On 30 November, 2019, we held the 2019 annual Encountering the Wild arts festival at Gallery H and its basement and nearby cafe. We were a little skittish as up the road there was a small grass fire near Bell Railway Station. Our skittishness proved prescient.
Huge areas of the Blue Mountains National Park and the Wollemi National Park have been burnt out, causing untold devastation to wildlife, plants and areas containing precious Aboriginal rock art.
Just before Xmas, the Gosper Mountain fire moved south threatening Mt Wilson and Lithgow, before it burned through Bilpin, crossed the Bells Line of Road that connects Lithgow to Richmond, and entered the Grose Valley.
Houses and properties were lost in all these areas. Here in this image we see the fire raging at Monkey Creek escarpment, burning through the small area of Clarence. In the foreground is Henryk Topolnicki’s Gallery H, and right next door is his own house, extensive sculpture garden and workshops.
Fortunately Henryk’s gallery and house escaped the fires that raged along the opposite flank of Monkey Creek. But his neighbours were not so lucky. Graham Tribe, President of BMCAN, and an active member of the Mt Wilson Rural Fire Service, was kept busy over Xmas with the Mt Wilson fires. He too was lucky as the fires spared his house and extensive garden.
“We are into the recovery phase and Endeavour Energy now has us back on the grid so we have reliable power. Endeavour Energy has been amazing given what they have on their plate. Landlines to our area are still out due to a section of underground cable being burnt out. Our house is untouched, but we lost a house just further down our road, and one on the other side of the village. Quite a few gardens damaged. We were very lucky compared with Bell, Mt Tomah, Bilpin and Clarence.”
Blackheath was the next area to feel the wrath of the fires as they burned along the edge of the escarpment at Hathill Road and Govetts Leap Road. Due to the extraordinary efforts of the RFS, no properties were lost, but the fire continued out of control in the wild area of Grose Valley.
Meanwhile although the Ruined Castle fire near Katoomba was brought under control without threatening any properties along Cliff Drive, or down in Megalong Valley, the Green Wattle Creek Fire, south of Warrangamba Dam (Lake Burragorang) burned south through the Blue Mountains National Park, destroying properties in Balmoral and further south. Meanwhile recently it is burning out of control north of Lake Burragorang along Erskine Creek, in the Kings Tableland Road area, presenting danger to the Wentworth Falls and Woodford communities.
Requiem for Nature—Rosalie Chapple, Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute
We read in the local media that the air is toxic, and the pollution levels are dangerous to our health. We read about the microscopic dust and PM2.5 particles. What are these particles?
They are the koalas caught in the burning tree canopies, too slow to escape. The few remaining native animal species that have been able to survive in our colonial-transformed environment.
The smell of the smoke is the one hundred species of eucalyptus trees awarded World Heritage for their outstanding diversity. Along with the living laboratory of Blue Mountains ecosystems formed across millennia. Maybe too the Wollemi pines that avoided extinction for 100 million years
Our smoke-induced headaches are the 20,000-year-old rock art destroyed in the flames. The Aboriginal sacred sites and songlines of the Dharug, Darkinjung, Gundungurra, Tharawal, Wanaruah and Wiradjuri.
The pink-red glow of the sunset is the burning peat of the upland swamps that formed over thousands of years, serving as sponges that hold precious water on top of the escarpments. It is the endangered wildlife that live in the swamps, the Blue Mountains water skink and the giant dragonfly
The sick feeling in our stomachs is the burning of the few remaining pure-bred dingoes. It is the bower that the satin bowerbird built so he could dance for his females, surrounded by painstakingly curated blue objects.
The sting in our eyes is the eastern spinebill, tiny birds too vulnerable to survive the heat. The echidnas engulfed in flames with nowhere to hide.
Our tears are the moisture from the wings of the newly hatched cicadas that just emerged from their seven-year hibernation.
All of them burning, rising, floating, and settling in our lungs. Their lives have become part of ours more than ever before – we denied our connection and we can deny it no longer.