Bushfire Australia examines the recurrence of bushfire imagery in the work of Australian artists. The exhibition draws on works from state, public and private collections, including Australian historical paintings and new works made in direct response to the 2009 fires.
Bushfire season is now a part of the Australian calendar. Although bushfires occurred regularly in Australia prior to colonisation, since European settlement the frequency of major fires appears to have increased. Australia’s growing population has pushed communities further into the natural environment, made more susceptible through climate change. The yearly looming threat of bushfire has now become engrained in the Australian psyche, and its devastation and destruction etched into the memories of all those who have witnessed it.
A major feature of the exhibition is the iconic Black Thursday, February 6th 1851, 1864, by William Strutt, considered to be one of Australia’s most important colonial paintings. The Black Thursday fires were regarded as amongst the worst in Australian history, having burnt approximately 5 million hectares of land, entering the record books as the largest fire recorded in the European history of this continent.
Other devastating fires followed, most notably in 1939, 1962, and 1983. Then, in 2009, on the 7 February, the Victorian Black Saturday bushfires traumatised the nation, devastating entire communities and the natural environment. 173 lives were lost, more than 2,000 homes destroyed and over 420,000 hectares burnt.
Bushfire Australia creates an opportunity to provide reflection, inspiration and hope to both the local and wider community following the tragic events endured in 2009.