For park ranger Wil Buch it’s hard to believe bushfire could rage through the subtropical rainforests of south-eastern Queensland.

Key points:

  • Park rangers say planning hazard-reduction burning is becoming more difficult with a changing climate
  • Farmers want opportunities to learn how to safely conduct controlled burns on their properties
  • Tourism operators are rethinking how they design venues to face future threats

In 30 years of park management he had never seen a rainforest burn.

“It was very surprising because most people hadn’t experienced that in their lifetimes before,” Mr Buch said.

From September 2019, fires burnt for five months in the Gold Coast hinterland, threatening nearby towns and impacting 2,500 hectares of the Lamington National Park.

Two men inspecting overgrown vegetation.

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service rangers are tackling overgrown vegetation throughout Lamington National Park.(

ABC Landline: Luke Wong

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Almost 18 months on, Mr Buch and his team are still working on the recovery, tackling the woody weeds which thrived in the aftermath of the fire.

Mr Buch has adopted Indigenous traditional burning practices to maintain the adjoining woodlands and protect the rainforest.

But he said planning hazard reduction burns became more difficult over time.

“All those things make it harder to find the time and opportunity to put the appropriate fire into the landscape.”

Lamington National Park is one of 50 reserves in the World Heritage-listed Gondwana Rainforests of Australia, which stretch between Brisbane in Queensland and Newcastle in New South Wales.

The rainforests cover 370,000ha of land, half of which was burnt in the Black Summer bushfires.

Call for controlled burning education

To the north of the national park, the bushfire surrounded Toni-Maree and Cameron Bishop’s vineyard at Sarabah.

With the vegetation regrowth it’s hard now to comprehend the size of the threat they faced.

“They miss the fact that it was black, everything was black.

“Our restaurant and the buildings here, they’re made of cedar, a vineyard is made of timber. It was entirely life-threatening.”

Woman and man in front of vineyard rows.

Vineyard owners Toni-Maree and Cameron Bishop say business has increased tenfold with the surge in domestic tourism.(

ABC Landline: Luke Wong

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The Bishops used most of their water allocation to save the vines from the fire.

With very little left for irrigation afterwards, the vintage was lost.

But business has bounced back with a ten-fold increase in visitors with the surge of domestic tourism during the pandemic. 

Mr Bishop suggests more opportunities for fire education would help landholders learn how to safely conduct hazard-reduction burns on their properties.

“That would perhaps stop the travel of such a massive fire problem that occurred when the fires went through Sarabah.”

Nut harvest back on track

The bushfire also affected the neighbouring macadamia orchard and farm-stay property.

With the help of emergency services, owners Paul and Robyn Lee managed to save all their trees, but said it was a distressing time.

Man and woman holding macadamia nuts in front of tractor.

Macadamia farmers Paul and Robyn Lee are enjoying the return of a productive harvest after the bushfire.(

ABC Landline: Luke Wong

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“Macadamias are very, very flammable like eucalypts,” Ms Lee said.

The heat from the fire devastated last year’s crop and made it their worst harvest ever.

The couple’s bed-and-breakfast business also suffered due to the aftermath and the pandemic lockdown that followed.

But when regional travel opened up they were inundated with bookings.

The macadamias have flourished this year, but a shortage of backpacker labour is creating a strain during harvest.

Mr Lee said recent events have taught him to be prepared for the worst.

“One thing about the fires and COVID and the drought; we never expected any of those things,” he said.

Designing tourism venues for future hazards

Fire destroyed 11 homes in the Scenic Rim region as well as the historic Binna Burra Lodge, a popular landmark for generations of bushwalkers.

Binna Burra’s chairperson Steve Noakes estimated it will cost about $20 million to rebuild the lodge to meet modern bushfire safety ratings. 

Man standing in front of Scenic Rim landscape.

Binna Burra chairperson Steve Noakes is pleased to see visitors returning to the tourist site. (

ABC Landline: Luke Wong

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He said the bushfire forced tourism operators to reassess how to deal with future hazards.

“And the big picture is climate change impacts on our tropical rainforests here in [the] central coast of Australia.”

One measure Binna Burra has taken is placing thousands of drought-tolerant, fire-resistant plants around the grounds.

Mr Noakes says while the full recovery will take several more years, efforts to restore access and accommodation have allowed visitors to return and explore the surrounding national park.

“It’s critical to getting the economic and the employment impacts and benefits of this enterprise back on its feet,” he said.

Bushwalkers on path in rainforest.

Bushwalkers are returning to the tracks around Binna Burra in Lamington National Park.(

ABC Landline: Luke Wong

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Watch this story on ABC TV’s Landline this Sunday at 12:30pm or on iview.

Wil Buch watched the rainforest burn — now he’s working to prevent it repeating
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