Bushfires and the bush

January 10, 2020 | 15 Comments

Most of you will have heard of the horrific bushfires which we have been experiencing here in Australia in recent days. Dangerous bushfires are always part of our summer (see more here) , but they are especially bad this year due to a terrible drought we’re experiencing.

There are so many fires burning across the country at the moment but last week the situation flared up particularly to the south coast of NSW where many people were on holidays (vacation) and there were mass evacuations. And this was only one area in Australia under threat!

Last Saturday in the western suburbs of Sydney we had record-breaking temperatures of 48.9C! Many of us were constantly looking up the fire maps to check on the fires in areas where we know well.

So I thought I would take a few screen shots to record some of the fires this season in New South Wales alone.

These fires are mainly in the rural areas of the country but due to the extensive area of bush burning, the smoke haze in Sydney has been the worst that I’ve ever experienced. Normally we might have one or two days with a little bit of haze throughout a summer, but this year it has been bad for a few days every week since October! I have been receiving lots of messages over the last number of weeks from people concerned for my safety… this smoke haze is the only thing that has directly impacted me to date. But I know of many friends of friends whose properties have been in danger from the fires.

There has been no big fires within the Sydney area this season but there are a lot of bush areas in the valleys between suburbs so it is possible to have bushfires in the city. One fire started in South Turramurra on 12 Nov – this is only a few suburbs away from where I live. Thankfully the fire-fighters were able to contain it quickly. This week I finally got around to visiting the area and as I expected the bush is already starting to grow back!

I wasn’t dressed appropriately (on my way to the gym wearing newish light coloured shoes) and it was a very smoky day, so I just took some photos. And then, after doing some research into how the bush regenerates itself, I did a spread with a number of really quick sketches. (Click on image to view larger)

Although I would prefer to sketch on location, it was good, on this occasion, to do this in the quiet of my home. Sketching always helps me process things and so I felt a lot of different emotions while doing this page – thinking about the scale of the tragedy on one hand and also the amazing design of the native flora.

The Australian bush is remarkable in the way it regenerates itself. Seeds and buds beneath the surface of the tree bark or buried in the soil spring to life within weeks. The colours of the new growth against the darkness of the charred surfaces are beautiful. I intend to return to this area to sketch some more.

The scale of the bushfires this season has been hard to comprehend. I’m not sure of the latest figures but what I can find at the moment: 150 fires still burning in NSW alone, 4.9 million hectares of land burnt (the size of Denmark), 25 lives lost, thousands of houses destroyed and countless wildlife perished. It’s truly catastrophic!

My heart goes out to all the people who have suffered loss and for the Firies who are doing such an amazing job fighting the fires and protecting lives and properties. We all need to pray for rain as the fires are continuing to burn.

Here are a few places where you can donate:

Australian Red Cross

The Salvos

Wires Wildlife Rescue


  • Terry Elrod says:

    Here in Canada we’ve been thinking of you all in Australia. Hope very much that the situation improves soon!

  • Joanne kalvaitis says:

    Quite frightening it’s got so much worse with global warming. My heart goes out to all concerned. We experience something similar on a much smaller scale in this part of Canada so can understand the fears and sadness and the simple fact of poor air quality even when one is not directly affected by fire.

    The regeneration is amazing and thank you for portraying it both in photos and your sketches Liz. It’s a ray of hope.

  • Jane Jackson says:

    I live right around the other side of the world from you, and want to say thank you for showing these little green sprouts of hope. It means a lot to me and touched my heart, as I am sure it has for many people, and shows the strength and resourcefulness of nature.

  • Kate Burroughs says:

    Having been through 2 big fires in 2 years in northern California, one in which I was under mandatory evacuation, we have been following the fires in Australia. So sorry about the loss of life, especially the native animals that the estimate is one billion have died. You must have a stash of N95 masks to wear on those smoky days. I have a box here in California and one in the car. Climate change is really making all disasters worse.

