This smoky pall reflects the true scale of our bushfire losses

Ian Fraser26 December 2019
Smokey lake

The smoke is not just comprised of carbon particles … It’s the remains of millions of plants and animals. Photo: Supplied.

In the wake of the 2003 Canberra bushfires, ACT Parks Services invited naturalist Ian Fraser into fire-damaged parts of Namadgi National Park and Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve before they were re-opened to the public.

Reporting via radio and emails that were shared internationally, he recorded their devastating impact and later the recovery process.

He reflects here on the overwhelming toll the current fires are taking on our bush and everything that lives there.

About a week ago I stepped onto our little balcony in the darkness and first smelt the smoke.

I confess that for a moment I had pleasant associations, of a flickering campfire casting some light onto surrounding trees.

They soon passed.

Like most of eastern and southern Australia, we in Canberra have become used to the constant smoke, varying between a haze and a curtain, but never absent. We may not have got used to the stinging eyes and catching in the throat, but we expect them.

But really, the inconvenience and discomfort is far from the worst of it.

This smoke is not just comprised of carbon particles, it contains hundreds of thousands of hectares of national park, rainforest gullies and towering eucalypts hundreds of years old. It’s the remains of millions of plants and animals.

It’s the hopes and sweat-work and future and livelihoods of hundreds of people. It’s the composition of this smoke that hurts so much, and we shouldn’t wish it elsewhere; we need to be reminded, for as long as it goes on, what we’ve done.

In time, if it ever rains again, the forests will start to rebuild themselves, but the animals can only come back if there are unburnt remnants as survival refuges.

I saw a map yesterday showing that the majority of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area is now either ash or flames. Most conserved forests between Canberra and the sea are now smoking ground. And the fires are still burning, new ones are starting.

What HAVE we done?

And it’s only December. What of January, February, March, April …?

Everyone knows why it’s suddenly so catastrophically bad. Everyone, it seems, except those we elected to ‘lead’ us, who are seemingly too craven, too stupidly complacent, or too much in thrall to the coal industry to do so.

I’ve been pretty positive for most of my life. I never thought it would all start to grind me down after all this time.

But it is.

Ian Fraser is a Canberra naturalist, conservationist and author. He has written on all aspects of natural history, advised the ACT Government on biodiversity and published multiple guides to the region’s flora and fauna.

Original Article published by Ian Fraser on The RiotACT.

What's Your Opinion?

13 Responses to This smoky pall reflects the true scale of our bushfire losses

Marianne Kambouridis Marianne Kambouridis 7:14 am 29 Dec 19

Now let's see the foreign interest pouring in to buy these 'decimated' forests.

Colin HOPPER 10:11 pm 28 Dec 19

The answer Lies in the words Blue Mountains World Heritage, that is why we had these fires because millions of ha. are shut up with no plan to service it and here we have the result.You cannot do this in Australia you must do back burns every year in the cooler month, a even allow grazing in many areas.

Peter Bond Peter Bond 4:25 pm 28 Dec 19

If only the eucalyptus trees became extinct.

Jo Frasca Jo Frasca 12:36 pm 27 Dec 19

Have listen to this ... it’s quite so difficult...


Deb Rozzoli Deb Rozzoli 10:45 am 27 Dec 19


Jenner Stevens Jenner Stevens 9:11 pm 26 Dec 19

95 % of the fires have been deliberately lit by arsonists

Bernie Richards Bernie Richards 6:20 pm 26 Dec 19

It's so heartbreaking in so many ways. The government needs to act on #ClimateActionNOW. This is a #ClimateEMERGENCY . We ALL have to do what we can to help others, to help the animals and the environment, and to stop this from happening again in the future. I don't have the answers, I just know that I agree with Ian Fraser and am truly overwhelmed at the devastation I have seen personally from this drought and these bushfires.

    Phillip Winters Phillip Winters 4:29 pm 27 Dec 19

    Bernie Richards if people stop deliberately LIGHTING FIRES WE WOULD HAVE NO PROBLEM

    Bernie Richards Bernie Richards 11:08 pm 27 Dec 19

    Phillip Winters but it's not just people lighting fires that is the problem.

    Peter Bond Peter Bond 4:27 pm 28 Dec 19

    Bernie Richards it's the spread of noxious trees like eucalyptus trees.

    Ned to thin their ranks

Kristy Morton Kristy Morton 5:30 pm 26 Dec 19

Its awful. Our native birds and animals suffering badly

Jeannette Powell Jeannette Powell 4:41 pm 26 Dec 19

Willie Smyth... l just posted on fb

Julia Walsh Julia Walsh 4:32 pm 26 Dec 19

We are bearing witness to an extinction event.... and the animals need our help to survive until the forests regenerate (if they do)