Australia Burns

I think it’s fair to say Australia is burning.  You may have read my previous blog posts on the fires when they hit the north coast of NSW.   Part 1 here  Part 2  is here   and Part 3 is here.  Now they are burning south of Sydney – the south coast of NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia.

The recent disaster on the south coast and in Victoria has had the world reeling.  And so it should.

I have felt compelled to write about it again – in fact there wouldn’t be many people at present in Australia who could focus on anything else  when we see our very survival is at stake.  This isn’t a one off disaster – this is the pattern that will play out now each year.  The only way it can be resolved is if we all take action to do something  that reduces the negative impact on the planet. By ‘we’  I mean individuals and governments.

But I don’t want to write a preachy post.  I want to write first about how events have played out since our fire scare in November and  how I have felt since then.

First, I realise that watching endless fire disasters is replaying the trauma we faced in November.  Here on the north coast I finally put all our ‘keepsake items’ back in the cupboard after having them on standby in the car for a month.  This only happened in mid December – after we had a small amount of rain.  I found that finally I wasn’t looking up in the sky each time a helicopter flew overhead – panicked that a new fire had started.  There were some days when we didn’t even look at the RFS Fires Near Me app!  Before that we checked it  with a manic regularity!

I don’t tend to feel strongly about the left or right of politics.  I have my own thoughts and normally if I do one of those ABC surveys of where you sit with your political values – I’m not really aligning with any particular side – rather I like/dislike certain policies of all parties.  So I try to give each elected leader a fair go.

But the one thing that has filled me with fury since those November fires was the complete disregard our Prime Minister has displayed.   I feel like I’m in some real life movie, where all the scientists/experts try to tell the incompetent leader that this is an emergency – and it falls on deaf ears. In a movie – often the leader finally joins forces with the expert and the world is saved!!!  But in this real life scenario –  back in parliament in November,  it was business as usual, dealing with religious freedom laws etc.  No mention of the fires – apart from a very brief response.

The picture that disturbed me at the time of the north coast fires was this one.  This poor elderly man had just lost everything – except his dogs.  Now in this picture you would say our leader is very comforting and compassionate.  But the actions that followed this didn’t match the compassion shown here.

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I’ve thought of  Owen a lot.  Did our leader contact him again? Was he as affected by this as I was?  I don’t know.  But what followed after this day of visits was deafening silence – not only from the government – but also from the mainstream media.  The focus on these fires was short lived.

Meanwhile the local volunteers and community rallied.  There were more fires further north – fires to contain and monitor –   it was a herculean effort to get them under control.   And the fallout from this time continues.

It is very dry here on the north coast of NSW – small creeks have dried up – dams are getting lower – grass is crispy and the bush is tinder dry.  We are again nervously watching out and praying for rain.

The fires then moved further south in December – burning all around the outskirts of Sydney and beyond.  Suddenly the city was consumed by smoke – something we had suffered for many weeks.  But on a positive note,  the media was now paying attention!  But our leader was still telling us that this was a regular Australian event…..

Here is an article from one of the smaller newspapers – The Guardian.  This gives you an idea of what our government was saying towards the end of November.  I was incredulous – and I could feel my fury rising each day.  Did he not understand that fires in these northern areas and Queensland were unprecedented.  Was he not concerned that rainforest was burning further north?  Obviously not.

When I saw him interviewed after that – it was like it was an annoyance for him – like he was trying to swipe away a pesky fly.  He didn’t want to focus on fires.  Parliament continued to debate other issues while most people were witnessing a major fire crisis unfolding.

Here is an article from December 6 from The Guardian  and by December 17 – as the fires spread – it had reach crisis point – and in this article the talk had turned to how a group of ex bushfire chiefs had been trying to get a meeting with the Prime Minister for most of the year about their warnings for a catastrophic season.  By this time they were determined to go ahead – with or without him.  And at that point, he had gone missing in action!!!  Where was he?  Well the nation finally found him holidaying in Hawaii!  And while he relaxed on the beach, the country burned.

