Last year’s bushfire season was one of Australia’s biggest natural disasters.
More than 18 million hectares were burnt, along with 6,000 buildings, causing catastrophic levels of air pollution. The fires also claimed at least 34 human lives and 3 billion animals were killed. Some endangered species are now believed to be extinct as a result.
One species affected was the Snowy Mountain brumby, an Australian feral wild-roaming horse. Brumbies are a controversial topic for Australians, as they are viewed by some as an invasive species and a threat to native ecosystems. But at the same time, these horses carry a great deal of symbolism for many people in Australia, particularly in rural Queensland.
“The romantic brumby became a symbol of local identity, of the high country’s way of life and of resistance to state control,” explains environmental historian Pete Minard.
Australian photographer Tom Goldner has produced a photobook documenting the bushfires. The series, titled ‘Do brumbies dream in red?’ considers humanity’s relationship with the natural world, positioning the feral horses at the centre of the work.
“The project considers the systems which position the Snowy Mountain brumby and the catastrophic 2019-2020 Australian bushfires within a time of ecological uncertainty,” explains Goldner.
“The Snowy Mountain brumby, an Australian feral wild-roaming horse, appears as a metonym throughout the project and acts as an entry point into both the human and nonhuman world.”
Goldner made a conscious decision to reflect on the bushfires in a different way to how the catastrophe had been portrayed elsewhere.
“We felt we had no business photographing the frontline of the bushfires, as photojournalists in Australia were doing an incredible job at this," he says.
"Our intention was to photograph something quiet and slow - what is left behind after the fires pass.”
Continue to see a selection from Goldner’s series, along with his descriptions of his work.
Do brumbies dream in red?
“My work is much more about narrative through sequencing than a single image but one photograph which remains important to me was an image I took of a eucalyptus tree in early 2020 near a place called Tumbarumba, NSW. The tree had started sprouting a beard of epicormic shoots in response to the damage from the recent bushfires, the country is still covered in thick smoke.
“This photo shows the beauty and resilience within the Australian landscape, it is an image I find beautiful but also painful. That captures my experience of this project.”
“Everything has a human use or value and I very much see that as the root cause in issues such as the climate crisis. Along with the heartache that comes with this disconnection also comes moments of intense beauty within our connection.”
“When the fires intensified in late 2019 we watched as the public and media made connections between Australia's continued investment in coal mining and the bushfires.”
“The way in which we relate to the environment is central to why I make photographs. We have never been as disconnected to the environment as we are today, this is reflected in our relationship to the food we eat through to the way we deplete natural resources for profit.”
“The magnitude of the fires was unavoidable, our cities were choked in a thick cloud of smoke and the radios went from A - Z evacuating towns impacted by the fires.”
“I've recently relocated to the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria, I live amongst ancient eucalyptus trees, fern forests, wombats, echidnas and kookaburras. Being surrounded by nature in this way and seeing it continue to exist gives me hope that things can be better.”