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Mark Knight captures the helplessness of drought-affected communities now caught in the path of catastrophic bushfires

Mark Knight, November 14, 2019 6:00PM Herald Sun

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A NSW Fire and Rescue crew member battles a blaze on the Pacific Highway near Taree. Picture: Jane Dempster. media_cameraA NSW Fire and Rescue crew member battles a blaze on the Pacific Highway near Taree. Picture: Jane Dempster.


Reading level: green

The massive bushfires in New South Wales and Queensland were an early and terrifying start to the fire season on the east coast of Australia.

They were clearly a major topic for public debate* and an obvious subject for my daily cartoon.

There has been much discussion about the causes of these fires with arsonists and climate change — and the lack of action to tackle it — becoming a main concern.

In my cartoon though, I wanted to look at the people directly affected by these fires and how they might feel. Australians who live in rural communities or even on the fringes* of our major cities and the fire service volunteers who put everything on hold to go out and fight these blazes.

Mark Knight’s bushfires cartoon. Right-click and open in new tab to view full size.

media_cameraMark Knight cartoon on the bushfires in Queensland and NSW

Mother Nature can be an awesome force and weather events like hurricanes, tornadoes, drought and bushfires see mankind* humbled* as we find ourselves at the mercy of these forces of nature. I wanted to illustrate the powerless position communities that live in the path of major fires find themselves in.

The extended drought* that has turned areas into a tinderbox* was a huge contributing factor. Drought is destructive in rural and urban fringe areas, but even worse, it invites bushfires in to cause and wreak* a final havoc.

I thought a good metaphor* for these two weather nasties would be to portray them as approaching giants and the local communities dwarfed by their level of destructive power. If you’ve ever stood before an approaching bushfire, the rising cloud of smoke and ash towers over you like godzilla* staring down, not to mention the intimidating* roar of the flames themselves.

media_cameraSharnie Moren and her 18 months old daughter Charlotte look on as thick smoke rises from bushfires near Nana Glen, near Coffs Harbour. Picture: AAP

One of the great images of drought is the cracked mud of dried-up dams. I thought why don’t I create a giant made out of this cracked mud? I wanted something similar to the “Thing” character from Marvel’s Fantastic Four comics that I had read as a young boy!

As I started to draw this drought colossus*, he came alive when I drew his giant hand reaching out towards the reader seemingly to hold them in his grip.

Bushfire hero firie returns to site of horror blaze

The bushfire giant character would be mostly flame with embers* raining down. The one aspect of the drawing that made this character come alive was the expressionless burning yellow holes for eyes in its orange flamed head. Scary I thought!

To give scale to these weather giants, I placed in the foreground* a farmer and a firefighter, small by comparison, standing and looking up at what is coming towards them.

The drawing aims to show the enormity* of the task ahead for Australian communities in this time of severe weather events.


  • debate: discussion from both sides
  • fringes: edges
  • mankind: humans
  • humbled: made to feel less important or proud
  • drought: lack of rain for a long time
  • tinderbox: a thing that easily catches fire
  • wreak: cause damage
  • havoc: lots of destruction
  • metaphor: a figure of speech or image to represent something
  • godzilla: a monster
  • intimidating: frightening and overpowering
  • colossus: giant
  • embers: a small piece of burning or glowing coal or wood
  • foreground: at the front
  • enormity: huge size


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  1. Name two potential causes of the bushfires.
  2. Why did Mark Knight pick giants as his images?
  3. Name two adjectives Mark uses to describe an approaching bushfire.
  4. Which Australian states have been worst affected this week?
  5. What does the cartoon aim to show or describe?


1. Natural disasters
Read Mark’s explanation about why he chose giants for his cartoon and write two, three or four short sentences, just to make sure you understand what the cartoon is saying.

Now consider two other natural disasters and draw your own cartoon depicting those natural forces as cartoons.

Write a new caption for the cartoon to make the meaning of the cartoon clearer.

Time: allow at least 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum links: English, Humanities, Visual Arts, Critical and Creative Thinking

2. Extension
Look through the most recent stories on Kids News and choose one to draw a cartoon about. Use Mark’s three-step process to get started:

  • What is my subject?
  • What do I want to say about this issue?
  • How do I say it? Do I use visual metaphors (an image that the viewer is meant to understand as a symbol for something else), multiple panels or symbolism (when one idea, feeling or emotion is represented by something else such as a: picture, character, colour or object)?

Time: allow at least 40 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum links: English, Humanities, Visual Arts, Critical and Creative Thinking

With a partner see if you can identify all the doing words/verbs in this text. Highlight them in yellow and then make a list of them all down your page. Now see if you and your partner can come up with a synonym for the chosen verb. Make sure it still makes sense in the context it was taken from.

Try to replace some of the original verbs with your synonyms and discuss if any are better and why.

Curriculum Links: English, Big Write and VCOP

HAVE YOUR SAY: What actions do you think Australians should take to prevent more bushfires?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will show until approved by editors.

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