After the fires
A red dot in the hazy western sky descends to the horizon while the evening news shows fires on Sydney's rim. Thousands of people have volunteered their time to fight the fires or to support the fire fighters in feeding, watering and sheltering the crews. Houses and sheds had been lost; many had been saved. As informative as the news reports have been and as graphic as the footage is that was shown, the real impact of the devastation to the communities is only clear when traveling through and seeing for yourself what has happened. The TV is great, but it is still only a window, almost like a barrier that dissociates you from what you are seeing.
From Razorback south of Sydney, a smoke plume rises in the distance and an easterly wind looks like it is blowing back onto itself. The weather alerts indicated today is a safest day to travel for the next week. Coming through Bargo, melted road posts lay bent on the shoulders surrounded by charcoal remains of bottle and cans. Two service stations have miraculously survived with signs the flames were almost lapping their walls averting a greater disaster. Passing the Tennessee Orchard, a flare up sends smoke flowing south, creating an orange hue over the orchard.
Riding through Colo Vale and Hill Top to check on a family farm, a quiet apprehension settled on the streets. Through the smoke-filled air, cars were parked in front of houses in anticipation to evacuate. No people were seen in their yards or local shops, possibly listening to the radio for updates. Luckily houses were saved but surrounding bush is charred. As the wind changes direction toward town, the sky gets darker and thumping blades of a Bell Huey are heard getting closer. A silhouette of the chopper cruises past, just above the tree canopy surveying the ground below, a water hose dangles from its undercarriage. The RFS did a wonderful job and the town is safe for the moment.
Heading back through Balmoral, the devastation is hard to comprehend, the air becomes acrid and visibility decreases the further I head north. Thank you signs are draped over gates and fences for the RFS Volunteers, in other paddocks, remnants of houses and people's lives lay in ruins surrounded by thick smoke. Through the darkness, red and blue flashing lights still patrol the road, just in case of flareups.
Of course, we need to support and praise the RFS as much as we can to ensure they have the appropriate resources to carry out the vital service they give to our communities. But at the same time, we also need to support these communities, villages and towns that have been affected by fires, long lasting droughts, floods or any other natural disaster. Very simply put, we need country towns' survival for urban survival. They relieve congestion in urban areas, they supply us with produce, they help our mental state by relaxing in open green spaces (https://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/letter/articles/vh-letter-46-great-outdoors-and-health-equity).
A month after the fires, when they are not featured on the nightly news, we are likely to forget what has happened during the summer and move on to the next major story. However, the rural towns and villages will still be coming to terms with their losses and will defiantly rebuild. They are a stoic breed of people. In the Southern Highlands for example, Bowral is a major business hub for the district and quite elegant in its architecture and is renowned for its shops, galleries, vineyards and is a perfect stopping point before exploring the neighbouring towns.
The best ways of supporting these communities is by visiting them. Often these towns have a whole history that you never knew about. Stories of an Aboriginal past you may not have known existed, stories of industries that never prospered and faded or simply stories drovers are also common. These towns also rely on passing trade to keep them alive and rely on their outlying areas to supply fresh produce for their cafes, their weekend markets, often, they have cottage industries that produce craftworks, jams, honey and art works that you don't find in major stores specialising in mass produced goods. For the foodies, these towns also have fantastic wineries and restaurants that can be better than those in the city.
Through the year it is worth embarking on a road trip through the country and explore what's there. Buy a gift for your wife or a bottle of wine to take home. Buy a beer for a mate. Take a group of friends on a cherry-picking excursion when in season or just ride to a country town to get some fish and chips and see what you can find on the way. It all helps these communities stay in existence and lets them know that they are not just part of the nightly news.
READ MORE: ADF come to Robertson
'We need to change our way of thinking'
They say in times of disaster we see the best and worst of people. These forces are unprecedented on a national scale. Believe in Climate Change or not, the fact is we as a species have much to answer for. Ignorance is not bliss; it is nothing more than ignorance.
How many have suffered, the loss of life, property and security. This is to speak nothing of the massive loss of habitat and the wildlife that depends upon it. To think that any of us are immune from or in control of the impacts of nature's wrath is quite frankly insane.
"We need to change our way of thinking" as Bob Dylan said and "make ourselves a different set of rules and put our best foot forward and stop being influenced by fools". From where I stand environmental ignorance on a global scale is the worst of humanity at the moment. The world is looking at us and hopefully learning lessons?
The best of people is undoubtedly expressed in the amount of giving we are seeing now. The world is identifying, empathising and feeling our pain and respecting and valuing the courageous efforts of our RFS. The world is giving in many ways very generously, this is also happening at a local level.
There is a wave of opportunities and portals now available to us so we can give, and we are doing so. It would be a shame if this money was tied up in bureaucratic "strings" or like some previous fund raiser, remains sitting in charity accounts accruing interest rather than finding its way to people or our wildlife in need. Or even worse, disappear over the passage of time!
People giving in good faith need to know where the contributions are going and every charity claiming to be gathering finds for RFS or bushfire relief for people and animals, need to be publicly held to account.
My other real concern is the trauma and psychological damage that will grow long after the flames of the fire side down. I am directly aware of several opportunities for free psychological support for people in our community, but already the funding is prohibiting or limiting access to these programs. With this current disaster the last thing we can afford to do is turn people away from those support networks. I call upon the Federal and State Minsters for Mental Health to make sure that does not happen.