It was the Black Summer – a summer of devastation and heartbreak that ravaged the eastern seaboard from the mountains to the sea, from south east Queensland, through the timbered coastal communities and hinterlands of New South Wales and into north eastern Victoria.
The flames turned their fiery breath on Tasmania and laid waste to more than half of South Australia’s iconic Kangaroo Island. In total more than 10 million hectares would be burnt out.
Old hands had feared this was coming. Long months, in some places years, of drought had sucked the last vestiges of moisture from forest and farm, coastal hamlet and urban fringe. The landscape was one vast tinderbox.
In remote country, searing winds fanned strikes from dry lightning, giving birth to the megafires – infernos of previously unmatched intensity.
The winds carried the stench of charred bush into the hearts of cities. Thousands sheltered where they could as fire ringed holiday destinations and choking smoke turned day to night.
Ordinary men and women, the firefighters of the Rural Fire Service, became the nation’s heroes. But alongside them worked the professional photographers, documenting the raw ferocity of the blazes, the bravery of those who battled them and the hope and heartbreak of communities in the path of the flames.
The work of these photojournalists took us into the heart of that epic battle, and their unforgettable images will forever inscribe on the nation’s memory what that time was like.
“The summer Australia burned, 2019-2020” showcases the exceptional work produced by Australian photojournalists during the 2019-2020 bushfire season. The exhibition, curated by industry photo editors to represent a diversity of photographers, documents the scale of the tragedy and its impact on affected communities, as much as it captures the communal spirit and resolve that came out of the worst fires in recent Australian history.
– The Walkley Foundation
Exhibition curators and contributors: Mags King (SMH); Jeff Darmanin (The Daily Telegraph); Cassie Trotter (Getty Images); Moshe Rosenveig (Head On Photo Festival); Jessica Hromas (The Guardian).
Content warning: contains images that may be distressing to some viewers.