Here is an article discussing that from December 21.   By then the majority of the nation was furious.  Everyone else seemed to understand the gravity of the situation except the party elected to run our country…. and then tragedy struck…. two young firefighters were tragically killed in action. The photo below shows the young child receiving his Dad’s medal of honour.   The nation was grief stricken….

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And still our leader didn’t return.  Finally he managed to cut his holiday short by a whole day!!!

The saga of our disinterested PM went on – there were comments suggesting we all focus on the cricket instead, no daily appearance at the fire headquarters – instead a photo of him at the beach!  On New Years Eve – the day that saw catastrophic conditions, mass evacuations –  and another young firefighter killed, Scott Morrison was hosting the cricketers and playing backyard cricket on the elegant lawns of Kirribilli – the official house of the Prime Minister.

Meanwhile people were trapped in their towns or desperately fleeing the raging infernos.  People were stranded on the beach – without power, communication and over the next few days, were running out of food and had no clean drinking water.

The nation had realised that we were being led by a self centered, narcissistic leader who seemed to have no compassion for the people, animals or environment.  Here is a final article which details events.  It’s worth reading.

By January 2 – our leader started to realise he needed to do more.  He was met with a frosty reception as he visited the township of Cobargo.  Many people have lost everything.  And three people from the town were killed.  He forces handshakes from two people.  The video footage goes viral.

And this video – Paul Parker from Nelligen shows the anger and exhaustion from battling blazes around their small community.

Scott Morrison finally calls in army reservists from the defence force and orders two naval ships to the stranded communities.  It’s too little too late – but he is quick to advertise his achievements – complete with upbeat jingle! 

He says he will now give the affected communities and front line fighters any assistance they need.  But still he won’t commit to helping the earth heal by reducing emissions.  Climate change is so obvious.  Our summers are drier and longer – hence more fires and more intense fires.

Since last  October –  26 people have died in the Australian bushfires.  In NSW alone, it is estimated that there has been over a billion animals – and hundreds of billions of insects killed.  

And as far as the plant life, it is not known what will regenerate and what will change – it probably depends on future rainfall.

So I’ve given you a rough background of what has happened since November – and how my anger – and the collective anger of a nation has risen.  Where to next?  Well at present – fires are still burning – the immediate danger needs to be tackled with a well organised strategy.  There are of course heroes.  It goes without saying that the frontline fire fighters are heroes – as are all the volunteers and everyday people – who have gone out of their way to help others – often while their own house has burnt to the ground.  I also admire the NSW RFS commissioner – who fronts up day after day to lead us through new information on the fire fronts.  He hasn’t put a foot wrong.

But why have I been so fixated on it?  Why am I so angry?  Apart from reliving memories of our own experience, I realised that I’m so sad for the toll these fires have taken. I love Australia.  I never want to live anywhere else.  In all my travels, I’m always so happy to be home.

And I’m angry – not just because of failings of our Government, but because of a lack of awareness that we need to respect and care for the earth, the plants and animals, as much as we care for human life.

Everything is equal.  Everything is connected.  Humans are only part of the equation.  We won’t  survive without our environment.  In future we need to vote in people who are truly committed to restoring the balance.  That has to be the priority.

How can Government leaders have no heart – koalas screaming, people in shock, exhausted firefighters…. and our country…. burning and burning….   This is our war – and it won’t be over until we start repairing the damage humans have done over the last century.

As I finish typing this, Victoria is preparing for worsening conditions, along with what is left of Kangaroo Island, off South Australia.  Also a waterbombing helicopter has crashed into a dam.  Fortunately the pilot is alive.  This is the third or fourth helicopter incident I’ve heard of since November.

But let’s finish on a positive note.  The worldwide generosity and concern is humbling.  Much money has been donated to help rebuild communities.  Thankyou so much….

And of course, we know from Greek folklore that the Phoenix rises from the ashes – which means we will rise stronger and smarter.  That’s my hope – good things will eventually come from this.

If you click here you will find many photos of fire damage from the south coast fires and Victoria.

Footnote:  The caption for the feature photo reads:

A kangaroo rushes past a burning house in Lake Conjola, Australia, Dec. 31 2019.

2019.Matthew Abbott/The New York Times via Redux



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