#TasmanianLitMonth: Bushfires

Poem and context written by Dr Cameron Hindrum

Dr. Cameron Hindrum is a distinguished novelist, poet, teacher, and playwright. His most recent award is the Tasmanian Literary Award 2022 from the University of Tasmania, for the manuscript of his new novel, The Sand. He also coordinated the Tasmanian Poetry Festival for 17 years.

Bushfires are something we have had to learn to live with as Australians; I have some theories about that (largely concerned with returning to Indigenous methods of using fire and managing the environment as soon as we can). It’s something I am also exploring in a play I am working on at the moment.

This particular poem was written as part of a commission I received, probably ten years ago now, to work with a Tasmanian artist in developing a poem and a painting sort of side-by-side. I was thrilled to be able to work with Philip Wolfhagen for this project; we met a couple of times at his studio in Longford—which was everything I always hoped an artist’s studio would be, a creative space defined by a sort of organized chaos.

The other catalyst for this poem was the Dunalley bushfires of 2013, in which 170 buildings were destroyed and a firefighter lost his life. Dunalley is where my father was born and his parents and grandparents are buried; it’s a place where I spent significant weekends of my childhood, exploring and running along the canal (which my grandfather helped build, apparently).

Firefighters work to control the 2013 Dunalley bushfire.
Photo credit: The Mercury newspaper.

Fire Season

© 2023 Cameron Hindrum

Crafted like wind

the shape of angry time, an

ache of our history:

it possesses

without ownership.

The distant tendrils

obey the laws of breath

and ghost themselves:

in more fecund ways, they flood

by flicker and leaping reach,

mocking ancient gums.




rushing empty,

dissolving memory,

solid and not.

Soft colours rise

from the floor of dark hues

in newborn silence

when futility has faded

and, on our behalf,

the landscape

is rendered

blank, again.

Additional background to the poem

As with most of my poems I have worked and reworked this one significantly since I first drafted it, including fairly recently when I made the decision to include it in my forthcoming collection, Every Sunrise. There is a duality to the poem—the calmness of time when there is no fire, and the chaotic disorder that often occurs during one, represented by the use of white space on the page.

I know that Indigenous fire methods involved ‘cool burning’ and being selective about what was burned and when; there’s no end of records that speak to how well maintained our country looked when the British turned up in the late 18th century. It’s not well maintained any more. The First Nations of this country looked after it for sixty thousand years; I genuinely think that the sooner we undertake an approach based on their ideas and methods, the more likely we are to mitigate climate and environmental factors that are making bushfires increasingly apocalyptic.

Further reading about Tasmanian bushfires, curated by Bec Taylor

Firestorm by Jon Henley – a Guardian journalist’s painstaking reconstruction of the 2013 Dunalley fire. Experience the multimedia version.

Flames of Fear by Roger Mc Niece OAM – a photographic history of Tasmanian bushfires since 1820

Bushfires in Tasmania, Australia: an Introduction – academic article by University of Tasmania faculty.

Collection of reviewed children’s literature (picture books through YA) about bushfires, collated by teacher and librarian, Tessa Wooldridge. I especially love (national treasure) Jackie French and Bruce Whately’s, “Fire“.

About guest curator, Bec Taylor

I’m Bec Taylor, the EY3 – Grade 2 cybrarian* at the International School of Beijing, China. I’m a global nomad with Australian roots and a Chinese family home – all my immediate family have lived and worked in Beijing as international school teachers for many, many years.  

Overly enthusiastic about everything especially children’s literature, Australian Rules Football (go Doggies!) and food, glorious food, I am easily bribed with coffee and dark chocolate. I am a passionate advocate of social justice, female financial literacy, and finding ways to tread more lightly on the planet. Alongside the demands of a busy family and professional life, I enjoy cultivating community through volunteer work that focuses on healthy families.

I am the current Chair of the Chinese international schools reading promotion, the Panda Book Awards. Titles chosen for the shortlists of the Panda Book Awards meet selection criteria that focus on social justice, diversity and inclusion by up and coming authors and illustrators from across the world. There is an added spotlight on titles that feature Asian settings, characters or creators. 

Twitter is my favourite professional development space so please come find me there: @becinthelibrary

The educational hills I will die on are:

  • a child’s right to choose what they love to read,
  • there is serious magic in reading aloud,
  • and the belief that schools are happier, more equitable places with better academic outcomes when the properly funded school library is well staffed with qualified, collaborative and passionate professionals.

*a fancy name that formalises and acknowledges the incredible work teacher librarians do each day to find authentic ways to integrate and explore educational technology in order to capture, expand, and enhance student learning.

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