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.
That day we stood under the canopies of sugar gums
cooling the Playford Highway and caught the look of
a sand goanna: his dusky skin banded in code to the tail,
the dots of white on his legs, the sharp line of his lips.
Beyond some spheres of tufted grass trees, there half-
way up a brown stringybark, a huddle of thick-coated fur.
We drove to the heath at the edge of the land, dense
with slender honey myrtle, coast boobialla and more
we couldn’t name, and a wallaby paused by a sweep
of low mounds and bird-calls. That day we stepped
easy among the matrix of living things, seeing some
of the island’s web—all the day’s colours as spirited
as the lustre of the deep-aqua Southern Ocean. But
now our mainland screens show ash and black loss,
the soil that held life there, surely sterile. Our mouths
are struck mute, our minds full of the clamour of fire.
Kathryn Fry has poems published in various anthologies and journals, including Antipodes (2016, 2019), Cordite Poetry Review (2016), Not Very Quiet (2017, 2018, 2019), Plumwood Mountain Journal (2016) and Westerly (2019). Her first collection is Green Point Bearings (Ginninderra Press, 2018).
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