My father was dumbfounded with our decision. We had just bought a block of land to build our family home in the southern foothills of Adelaide in South Australia. It was a serene blend of living in a near rural bushland setting, yet just twenty minutes from the city centre. Our property adjoined a gorge, untouched by development. A walking track leads through the dense bushland, continuing down the steep descent to reveal a creek deep within the base of the gorge. “There’s only one way out of your place” Dad insisted. “A fire coming up that gorge and you have no hope of escaping” he went on.
The difference was he had been through the horrors of a bushfire. He often recounted the terrifying experience of the 1939 Black Sunday bushfire when his father’s farm was razed to the ground. He never finished school. Restoring the property buildings and fences took priority. We were fortunate his concerns never eventuated. But for those still living there, as with many other untouched parts of the country, the threat is as ever great.
Such is the harsh reality of the Australian landscape as many regions across Australia are now experiencing. To give some scale to the current bushfires across Australia, it is reported fires have burned more than 12 million acres of land – a number greater than Brazil’s 2019 Amazon fires that burnt 2.2 million acres, California 2018’s wildfires 2 million acres and the 2019 Siberian fires of 6.7 million acres. For the first time in Australia’s history, Australian Defence Force Reserve Brigades have been called up to assist with the bushfire effort. The scale of this operation for a natural disaster in Australia is unprecedented.
Like my father or the thousands of people currently experiencing this natural horror, it is difficult to comprehend the magnitude of such a frightening experience. The trauma of not only living through what can only be described as a hell on earth, but the emotional impact, not only losing your home, your livelihood or worse still loved ones and animals. At the forefront of all this are the dedicated and exhausted firefighters who relentlessly battle on to contain and save lives and property.
But sadly, as if the destructiveness of the bushfires is not enough. While the focus should be on supporting those suffering at the heart of the crisis, another firestorm goes unabated. It’s not unique to this country but its very sad to watch. The blame game. Politicians set out to blame others or are accused of not showing leadership. As witnessed on a TV commentary yesterday, the media deliberately sets out to further fuel this emotional firestorm by seeking out political differences or failings. Worse are the divisions created across the community. Social media now gives everyone the ability, anywhere in the world, to vent their opinions whether qualified or not, respectful or otherwise of others. The pen is mightier than the sword. Replace the pen with the social media keyboard and as never before its disheartening to see people against people and community groups as they vent their opinions.
But as each fire front moves on and the last of the embers have extinguished, communities will start to rebuild, as they have done in the past. They will come together to support and help each other. Like my uncle, who counted himself as one of the luckier ones to only lose a shed full of hay feed for his dairy cows in the pre Christmas fires in South Australia. A nearby neighbour soon after drove into his farm with a truckload of hay. “Send me the bill”, my uncle said. “No” said the neighbour, “it’s yours for free”. Australia will survive. It’s part of it’s rugged nature. The character of the land and its people. It’s what makes this country unique.
If you would like to assist victims of the bushfires, Rotary International Australia has opened up a special bushfire appeal fund. The advantage is everything except for a small 2.5%+gst admin fee goes directly to those in need via the volunteer Rotary network. To donate, click here: rawcs.org.au.
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