Large chunks of Australia have been in the grips of severe drought. Some farming communities have not seen rain for many years. Yet in the north we very recently had torrential rain and severe flooding. Destruction of property and loss of life from two very different extremes – fire and water.
Bushfires in Australia are a frequent occurrence. The first recorded bushfire I have come across in my research was the Black Thursday bushfire in Victoria in 1851. 5 million hectares of land was destroyed. One million sheep and thousands of head of cattle perished. Those numbers are just mind boggling.
Bushfires can be caused by many things. For hundreds of years the indigenous tribes used fire methodically as a means of managing their environment. They knew fires rejuvenate vegetation. Fires can be started by lightning strikes. They can also be the result of human error. A carelessly tossed out burning cigarette butt, or a back-burn that has gone horribly wrong. Or a deliberately act. It is difficult for me to comprehend the mindset of someone who does that.
Ash Wednesday in 1983 was my first real exposure to the fury and horror of bushfires. It was here in the outskirts of Adelaide. 75 people died. We went for a drive around the area a few months after. It was sobering. A stark reminder of our vulnerability. And of just how close it had come. It was also surreal to see the charred and blackened tree trunks adorned with splashes of fresh green growth.
This summer just gone has been the hottest on record in Australia. We did not turn the air conditioner off for over a week. As we live in the driest state we mostly use evaporative air conditioning. Unless it is humid – it’s useless then. Last night was the first night we were able to sleep with it off. The moisture in the air leaves floors feeling damp given how long we’ve had it running non-stop. I’m looking forward to the coming cooler weather.
For some reason Victoria seems to be the state that has the deadliest and largest bushfires in Australia. I can recall flying over Victoria at night many years ago. Everywhere I looked I saw pockets of fire. That was in 2009. The Black Saturday fires killed 173 people, destroyed 2,000 homes and structures, gutted towns. Marysville was totally destroyed. I hope the devastation of these currents fires is not so bad.
South Australia is the fourth largest of the states and territories. The total land area measures 983,482 square kilometres. In comparison Victoria measures 227,416 square kilometres. Which is kind of interesting when Victoria seems to cop the deadliest bushfires.
Jeremy, the koala, became the social media face of the injured wildlife in the Sampson Flat fires in 2015 in SA.
An urgent call went out for donations of mittens to treat injured, burnt paws. I emptied my cupboards of all suitable items, including old tea towels and cotton clothing softened through wash and wear. Using the pattern provided on social media, I cut hundreds of mittens for sewing by friends with machines. Media reported boxes of mittens being sent from all over the world. They were inundated with more than was needed. Enough to put in storage for future use. Perhaps now. Then another urgent request was broadcast. This time for kangaroo pouches.
The Australian bush is very resilient. Recovery and restoration of burnt areas can occur completely within a decade. New growth in fire devastated areas dots the sombre black with patches of lush new growth. It looks quite surreal. Some seeds need fire to germinate. For nature bushfires serve a purpose.
As always, human stories of courage, bravery, loss and resilience are beginning to emerge now even as the fires continue to burn. Acts of support and generosity are easing the burden for those who have lost everything. Communities and towns will recover. Bushfires are a part of life here in Australia.
© Raili Tanska
Disasters bring communities together
Images Pixabay, FaceBook