Postcards from Balgo – Fire in the Great Sandy Desert
Out here fires can sometimes run for weeks - if not months - and burn-out huge tracts of land - I'll try to keep a watching eye on this fire over the coming weeks - if you have any information on its progress please log in and post a note about its progress.
With near-record rainfall since January we have had a great season here in central Australia. Of course that has a dangerous flipside – abundant growth from the big rains mean, as The ABC noted here, a very busy fire season ahead in central Australia. A few days ago Steven Rhall, a friend living at Balgo (locally known as Wirrimanu) posted a note about the first big fire of the season near his town.
Steven works at the wonderful Warlayirti Artists Centreat Wirrimanu and is also an artist and photographer in his own right. You can see a short biography for Steven below and a link to his wonderful photos at his personal website. Here Steven gives a few thoughts on and some of his pictures of the fire that started not far from his home. Out here fires can sometimes run for weeks – if not months – and burn-out huge tracts of land. I’ll try to keep a watching eye on this fire over the coming weeks – if you have any information on its progress please log in and post a note about its progress.
And maybe Steven will send an update of the bush re-emerging after the next rains. Here is his first guest post at The Northern Myth.
Now I’m on holidays, I’ve really discovered true solitude. There’s not that much to do in Balgo and my donga and I have become close acquaintances since I chose not to ‘get out‘ for this Seasonal break.
Last Tuesday was not much different from any other day and I decided to go up to Balgo’s one and only store for a few supplies. Not that I realised it straight away but, stepping out the door and looking to the West, today would provide an experience somewhat ‘different‘ from the usual quiet day around town.
A large plume of smoke, burning black from Wattle, was funnelling straight up into the clouds. I was taken aback.
In my travels around the Kutjungka one would often see signs of fire but almost always in some far distant place – but not this close. My Docu Brain had me grab the Camera and make an inspection. Feelings of guilt rose as I took my first shots. Here I was next to the Temp Builders camp with the main fire front right next to it and I. Should I “tell someone? Does anyone else know yet?” Also being next to the Police Station where I saw some movement, I at least knew James and his current off-sider were ‘on the job‘.
Seeming to be relatively safe from harm in the short term, the aforementioned Brain went straight to Twitter. Another way to kill the time I’ve found. A quick Pano stitch and Whammo! Someone in another country knows about the fire but – possibly very little else in Balgo. Alright, alright, get the shoes on, long pants. Go inspect again.
I chat to our new Officer James and he asks about the Water Tanker trailer we have in town. I provide a number. The lone Builder left here over the Festive break is apparently woken to find this calamity at the bottom of Ri-Con Tent city. I drive into Balgo proper; half looking for shots, half spreading the word. Barb in the shop jokes about having no fire brigade. It’s true. Balgo only got it’s Police presence seven years ago.
Fortunately the wind had the fire burn parallel our ‘Workers Camp‘ and not towards Bottom Camp. Unfortunately, the first time I was to have three lovely visiting volunteers over for a Movie and some A/C was cancelled due to the understandable fear of burning out. Just when I thought it was almost over, I could see flames from the kitchen window. I went to inspect again and whilst a good chance for another photo and a chat with the Coppers, it seemed of little threat to the Donga.
By nightfall, the front was a good distance away off to the West. I felt safe enough to leave house and catch up with the Volunteers. A good feed of Vege burgers (yep, not all of us eat meat out here) and we all went for a drive for a look-see at ‘the glow‘.
I think it was a mis-judgement to take the girls to Dirt Mountain in the centre of the tip, in being a good vantage point. “Grossest thing ever I’ve done” and other cries entered the night sky. We soon settled for a spot nearby, all perched on top of the Landcruiser. How can something be so destructive and yet be so beautiful to watch?
The next morning I took the three dogs out for our daily walk. The fire seemed as intense but just as far off. It was surreal walking the same ground I had only walked 24 hours earlier but looking completely different and black.
My fear of coming across a snake this time was was much lower. More photos. I then spent the morning at the Art Centre mowing and whipper-snippering the grounds – just in case.
Still large plumes of smoke but farther off again. Drenched in sweat, I did finally make it to the store where I ran into Brandy, the Senior Law Man for the region. I asked him about the fire. Because he knew that my Kukujta is not the best Brandy simply replied “Finished“.
Steven currently lives at Wirrimanu (Balgo) where he works at Warlayirti Artists supporting young people there to create works in non-traditional Media. Apart from sharing knowledge of both the still and the moving image, he has keenly soaked up the experience of living in the land and with it’s people. He has grown to appreciate the desert lifestyle and actually fears the change inherent in moving on. Balgo is joyful, sometimes combustible, but overall refined. Steve wonders how he’ll, yet again, experience Melbourne in the New Year.
You can see more of Steven’s personal photographic work and thoughts at his website here.
Warlayirti Artists is controlled and managed by a Committee of Aboriginal artists, which is elected annually. Warlayirti Artists was established in 1987 following the success of the first exhibition of Balgo art – Paintings from the Great Sandy Desert – at the Art Gallery of Western Australia in 1986. Since 1987 the organisation has grown significantly and the artists represented by Warlayirti Artists have emerged as some of Australia’s leading contemporary Indigenous artists. As a result Warlayirti Artists contributes significantly to the social, cultural and economic well-being of the Indigenous residents of the Kutjungka region.