Black Saturday – a year after

Photo: William West / AFP / Getty Images

Photo: William West / AFP / Getty Images

Australia’s worst natural disaster on record struck the heart of Victoria on February 7, 2009, when the Black Saturday bushfires killed around 173 people, injured over 400 and affected countless thousands more.
Just over one year later, My wife was back in Australia and I asked her to visit the Marysville area to record the biophony (natural sound) for me.

Recorder location

Place of recording 12:20 pm 2/19/2010

10 years previous, I was in the vacinity of Marysville recording the rich sounds of the Bush, The sounds of the forest included everything you would expect to hear, Insects, Birds, Amphibians, Leaf drop, trees cracking under the heat of the day.
The fires had literally destroyed everything in its path, the bush was predominantly made up of eucalyptus trees (Gum trees) Great balls of fire were seen, Eucalypts have a lot of oil in their leaves. Get enough heat to evaporate this and you get an explosive mixture that can ignite a whole valley at a time.

gum tree

Gum trees sprouting after one year of devastation

At the time of the fire, many people thought the trees would not recover. Eucalypts have that very useful facility for producing adventitious shoots from the trunk. If any green leaves remain alive at the top of the tree, it won’t do this, but if all leaves are killed, then the trunk produces shoots if the fire hasn’t been hot enough to kill the trunk too. I’m told that was not the case of the 1939 fires in Victoria, all trunks were killed. I really felt that this would be the case of the 2009 fires.

one year after black Saturday

New growth

I have often been amazed at how well the bushland re-establishes itself after fires. Burnt out tree trunks start sprouting fresh new green leaves which contrast strongly against the blackend trunks, branches and earth. And somehow, amazingly, the wildlife often manages to return and ‘rebuild’. Not always, though.
In this recording, there is practically nothing, the forest now has dense undergrowth and most tress have sprouted, Wattle, everlasting daisy, bracken and gum are sprouting from the forest floor but the sound of silence and the absence of the critters is a painful example of devesstation. I’m sure eventually the fauna will return in splendour and create the cacophony of sounds that were evident just a couple of years ago but sometimes our recordings are all that is left…

Gum Tree

1 year after the fires

Martyn Stewart

Here is a recording of the present soundscape as of February 19th, 2010.
Recorded by: Roo Stewart.
Recorder: Nagra PII+
Microphone: Nagra
Temp: 95f
Winds: Light breeze