Early one afternoon in late November 2019, I left Canberra as it was bathing in a sepia haze of bushfire smoke to drive back towards my home on the south coast of New South Wales. As I headed east, past dried-out farm country with paddocks the colour of sand and stands of brittle eucalypts throwing bark, a fierce wind whipped up a fog of dust and smoke so thick I needed headlights. The smoke could have been coming from anywhere – there were more than 60 fires burning across NSW that week.
In Braidwood, a country town about halfway between the national capital and the coast, I pulled over because I had an appointment to do a phone interview for a story I was working on for this magazine. I was writing about the extraordinary bushfire season already unfolding, one that had started unseasonably early, in Queensland in late winter, before moving into northern NSW in spring, with devastating consequences.