photo essay on the recuperative powers of nature. 

On December 29 2009 sparks from a damaged power station ignited a fire in Toodyay, about 60kms east of Perth, Australia. In the dry summer heat the flames spread and within hours an area the size of a small European city was ablaze. Though no one was killed, 37 houses were destroyed. Statistically this doesn’t bear comparison to the Victorian bushfires in February the same year (173 deaths), though anyone who has been in a bushfire will probably tell you statistics don’t mean much.

Six weeks after the fire the area was a graveyard of grey and blackened tree stumps. Wisps of smoke still rose from the detritus. The temperature was in the low 40s and the risk remained that embers could reignite to torch what remained. In the weeks after a bushfire the most pervading sensation is the silence. The normal background clatter of birds and insects has vanished. It is as though the only thing you can hear is the heat.

I returned eighteen months later as winter was drawing to its end. The land was green and regenerating in this, the first year of rebirth. Burnt out trunks had become the stock for sprouting saplings and the undergrowth was returning. Some trees already had a canopy of leaves; there were others whose branches sprouted at the base in an attempt to draw what life remained in the roots. The Xanthorrhoea with their thick and naturally black trunks and crowns of green spikes depend on fire for germination. They were thriving as though unmarked by the inferno.

The scars from bushfires never vanish entirely and it will be another twenty years before the bushland is restored to what it was but this photo essay is about the ways the environment heals itself. The things we destroy nature can make good.

email: johntoohey@hotmail.com

blog: www.junkshopsnapshots.blogspot.com

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