the ghosts of dead gums haunt Marysville

By: Kirsty

May 13 2010

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Category: Black Saturday, Daily Photos


Focal Length:70mm
Shutter:1/0 sec
Camera:Canon EOS-1D Mark II

hills near Marysville

Well, I have finally visited Marysville. It has been 15 months since the town was wiped out by the Black Saturday bushfires and 34 people died there. A few ugly public buildings have gone up in what was once a beautiful little town. Some homes are being rebuilt. The atmosphere is gloomy. I knew enough to expect this, but what was really mind-boggling was the huge area of forest that has not grown back. I have seen the aftermath of many bushfires over the years but I have never seen anything like this. Our forests naturally regenerate when they burn. For most of the drive into the town we were surrounded by regrowth. But on the road out of town, heading uphill towards Lake Mountain, there were sweeping views of trees that had not survived. It takes an incredible amount of heat to kill a gum tree. In this photo everything except the very distant hills had burnt and not grown back. This scene extends much further than the photograph shows. It is eerie.

Most of you reading this will only know about this tragedy through news reports. It is important to say that the week leading up to this, and the day itself, were extraordinary. We experienced days on end of temperatures in the 40’s (105 – 120 F) and incredibly low humidity. This should have been enough to silence all but the most stubborn climate change skeptics. Of course it hasn’t. Perhaps the truth of what we are doing to our one and only home, our beautiful planet, is just too much to bear.

12 comments on “the ghosts of dead gums haunt Marysville”

  1. Such a beautifully haunting photograph to tell a tragic story. Yes, all I know of the fires I got from the news — such a sad time. At least in our Summer of Fire, 2008, no person died, only critters, trees, and the landscape. But it is coming back – not all, but much.

    Your photograph sums up the entire tragedy, Kirsty. Excellent.

    • Thanks for your comment Kate. I found it very difficult to visit the town. I don’t know that any photograph or brief visit could begin to express the depths of the experience the people of Marysville went through. I deliberately chose not to photograph the aftermath of the fire as at the time it just felt ghoulish. I live in the Yarra Valley and yet I had no idea that the fire had actually killed the trees. This was not just any forest. Marysville was nestled in an area of incredibly beautiful old-growth forest. This is why I decided to write about it.

  2. Marysville was totally devasted by these fires. people don’t seem to understand that 90% of the trees in marysville and surrounds will NEVER grow back, only yhe seedlings that come after the fires will be the source of new trees and green growth.

    What people don’t realise is that the fire did not only hit the town once, but it doubled back and came in for second dibs. With the wind behind it, the township and for that matter, the trees did not stand a chance.

    The rebuilding of the township, both the reseidential properties and commerical properties is being nobbled by local government, from re-zoning of land to demanind building that were slightly off compass point before – now be re-built to exacting compass points. Even though the owners want to rebuild on the exact same site, with the exact same floor plan, in exactly the same manner.

    Marysville was intended to be abandoned by the officials on the morning of the 8th February 2009. An official evacuation order was issued under health and hygeine rules, which was stopped due to the actions of a few individuals, at 7am in the morning.

    What else can I say?

    • Heather, thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I live in Warburton now, and was living in the forest near Healesville at the time of the fires, but have not found the strength to take the trip up to Marysville in all this time. Although I knew the town was wiped out, I had no idea about the forest. It’s hard to believe there wasn’t more information about this in the news.
      I have so much admiration for those of you who are sticking it out. I noticed that Bruno has started to rebuild his sculpture garden, and I had a lovely meal in a small cafe in the town. It’s sad to hear that the bureaucrats are messing with the rebuild, but it is the hearts of the people and the strength of community that make a town. I wish you all the love and strength you need to get through this. We will visit again and encourage others to do the same.

  3. Sobering photo Kirsty, well done. I use to work for the U S Forest Service and one of the biggest problems is the exclusion of periodic natural fires that reduce fuel loads. This exclusion finally ends with devastating crown fires (think Yellowstone). All this ‘unnatural’ manipulation upsets natural cycles and creates disasters.

    • True FJ. It is a never-ending story here of what happened, whether it could have been prevented and so on. This was an unprecedented cataclysmic fire of incredible intensity. This is an area that is ‘normally’ quite a wet forest. It snows in the winter. Many years of drought had made it ‘unnaturally’ dry.
      Who can say what’s normal these days.

  4. What a haunting photograph of the aftermath of tragedy Kirsty. We like to think of rebirth and cycles but it seems there will be no pheonix rising from these ashes. It is very sad to see (and frightening) The poor animals too! Perhaps there were some rare species caught in there. Nature can be so cruel sometimes.

    • Many animals died, many more were injured and displaced. For months afterwards groups of locals were putting out food for the animal refugees. As you know from my photos I am a lover of all the tiny little creatures, and it just boggles my mind and breaks my heart to think how many of them died in these fires.

  5. I find it hard to visit these scenes even from afar, thru the filter of news and articles etc. I find it too much, and am often especially overwhelmed by how these tragedies are treated by the media, and sadly that makes me ‘look away’. I often come back to it months, or years later, and am bowled over by the extent of loss that, at the time, I could barely look at. I felt the same way about the Boxing Day Tsunami…
    Anyway, a beautiful, but bleak, shot

    • I have the same feelings. It was the month of bush fires and the requirement to be vigilantly attached to the radio that was the last straw of the interest I used to have in the ‘news’. They always make it such a dramatic story. There’s no room to grasp the dull, ordinary, awkward, important things that are going on for real people. Not that I think I could do any better if I was a journalist.

  6. Your photography, here illustrates your words perfectly. A ghost town of trees. I am sorry for the loss, Kirsty.

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