Mary Shields sees life through the lens of her camera.
When she and her husband Danny lost their Myrtle Creek house in the bushfires, Mary’s response was to take photos of the carnage.
On October 8 in 2019, Mary was working at the Post Office in Casino when Danny called and said, “Don’t come home.”
He was battling the blaze surrounding their property.
Mary ignored his advice and headed home but was unable to get there because of the danger and road closures. Danny managed to grab their laptops before he fled the flames.
“Did you get my camera?” Mary asked. He hadn’t.
She lost $5000 of camera gear. And everything else she owned.
The staff at work bought her another camera and the day after the fire, Danny and Mary drove back to their property.
Mary took photos of the devastation and has collated the images into two books that are available at the Casino Library.
Initially the books were for her family in Holland so they could understand what happened.
The books are a chronicle of how the fire disrupted their lives. She photographed the twisted metal and remains of their home, the misshapen cutlery burned into a mass, the black sewing machine and the burnt-out cars Danny was fixing.
She spent weeks searching through the charred remains to find some of her jewellery and, of course, her beloved camera.
It is only barely recognisable as a camera as she holds it in her hands.
“I haven’t cried,” Mary said. “It didn’t feel real and it takes time to hit you.”
A year and a half on, Mary studies the photos in her books.
Her things, burnt to a crisp and her home flattened on the ground like it was a pile of loose paper.
At the anniversary dinner for residents of Rappville and surrounding areas, she showed Richmond Valley mayor Robert Mustow her books.
He suggested donating them to the library.
At the dinner, Mary had a brain bleed and was taken to hospital where she spent several days recovering.
Still she is pragmatic about everything that has happened, and continues taking photographs.
“I’m really sad,” she said. “People say it’s only stuff. But it was my stuff.”
Mary is embarking on setting up a studio to take portraits and saving up to buy a better camera and new drone camera after losing that in the fire too.
Her trauma, she said, isn’t as bad as it is for others because she wasn’t there when the fire came and destroyed everything she owns.
She and Danny live in a container on their property as they rebuild.
Mary will no doubt chronicle the rebuilding of their life in the only way she knows – through her camera lens.
This article appeared in the Richmond River Independent, 24 February 2021.