The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper

1. First lines 2. Publisher: Penguin 3. CSIRO images of Black Saturday bushfires. Licence CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
I loved this book.

Things I didn’t know before:- 

Yallourn, a coal-mining town in the Latrobe Valley that I first learnt about in my school days now ceases to exist.

Americans call blue gum trees “gasoline trees”. (Gases released during a fire act as propellant, sending fireballs kilometres away.)

Throwing a cigarette out of the car window, is unlikely to cause a bushfire.

In the Northern Teritory, hawks have been seen to carry smouldering sticks to reignite or extend a fire, ready to capture small animals as they flee.

Quotes from the book:

  • “… in the explosive conditions of the day before, all the arsonist would have needed was a lighter. One flick of the finger and the spark wheel releases terror.”
  • “Within a few months of Black Saturday, the trees resembled maypoles, wrapped in curling red and green ribbons. The forest a kind of pageant.”
  • “The Bushfire Royal Commission, an exhaustive, fifteen-month inquiry into the fires, had revealed that deep levels of bureaucratic and corporate incompetence played a major role in the tragedy.”


This is the story of the bushfire at Churchill in the La Trobe Valley Victoria on Saturday 7th February 2009, and the subsequent trial and conviction of the arsonist. Extract


  • The result, her book The Arsonist, is an enthralling and deeply fascinating story about a huge tragedy that befell a small community, one that not only conveys the horror of a fire that cremated all before it, but asks questions about guilt, remorse and responsibility. Not all are easily answered.” Full review: Better Reading
  • Hooper’s even-handed narrative pays full attention to the victims and the huge human distress the fires caused.” Full review: Canberra Times


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