The Warrumbungles: after the bushfires

By Natsumi Penberthy 31 January 2013
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A photographer captured Warrumbungle National Park after it was devastated by bushfire, and found life among the ashes.

LESS THAN TWO WEEKS after huge bushfires raged through Warrumbungle National Park and its surrounds, photographer Josh Smith visited the region. Among the photographs are depictions of cycads growing from the ashes – these plants have underground reserves for such events and recover quickly, although it may be years before other species make a full comeback.

“Inside of 12 months ago I was documenting the extensive flooding that occurred through most of north-western NSW,” Josh says. “So it came as a bit of surprise to find myself, less than a year later, photographing the scenes of extensive bushfire damage that have devastated the Warrumbungles.”  


What the Warrumbungles looks like after fire

Two weeks after the fires had swept through, Josh says the landscape is largely blackened, save for the occasional brilliant green cycad.

As a photographer he was coupled with the Rural Fire Service (RSF) six days after the fires swept the area, when the park was devastated. Volunteer firefighters were pulled from across the state, from Coffs Harbour to the Blue Mountains.

“It was clear that any image was not going to do the scale of what I was seeing any justice,” says Josh.

Around 55 properties were destroyed in the area, Josh says. “There were houses in the middle of cut paddocks, where nothing else around them had burned but the house. It was clear that ash and cinders had just drifted and set the houses alight.” 


Coonabarabran fire dangerously close to observatory

Returning to the hazy area less than a week later, Josh took to the air but he couldn’t identify a spot that was hit the hardest. “All the park is gone,” Josh told Australian Geographic.

The only upside, Josh says, is an unobstructed view of the park’s iconic volcanic rock and sandstone formations, which will remain until a fresh mantle of foliage grows. “It’ll provide a whole new perspective on the park, which photographers will enjoy in years to come.”

Josh also says some of the Siding Springs Observatory’s telescopes had a miraculous escape, the fire edge stopping frighteningly close to their big domes. And, despite a massive amount of damage to almost 60,000ha of countryside, thankfully there was no loss of human life.