Image: Fire in Upper Ferntree Gully ~ jsarcadia
This is a follow up to the poem I posted earlier about Black Saturday and the bushfires in Victoria. I wrote the poem as a way of trying to move through the horror I felt in the days following the tragedy. There were so many images, so many stories, it was overwhelming and this felt like the only way I could make sense of it. Writing has always been cathartic for me and while I would have liked to have done more with it, I think the simplicity suits the poem… the starkness seems to capture the devastation of what happened.
It’s one week later now and in many ways I still don’t know what to make of it all. I have lived through several bushfires before but none as ferocious as this; it was like the entire southern coast of Australia was on fire and there was smoke around Sydney for days, as well as the overwhelming scents of various native plants, which will always remind me of the fires now.
The tolls keep increasing; 1,800 homes have been destroyed and 181 people have lost their lives so far – that may go as high as 300. As someone who respects the Australian landscape so much, to see it so devastated is awful; some parts of Victoria resemble craters more than bushland and over a million animals may have perished. Many fires are believed to have been caused by arson as well. For that terrible day, it truly was hell on Earth.
Am I angry? I’m more sad than anything else. Sad at the loss of life and property; sad that in many cases the warning signs weren’t heeded. Sad that it’s taken another tragedy for us to realise how fragile life can be. I’m also very grateful for the amount of good that people are doing, the way they’re helping and coming together; the donations and support, making quilts and toys, auctions for charities, giving blood. The way people have responded, here and overseas, has been incredible and filled me with a lot of hope.
I do understand the anger, though. When so many lives have been lost and homes destroyed, you feel helpless and anger is a natural response. I think we need to be careful not to deflect blame, though. There’ll be time for a closer examination of what went wrong but right now it seems like arson is all the media cares about. Arson is awful but we shouldn’t be so fast to deflect all of our anger onto it – there’ll be many factors contributing to this tragedy and what we really want is to make sure this never happens again, rather than to strike out in vengeance. Right now we need time to grieve.
Sam the koala and firefighter David Tree
For me I think this photo is going to be the main image that stays with me from these fires. It’s amazing; the koala almost looks like a baby being fed from a bottle, and the fireman is being so gentle. There’s been some confusion about when exactly it was taken but it’s still an image that shows you how devastating fire can be and the compassion it can bring out in people. It shows that even in the darkest of situations you can find some hope, which I wanted to reflect in my writing as well.
Sam and her rescuer seem to have become the global face of the bushfires; I know the photo has been featured in a lot of blogs and newspapers around the world. That’s largely because there has been so little good news coming out of these fires and something like this really raises all of our spirits, which is what we need right now.
That’s why I was disappointed when TMZ mocked the photo recently. I detest TMZ anyway but mocking a selfless gesture – twice – when people have died and lost their homes seems very tasteless. How about some sensitivity for what people are going through? That’s TMZ for you, I guess.
At least we know Sam is being cared for now and hopefully will recover. Sadly many other animals haven’t been as lucky. They are the forgotten victims in this tragedy, in many ways.
In any case, I wanted to post this and my poem today to mark the week since the tragedy. I’ve not been able to concentrate on much else; everything else seems rather trivial at the moment, particularly when you think about the amount of money spent on Valentine’s Day when people have nothing.
I hope my poem is respectful; I wanted to try and work through that day in my mind and to be evocative of the landscape. I hope in some small way it speaks for what we’re all feeling at the moment.
I don’t think any of us can ever really understand what it must have been like on that day but I found this video by someone who filmed the Churchill fire; it killed 21 people, 1 near where she was filming at Jeeralang. It really brings the impact home, particularly when you hear the wind howling.
It really was hell on Earth.