Understory, and the bushfires of NorthcliffeOn 3. March 2020 by admin4772
Northcliffe is a small town in the middle of nowhere, or as they say themselves:
What Northcliffe has to offer, besides a General Store/Gas Station, a café with the lovely name “Hollow Butt Café” and the Northcliffe Pioneer Museum (which we did not visit), is a sculpture walk through the forest. And this last one is really worth a visit.
Understory, the forest based art installation is called. Along a 1.2 km long walkwalk the visitor finds smaller and larger pieces of art, directly or indirectly connected to the nature and the landscape. At times, it’s a true treasure hunt. At times, it isn’t:
Very impressive, especially because they are numerous and in part so very connected to the trees they are nested in, are the portraits and torsos made from coal. More than 40 of those the artist created, they portrait people from Northcliffe that have been affected by the last big fire in the year 2015: firefighters, volunteers, people who had to be evacuated and farmers who lost their livelihood.
Fortunately, there were “only” two of those, Sue from the Visitor Centre tells us, as we talk to her about that. She herself had been evacuated to Pemberton – or rather, she chose to flee, as black ashes started to rain on her. “Dry lightning”, thunderstorms without rain, had caused the fires. Those only happen in february, she said, because in November and December the ground was usually still moist. But at the end of summer, everybody would be very attentive towards the forest when a thunderstorm hit.
How big the fire had been, we wanted to know. About 95.000 hectares of land have been lost to this fire, she told us. The longer the forest ground had been dry, the higher the temperatures. The fire in the canopy would have preceded the fire on the ground for some kilometres. And this fire would produce its own wind, which made it even harder to bring it under control. Also, eukalyptus oil burns really well.
Two years before, there had been a fire in an adjacent part of the forest. The firefighters had tried to push the fire in that direction, but unfortunately, it had broken through in another way. The methane bubbles that were present in the flat land along the coast had created small explosions. Sheer luck had prevented the fire from getting to the National Park: A change in the wind direction.
She showed us a binder and leafed through it. Many of the people in the pictures are gone, she said. Nobody ever talks about what these fires do to the firefighters. Psychological help was available, but only after the trauma. The pressure is immense, so much responsibility about other peoples lives and their belongings.
We tell her that we had seen the news coverage about the bushfires in the south on TV, and that we were impressed about the sense of community in Australia. Yes, she said, in Australia, people often would live far away from their families and relatives. It would be most important to have friends in the community. They would just help one another.
The next morning, we were able to witness how scary those thunderstorms can feel. There already had been rain, and this storm brought small, but intense bursts of rain, too. But it feels different than at home, just because of the vastness of the sky.
And when it’s over, the sky just returns to being blue.