It’s shocking to realise that during the ‘Black Summer’ of 2019-2020 more than 80% of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area was ravaged by ferocious out of control bushfires, covering some 1 million hectares. Over the past 2 years or so since the fires were finally extinguished, we’ve been regularly heading up to the Blue Mountains – visiting friends in Blackheath, one of the highest points at 1066m – and checking on the recovery and, ultimately, the rejuvenation of the bush.
Around 70% of plant species in these eucalypt forests can survive fires with established defence mechanisms developed over millions of years. It’s clearly been a slow and painful process but the resilience of the Australian forest to withstand and even thrive through these catastrophic events is incredible to witness and instils hope that recovery can always be achieved.
Over our many visits since we saw the first tentative green shoots emerge from the blackened stumps; listened to the deafening eerie silence of the now ravaged landscape; wondered how on earth this once lush ancient forest could ever recover; then marvelled at the abundant green fuzz that suddenly appeared after drought-breaking rain. On one visit to the Fairfax Track at Govetts Leap we were surprised to see countless Xanthorrhoea or Balga Grass Plants magically sprouting from the forest floor and shooting their metre plus long spears into the sky. It takes a bush fire to ravage the landscape for these plants to do their wonderous thing and so thrilling to see yet another magnificent sign of promising rejuvenation and resilience. https://www.floristwithflowers.com.au/blog/xanthorrhoea-the-story-of-the-black-boy-plant/
It was around March 2020 that record drought-breaking rain fell across the Blue Mountains, drenching out all fires and, in the most rapid of transformations, causing the Warragamba Dam, that had reached perilously low levels, to overflow. Since then, we’ve endured strong back-to-back La Niña rain events across the Eastern Seaboard, with rain-soaked soggy summers, multiple devastating floods and cold wet winters, and it still hasn’t let up yet!
The long-range forecast for the Sydney region is for above average rainfall thanks to a negative Indian Ocean Dipole event – that’s warmer than average waters around northern Australia – and a neutral to negative El Niño. So the likelihood of a dangerous fire summer season is unlikely for the foreseeable future… but hey, this is Australia and climate change is real and evidently in play, so who knows what we’re in for.
But for now, it’s encouraging to see, on the surface anyway, the extent of recovery and rejuvenation. The lookout at Govetts Leap across the majestic Grose Valley is as magnificent as ever, made even more spectacular by the swirling mist and rain one bitterly cold mid-winter morning back in July. Over at the iconic Three Sisters lookout at Katoomba on a sunny mid-week morning in early August, the Jamison Valley stretches out in front of you and reaches to the horizon as a seemingly never-ending undulating carpeted forest.
There was hardly anyone here, just the deafening silence of the dense rolling canopy below, the distant screeching of cockatoos and, then, a magnificent Wedge Tailed Eagle swooping right above me, a portent perhaps of the enduring resilience of this ancient wilderness.