Blaxland Rural Fire Service volunteer Virigina Eastman wins NSW photography award for photo at The Oaks fire trail – Blue Mountains Gazette

At “69 years young” Tom Cowan didn’t expect to be the poster boy for the Rural Fire Service in this year’s resilience award.

But it is a picture of him standing in a blackened landscape during the Black Summer 2019/2020 bushfires, as snapped by talented photographer and fellow RFS member Virginia Eastman on the Oaks Fire Trail, which has taken out the NSW Resilient Australia Award popular vote for photography.

“I was very pleased to hear that Virginia’s picture won the award. A great result, ” Mr Cowan told the Gazette.

“I didn’t know she was taking a picture, I found out when Virginia asked me if it would be okay to enter the picture for the award. I have been with the RFS since 2009 after retiring from the RAAF and I am 69 years young,” he said.

The photo was taken in February 2020 while the Blaxland Bush Fire brigade crew were clearing The Oaks fire trail between Woodford and Glenbrook.

It was at a point where the fire had been particularly fierce and he was “dwarfed by skeletal leftovers of trees,” Ms Eastman said.

“Everything was stripped of life and colour, ” she said. “When Tom came into view… he was almost glowing like a golden yellow beacon of hope, in defiant contrast to the black and grey expanse of desolation.”

Ms Eastman has called the photograph – Still Standing – We and the Trees and hopes it has captured the spirit and resilience of the RFS and the Australian bush, even though her crew were left a little “black and blue” by the ordeal.

She said their brigade was part of the “great golden army that stood up across Australia to protect our communities. By the end, we were a tad battle-weary, but we were still standing”.

“Our home is defined by colour… here in the beautiful Blue Mountains. Over the summer of 2019-2020, fire decided to call it home too for a bit, and after a long, hard battle, we found ourselves and our home, somewhat ‘Black and Blue’.”

The awards were held over Zoom in October and the Resilient Australia National winner will be decided on December 8.

“Resilience is finding that internal energy… the physical and mental strength to stay on your feet and stand tall and a way to find a bright flash of something golden in contrast to the darkness that comes with challenging times,” she said


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