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The 2003 Canberra bushfires: how do we remember them?

A photo of the Firestorm Story Tree and the glass containing photos from the ACT Bushfire Memorial.

January 18, 2003.

On this day many lost their homes and for some, the ones they loved the most. The 2003 bushfires were a devastating tragedy that saw the destruction of livelihoods and nature. With those left to pick up the pieces, gain the courage to stand up again, looking at the scorched plains where their homes once stood.

Since then, many have rebuilt, trees have been planted, animals have come and gone, while the remnants of memories from those days live on.

How have we recognised, remembered, and reflected on these events?

We will take a look at the Firestorm Story Tree and the ACT Bushfire Memorial sites here in Canberra.

A photo of a plaque dedicated to those who died on January 18, 2003, those who were injured and helped. A bouquet of flowers is placed behind it.
Photo from the ACT Bushfire Memorial Site

The Firestorm Story Tree and the ACT Bushfire Memorial have resonating messages of resilience in recognition of what was lost.

Each takes you on a journey of what happened and how we have responded to it, letting us remember and reflect on the events of the 2003 bushfires by immersing ourselves in nature and monuments that tell us a story.

A photo of art around the Firestorm Story Tree.
Photo from the Firestorm Story Tree

The Firestorm Story Tree highlights our use of land from Aboriginal usage for land management and shaping the environment, to settlement, suburban development, the 2003 firestorm, and regeneration.

The ACT Bushfire Memorial focuses on the recovery, loss of human lives, and thanks to those who played crucial roles in fighting the fire and in the recovery.


While both memorials do commemorate the same event, they approach commemoration differently, through their chosen aspects.

The Firestorm Story Tree focuses on the environmental aspects by showcasing the human impact on the environment and how we have changed the course of waterways and the shape of landscapes to suit our lifestyles. On the other hand, the ACT Bushfire Memorial focuses on the heroism, comradeship, and resilience of humans to overcome a natural hazard.

A photo of a woman walking through the ACT Bushfire Memorial trail.
Photo from the ACT Bushfire Memorial Site

People are the centre of these stories. The way we have conducted ourselves is the difference.

On one hand, our actions reflect on our environment. On the other, our actions reflect on our interactions with each other for recovery and resilience.

A photo of the Firestorm Story Tree behind the Ammon playground.
Photo from the Firestorm Story Tree Site

The learning experience is also a visible difference structurally and location wise.

The Firestorm Story Tree invites a casual viewing of its memorial. It is placed next to a playground at the end of the cul de sac at Ammon Place. This allows residents to walk past during their daily exercise, during a picnic, or during a day at the playground with the kids.

It continuously reminds people during their everyday lives of its message and remembrance of the bushfires.

A photo of the casuarinas in the ACT Bushfire Memorial site amongst the trees and with red glass fragments.
Photo from the ACT Bushfire Memorial Site of the grove of casuarinas

Visiting the ACT Bushfire Memorial is an intentional decision, requiring a drive to Stromlo Park. It is separated from the suburbs but is commonly used for its bike and walking paths for exercise enthusiasts and dog owners.

Being apart from the busy roads and houses, you are able to appreciate the nature surrounding that create a scenic atmosphere and immerse you in an attitude of reflection.


Both memorial sites provoke an attitude of reflection. A reflection of what was lost, the heroism and comradeship, and how we treat our environment.

A photo of the brick walls at the ACT Bushfire Memorial Site. Made with the remnants of residents' houses and carved with messages.
Photo from the ACT Bushfire Memorial Site of the brick walls made from the remnants of residents’ houses.
A photo of the amphitheatre at the ACT Bushfire Memorial.
Photo from the ACT Bushfire Memorial of the amphitheatre

They present two ways we can do this.

We can draw our attention to the environmental consequences of natural hazards and our own actions, or the humanity, goodwill, and resilience of people in a time of crisis.

We can reflect on all these aspects in remembrance of the 2003 Bushfires.

Photos by Erielle Manlulu