The exhibition The Magpie and the Flames was inspired by the Sampson Flat Fires of early 2015, which destroyed a number of homes in the area and destroyed many hectares of land affecting the local community.
Paul Clark, owner of Kersbrook Hills Wines & Cider, provided many interesting stories which provided inspiration for the illustrations and at first I had intended to write a short story to connect the images. With mounting pressure and the deadline approaching, however, I enlisted the help of friend Nicola Gage, an ABC journalist to write a story with similar inspirations. Nicola often covers fires for the ABC throughout the summer season and even witnessed the Sampson Flat Fires firsthand.
Below is a version of her story 'The Bushfire' which I adapted to perform live on opening night at Kersbrook Hill.
Adapted for live performance by Daniel Purvis from an original story by Nicola Gage
This was Magpie’s kingdom.
He watched over it from the sky, day after day.
He flew low and fast over the land, and ruled.
Every morning, he would fly the same lines:
Over endless bushland which burst with life, following winding roads which playfully snaked through twisted gum trees and over the vineyards below the Hill. They were young and strong and rich.
Of his entire kingdom, those steely vines were what set Magpie’s insides on fire.
His heart beat within every grape. He cared for them, then squished them between his beak when grapes were just perfectly ripe.
Those vines had taken him. He would watch over them, keeping them safe, every single day.
Until it all changed.
It started with a smell.
Magpie loved the familiar scent of his land.
But on this particular Friday afternoon, there was something different hanging in the air.
It was strong, and harsh, and insincere.
He peered around and nothing had changed.
The vines were silent, the Australian hills still rolled on with fresh growth.
But there, on the horizon, a black smear was rising.
What is that?
And without another thought he ventured on towards uncertainty.
There was a dirty thickness to the air and with each breath, Magpie became heavy.
He turned an angry black.
Was this the end of the world?
Faster he flew.
It was hard for Magpie to digest. As far as his stern eyes could see, his kingdom was disturbed.
Trees melted, echidnas raced clumsily from their homes, yabbies roasted on the banks where they were born.
The comforting smell of eucalypts contorted into an acrid and choking wall.
A deep pain worked its way into Magpie.
Below Magpie were two emus stood in a pile, one atop the other, legs tangled in their shock.
All they knew was gone, a bright blue sky and tall delicious grass replaced with another world of muddy colours and confusing smells.
No one spoke.
Magpie flew away.
Unfazed by the chaos surrounding, Koala relaxed in her tree.
She wouldn’t be moving.
She would not allow the black smear to dictate her world.
But, the smear did not care for her either.
And just like that, the red wall came.
Magpie flew away.
Sitting in front of a dying house was old Kangaroo.
“I’m glad you have come to watch,” he said. “What an awesome sight it truly is.”
“Awesome?!” wurbled Magpie. “My kingdom is on fire! How dare you call it awesome!”
"Why, but it is,” Kangaroo replied. “This is nature. It burns. It rejuvenates.” Magpie’s tiny body puffed with fury and Kangaroo continued, “This land isn’t any more yours than it is mine. Or Koala’s. Or emus’.”
Angrily, Magpie flew away.
Magpie knew it was true.
He had no control.
He couldn’t stop the smear.
Its rage had taken hold and blackened everything before it.
Magpie flew down to the charred vines below the Hill and sat on a burnt post.
Kangaroo was right, he thought.
This wasn’t Magpie’s kingdom.