Fire on Water’s Edge Remembering 2019-20 Black Summer Bushfires

The Museum

Looking at the impact through the words and images of emergency responders and local residents

Free outdoor exhibition now open

‘It was incredibly heartening to see local community, different organizations, and the Royal Australian Navy, come together to help those in need.’

Meg Powson, Assistant Maritime Logistics Officer, HMAS Choules

‘On January the 5th a fire was sweeping down towards Eden and Twofold Bay was in danger. We were wearing our night vision goggles at 2 or 3 pm because that was the safest thing to do. We were tasked everywhere we could, land, and see if anyone needed to be evacuated, because there were people trapped on the coast’

Tim Craig, Lieutenant Commander, 816 Squadron

The Australian bushfires of 2019-20 were unprecedented in scale and impact. More than 30 million hectares of land was burnt nationwide; 33 people and over a billion animals were killed. More than 3,000 homes were destroyed and countless families displaced.

The fires were unusual in how they affected coastal communities and maritime areas. Thousands of Australians were forced to find refuge on beaches, wharves and boat ramps. For many, the apocalyptic images of Mallacoota, Victoria, smothered in a smoky haze are seared in memory.

Even the Australian Navy were mobilised to evacuate people, carry equipment, supplies and medical teams to help various coastal towns.

Fire on Water’s Edge documents the Bushfires of 2019-2020 through the words and images of Navy personnel, Surf Life Savers, and residents of the NSW and Victorian South Coast. It examines the public response to the fires through the works of David Pope and artists of the Bushfire Brandalism collective.

“I remember getting the text message from the rural fire service on the 7thof January 2020 telling me the house tally, and I think at that stage it had hit 389. I wasn’t expecting that number. We knew it was going to be high, we knew it would be in the hundreds, but it was overwhelming. And at the point I realised there was no way we could tell all the stories, because there were too many homes lost. And it would rise to 501 homes for the Eurobodalla shire”

Kerrie O’Connor, Bay Post & Moruya Examiner Editor

Kevin Sumption, Director and CEO of the Australian National Maritime Museum said, ‘Fire on Water’s Edge provides an opportunity to hear, through the voices of community members and the emergency responders who came to their aid, the impact and the on-going toll of summer 2019-20. It is important that we continue to hear these stories and look for ways to avoid a repeat of the destruction.’

Curator, David O’Sullivan said, ‘The ongoing impact of these fires must be acknowledged. With this exhibition we hope we can continue to shine a light in the continuing issues that these coastal communities are facing.’

/Public Release. This material comes from the originating organization and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length.