This summer was the worst fire season Australia has ever seen: 18 million hectares burned, 34 people killed, thousands displaced, and a billion animals estimated killed. Whether directly or indirectly affected, this has been a time of trauma for many. Now we face the aftermath, and the long, slow recovery.
Please scroll down to read a note from our editor.
All the beautiful outcasts
Stirring early to become unwitting witness
to this illicit marvel in that last gasp of intense
green (the wrong shade for the Council elite).
In between thundering freeways and sprawling
dwellings, not far from the mystery-shrouded new metro,
the unwanted tunnel that will swallow our remaining
respite of ragtag, untouched bushland—a stone’s throw from
the dank shelf, a chink in the cliff where Lawson stretched
after sessions at the Crows Nest hotel, exchanging spontaneous
verse for a drink—is where wonder struck me post-sunrise: a flash
of flame-bright fur, a swathe of white. Undulating, sundrenched,
two entranced, entrancing fox-mates frolicking, unconscious
of anything but early warmth and each other; unmistakeable rapture
lit by the first fingers of the new day pressing between late summer’s
laden branches—soaring trees classified as weeds, so easily condemned—
as easily as these magnificent, misplaced creatures. And later,
tramping past the fox bait warning signs, grief striking as
acutely as horror at the impending loss of them, and
of this vigorous corridor, alive now with spearing
lorikeets, a dive-bombing wattlebird,
cheeks flashing red in the dead
heat where cicadas catch on, strike
up. And in all that bright, beautiful
bewitching tumult, loss suddenly
swallows me wholly
into silence. All this
as those two dawn-lit outlaws;
all this precious pulsing life:
as vivid and dauntless,
as utterly unsuspecting
of their looming fate
as you had been.
Note: The italicised words are taken from a heritage sign posted adjacent to Henry Lawson Cave in Flat Rock Gully Reserve, Sydney, which commemorates one of Australia’s best-loved bush poets.
Anne Casey is a former environment journalist/author whose poetry and writing are widely published internationally and rank in leading national daily newspaper, The Irish Times‘ Most Read. Author of two poetry collections, she has won/shortlisted for awards in Ireland, Northern Ireland, the UK, the USA, Canada, Hong Kong and Australia.
A Note on the Series
In the wake of this year’s unprecedented bushfire season, incredible solidarity and compassion emerged across communities in response to the tragedy. In the writing and publishing sector, we saw the #authorsforfireys campaign, a massive online auction led by industry professionals all across Australia, raising funds to support bushfire charities. Westerly contributed our own auction items to this, and raised $981. Coming out of that moment, and the #authorsforfireys campaign as a whole, we wanted to make a space in our publication to acknowledge the experience of the fires and engage with some of the discussions which have circled around them. Westerly put out a call for submissions, with a pledge to both pay authors for their contributions and donate the equivalent amount to government-approved charities still working on the recovery.
Westerly is proud to present here one collection of writing from this campaign. A second feature of work related to the fires will appear in our next print issue. This series brings together bushfire writing of all kinds—from witness accounts to heartfelt immediate responses to considered critical thinking on the fires, including questions of climate change and the environmental future we face. They are works of fear, sadness and anger, but also of contemplation and hope.
We pay our respect to all the victims of the fires, and offer our condolences to their families.
Catherine Noske, editor