I cannot tell you how tired I am tonight, but I meant to do this several days ago, and didn’t.
Last Friday marked the first anniversary of the beginning of the bushfires which hit the Blue Mountains, and specifically devastated Winmalee, where I and my family live. I remember as if it was yesterday standing at the Rural Fire Service State Air Desk, watching on the big screen as someone announced there was a smoke sighting at Linksview Rd Valley Heights. That’s not Valley Heights, I said, it’s Springwood, I have a friend and work colleague who lives there. (Her house was safe in the end.) I remember us all watching as it moved so unbelievably fast. I will never forget the ever rising reports of lost houses, as we raced to send trucks and aircraft. I will never forget being two hours from home and unable to do anything except hope my father had got our pets and himself out alive. I will never forget the minutes I did not hear from him and did not know. I will never forget how lucky we were. There but for a change in wind direction were we – our house stands today, while 193 and more do not.
I am not a documentary photographer, but there are somethings that must be recorded, and the sight of my house, in the unnatural stillness that first midnight, as we walked in the door, with all of our belongings just sitting where they had been left, that was one of those things. I lifted up my camera (one of those items which had remained, afterall it was insured) the next morning, and this is the story of what I saw.
For once I am not giving you beauty or mystery or creativity. For those uncertain hours these were but Schrodinger’s Things – neither here nor gone. When I took these photos, in my eyes they had been transformed utterly.
Then I stood a moment
In the famine silence of the famished beast
With the darkness all around
There between the weatherboard, the fibro and the brick
Is a gaping hole
Where a narrative of people
Used to be.
The lights are out – but the tree trunks smolder demon red
To show the way
In a world which is now turned about
And I am standing
In full PPE
With the fire pump hose in the garden
Watching the plumes
The smell burns acrid into lungs
And chokes upon itself
While the wind plays games to pass the time
This way first and then the other
Annihilation is the prize.
As the Earth shakes from the whirling rotor blades
And the Skycrane silhouettes a dragon black
Against the brown smoke sky.
We are still standing
Though others aren’t.
So many others aren’t.