Lost land: processing the Australian bushfires – a photo essay


The bushfires that continue to wreak havoc in Australia began in September last year and are the worst in recorded history. Years ago, I was trapped in a bushfire in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales. There were flames on either side of the highway and I only very narrowly made it through them safely. It was one of the most terrifying moments of my life. Yet the scale of that fire was nothing compared to those now burning throughout Australia, where it is estimated that more than 10m acres of land have been scorched. The country is literally choking.

Bathurst, NSW, Australia. Medium format with ink overlay



I have lived a large portion of my adult life abroad, but Australia is and always will be my home. The wild beauty of the Australian landscape is something that can only be fully appreciated when one is standing in its midst, at dusk, with birds chirping above, the wind tearing through the trees, and the waves pounding on the shore. The ferociousness of the climate feels unique. The changeable nature of the Australian weather seems to me a stark contrast to England, where I now live. I still wake up every single morning missing the wild Pacific Ocean. But that ocean is now littered with the black charred remains of burnt trees, blown in by the wind, and the air has been too thick with smoke to see more than a few metres ahead.

Callala beach, NSW, Australia. Medium format with ink overlay



In this image: Callala beach, NSW, Australia. medium format with ink overlay



Callala beach, NSW, Australia



I watched the news of the fires from my flat in cool and rainy London, feeling sick with anxiety as the flames came within 10km of my parents’ mud-brick home, which they planned for years and lovingly built with their own hands. Friends and family all over the country were evacuated, some because the smoke was so toxic it was unsafe to breathe, others because of the immediate threat that their homes would be destroyed by the flames. Meanwhile, Australian politicians faltered and stammered, unable to adequately address the climate crisis or the roles that damming, mining and coal exportation were playing in this catastrophe.

Bathurst, NSW, Australia. Medium format with ink overlay



Overlay of images from the Blue Mountains overlooking Bathurst, NSW, Australia



The only way I could combat the frustration of this political impotence and the anxiety of watching the country I love so dearly burning was to produce photographic work. And so I took existing prints from my last time in Australia and painted them with oils and inks, scratching and reworking them in an attempt at implanting my fear and anger into the images. As the fires roared through so much of the country, I could do little else but produce this work to express my devastation at what the country has experienced and a comment on the land that is now lost.

Bats fly above Callala Beach, NSW, Australia



Close up of trees and balloon on Callala Beach, NSW, Australia



Overlay of images from the South coast of Australia





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