Australian bushfire stories

ABC journalist Michael Rowland will speak at City Club about Black Summer, an extraordinary book that records stories of loss, courage and community from the bushfires of 2019/20.

There was a time, before COVID-19, when one of the biggest stories across the world was the Australian bushfires of 2019/20.

Newspapers in the US, UK and Canada all ran the same photo of a kangaroo bounding past a burning house on their front pages in early January 2020. 

The fires in New South Wales and Victoria were so large the Bureau of Meteorology reported the flames and smoke had created their own weather systems.

ABC journalist Michael Rowland’s coverage from the fire ground began in early November on the mid-north coast of New South Wales for News Breakfast and the wider ABC News network. At that stage there were 90 fires burning across the state and a catastrophic fire warning had been used for the first time since its introduction in 2009. 

Flames above trees photograph by Brittany Evins/ABC

Photograph by Brittany Evins/ABC

In Black Summer, a book in which ABC journalists have recorded stories of loss, courage and community, Michael outlines the sheer scale of the catastrophe.

He recalls visiting Lake Conjola a day after seven people were killed and nearly 200 homes were lost along that part of the New South Wales coast.

“I could see just how quickly the flames had taken hold and how random the destruction was,” he writes in Black Summer

“Opposite rows of destroyed houses were homes barely touched by the inferno. On the lake, holidaymakers were going about their daily business.”

By late December a flashpoint had emerged in East Gippsland in Victoria. About 4000 people, including about 3000 tourists, were forced to shelter on the foreshore as the fire approached the coastal town of Mallacoota on New Year’s Eve. 

Eerie photographs of naval vessels ferrying people to safety against a hazy orange background appeared on news sites across Australia.

In total, the devastating bushfires of 2019/20 claimed the lives of  33 people, an estimated one billion animals, and more than 3000 homes. 

“More than 18 million hectares of land in southern Australia was burnt, greater than the combined area that went up in flames in the 2009 Black Saturday fires and the 1983 Ash Wednesday blazes,” Michael writes in Black Summer.

Yet out of that carnage emerged stories of great courage and community unification. These stories are also told in Black Summer.

RACV City Club will host an author talk with ABC journalist and Black Summer editor Michael Rowland on Wednesday, March 17 at 6pm in the Club Library. 

Michael will talk about Black Summer and the heartbreaking and inspiring stories that emerged from catastrophic bushfires of 2019/20. The $40pp cover charge includes a drink on arrival, a copy of Black Summer and Members will be able to get the book signed by Michael on the night. 

All publisher profits from this book will be donated to the Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund, assisting people, animals, forests and communities affected by the fires.

To book, call Club Events on (03) 9944 8888 or email

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