Sunday, 8 February 2009

Tragedy At Home: hottest city temperature ever recorded, the worst fires in our history?

After last week's record of three consecutive days over 44 degrees celsius, yesterday topped an all time high of 47 C - the highest temperature ever recorded in any Australian city.

I caught glimpses of it last night on the net but didn't realise the seriousness of it until my mum rang this morning with a rude awakening. While it seems none of my family or friends have been directly affected, the fires raged in Bendigo, just 30 mins away from my sister, and I saw my cousin's facebook photos of them wetting down their property in preparation, the smoke and an aerie colour in the sky behind them. Mum's call jolted me from my slumber, to a reality I'd rather not have. Yet to a reality that is pale in comparison to most Victorians' today.

The town of Marysville has been burnt to a crisp, incinerated, nothing is left. Marysville is, or was, a sleepy little town of about 300 or so people, nestled in the mountains. As my sister described it many years ago it is filled with greenies, loggers and local business people, it is the skiers last stop before they head up the mountain, it is a haven for bush-walkers and mountain bike riders, a lovely picnic spot, a gorgeous weekend get-away and has many an authentic craft shop, restaurant and cafe. It is where my sister bought her first property, where she settled many years ago, where my niece was born and spent the first couple of years of her life. It holds many memories for me, countless for my sister.

Today will be a very sad day for them, as she contemplates her own fire plan and sits by the phone waiting for the news. Her oldest, dearest friends are missing. He went off to fight the fires. She stayed at home with their daughter to defend their property in Narbethong. No-one knows where any of them are. I can only pray the news is good. But by every account it does not look good, the tragedy of it all makes me feel ill. (Edited to say they have been found and are safe). Watch this report on the area.

As I look through the photos, news clips, videos and read countless stories the tears well in my eyes and I feel like I could throw up. We Australians know what it is like to have our country ravaged by fire, even if we have not experienced it first hand. We always have family and friends who have. And we have stories of days gone by.

Black Friday - January 13th, 1939. The infamous fires that had widespread impact, not just on people but terrible environmental damage was done which saw the introduction of forest management to aid prevention of bushfires. The old hospital in the Dandeonongs burnt down, supposedly destroying my father's birth certificate, something that would affect him the rest of his life. 1.5-2 million hectares burnt. 75 people lost their lives. It reached 45.6 C.

Ash Wednesday - February 16th, 1983. My aunt's farm was one of the few on her road to survive. She, her daughter and son-in-law faced the danger again on Saturday, 26 years later. A family friend died defending her property. I remember the dust storm like it was yesterday, it was like nothing we had ever seen before. 210,000 hectares burnt in Victoria. 75 people dead in Vic & South Australia. Over 2000 homes burnt to a crisp and the total property damage was reported to be over 200 million dollars. The temperature was recorded in the low 40s.

There have been countless other disaster days, of various sizes. And that is over and above the bushfires that rage every summer in Australia.

And now we have Black Saturday: our darkest day ever. With the death toll currently at 108. I don't look forward to the final statistics.

There will be government support, and fund-raising appeals and events of all descriptions. Australians rally together in the most tear-jerking manner when their countrymen are in need.

But it is not the money that matters, it is the loss of lives, the devestation, the personal tragedies. It is a tragedy for livestock and for the animals of the bush, it is a tragedy for the forests themselves. It is a major environmental tragedy.

For the first time ever I understand what it must be like for people coming from war-torn places, worrying about their family, their friends, their countrymen. Not because I could do anything if I was at home, but because I feel for my country and for my people, in their darkest hour.

Click on these pictures to read more.

This is Brian Naylor, veteran news reporter who spent decades in my lounge room every evening updating me on what was happening in the country and around the world. This Australian icon and his wife died on their property in Kinglake.

My friends have been calling me today to make sure my family is ok (knowing I have a sister in the bush) and I can only imagine how the phones must be running hot in and to Australia at the moment. Sis 1 rang to make sure my mum was ok when she heard the fires were close to them, mum has been on the phone to check up on Sis 2, as well as to my aunt to find out what is happening at their place and how the rest of the family were fairing. The news has all been good, so far.

But there are many heart-breaking reports, there are SO many of them. Watch this incredible tear-jerker from St Andrews, this one from Wandong, and one from Kinglake. Not unkown places in some far-away country, but places I know, places I love. It is a tragedy like no other. I feel so sad for these people.

Finally now, Monday morning the Swedish papers are reporting it, SvD articles and DN articles. And as for mass-murder? Unfortunately arsonists are most often to blame, either that or reckless individuals. Desperately sad, but true.


  1. Hej Nic,

    I too am shocked and I can't read the news without feeling an overwhelming sense of sadness for the people who have lost everything, for the people who have died, and for the animals and nature that have perished.
    I thought that it was bad enough that it was at first due to the extreme heat at the moment... but to read that it could be people that re lighted fires that were already put out just sickens me.. WHO could possibly even consider doing something so devastating?
    The toll will not be known for a while yet, until the many homes that have been burned down have been checked... I fear that the death toll will rise substantially.

    My thoughts are with everyone who is experiencing this tragedy.

  2. Nic,

    I am so sorry. I didn't know until I read this. One of my host families had many family members in Bendigo and I have such fond memories of many of the places you mentioned. I will keep you all in my prayers.

  3. WoW, my thoughts are with everyone there.