  • Great report Liz. Thanks for doing it. I will be keeping it to show my overseas friends who are concerned about me.

  • Flory says:

    Wildfires are an unavoidable part of life here in Northern California, as Kate said. My thoughts have been with you, Liz, and all Aussies of all species, for months. Thank you for showing and sharing both sides of the equation, destruction and rebirth, in your inimitable style. Stay safe. Flory ??

  • Rosemary Duncan says:

    Thanks for this post Liz. I have been wondering how you are coping in the midst of the fires. Our thoughts here in Canada have been with Australia. It breaks my heart to think of all the precious wildlife that have perished. Stay safe.

  • The devastation to the country are heartbreaking. I keep thinking of all the wildlife and people that have been lost. I am praying that the situation improves soon.

  • Savanna Ouellette says:

    So great to hear that you are ok. Thank you for giving an update and I will ask for rain prayers from our congregation on Sunday.

  • Megan Rhys-Jones says:

    The native flora has adapted to survive fires, many seed pods open in heat and seeds need smoke to germinate. I think people need to understand that the native flora does not need fire to reproduce. If there is no fire the plant survives and not all plants need fire to regenerate. Some areas will recover albeit not quite as they were, however many areas have burnt for the first time in millennia and they will never recover. Fire experts have been shocked that rainforests have burnt, areas where the fire normally extinguishes as it come up to rainforest have totally gone up in flames. These areas are never returning to what they are, the animals which have been killed and many still suffering and dying alone in the fire ravaged areas may well be gone forever. We are facing a huge extinction event and it would be prudent not to look at some areas that have green re-emerging as a sign all is well. All is not well and we have reached tipping point, we all, yes we are the ‘someone who would do something’, need to get motivated and stop this senseless destruction. We need to move to renewable energy, stop selling coal and stop cutting down old growth forests for wood chip so people can shop at home on the internet, jet travel and buying unnecessary things on the internet is killing our planet the only planet we have. If you believe in God, he expected us to be good stewards, we have not been. Australia is pretty much destroyed after just over two centuries of white settlement. Everyone needs to stand up and do something to effect change now. I totally understand if you do not what to leave this comment up, it is a hard thing to come to terms with and people would much prefer to ignore the situation and try to look at some glimmer of hope rather than act to protect the unique world we live in. Complacency has got us into this position we need to ditch complacency and march in the streets.

    • Carole Duncan says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful and heartfelt reply Megan. I absolutely agree with every point you have made.
      No we have not been good stewards. This is your point that touches me most deeply. Nature in all its forms are so beautiful and sacred and suffers greatly in these disasters. Most sadly of all is that most people not directly affected are genuinely concerned and even alarmed during and shorty after these ever increasing disasters but soon afterwards return to their usual routines and habits. You are so right…complacency is the key word. Sadly.

  • Cecilia Warrick says:

    I love your sketches Liz, and the photos you took. It is extremely distressing that many of the fires down south I read will continue to burn for weeks if not months both above ground and underground. I do feel that we have reached this crisis due to global warming, and I don’t think this country will ever be quite the same again. We live in Mosman and the smoke is shocking today, has been going on for so long. Many years ago we owned a property in Marsfield, not far from Turramurra, and bush fires came very close to destroying our property.

  • Brenda Claire Porter says:

    Thank you for your post. My heart is wounded just listening to the reports of wildlife and people affected. As others have said, I find your post and sketches and photos healing and filled with hope. Thank you!

  • Liz Steel says:

    thanks everyone!

  • Andy H says:

    I love these sketchbook pages. They are so great at showing context while focussing down on small key details. But most of all I love the sentence: “So many emotions doing these pages.” Given the larger context(s), this is so moving. You’re documenting life returning. And yet doing so against the backdrop of larger losses, and maybe no guarantee that amazing greens (and everything that depends on them) will always return to their old abundance. Great example of how a sketchbook can capture a single moment and yet suggest so much more. Brilliant.

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