One Week Later


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.

APTOPIX Australia Wildfires

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.

7 thoughts on “One Week Later

  1. The video you posted gives a real sense of these amazing firestorms. I’ve seen a lot of pictures, but the loud sounds and the commentary are amazing here; and then the song and the end…oh!
    I’d seen the picture of Sam. I was listening to the radio in the car on the way to a meeting Saturday, and this news report came on, from NPR in the US:
    If the link doesn’t go directly there, it’s called “Devastation Follows Austrailian Fires (and yes, it’s misspelled, sorry from US media for that!) It tells of a care center for burn-wounded baby koalas, using stuffed toys as substitute parents. Very moving. I wonder if the babies will recover and find a habitat again.
    I hope it doesn’t seem trite to wish you a belated Happy Vaentine’s, cj. We can all use more love in the world.

  2. Hey CJ! I am Nipun from India. I’ve been a reader of your blog for quite some time now. Although, I’m not a regular reader, your blog is one of the best on the web. It’s good to see that you’ve moved your blog to another host.

    I saw the devastation and carnage the fire caused in Australia. It’s really sad and one feels helpless in front of nature’s fury, isn’t it? But, there are some lessons to be learnt from this incident. I feel really sad about the devastation caused to wild life. We, the human race can recover well from such losses in time, but, seeing those charred bodies of Koalas is heart wrenching.

    In the end, I just hope that everything gets back to normal. For a moment, seeing all the mayhem on T.V. reminded me of the same sorta scene in ‘The Road’. One can just hope and pray that these incidents don’t occur again.

    Take care, buddy!

    P.S. Can ya suggest some good novels that you’ve read recently and are worth reading apart from the ones you’ve already shared with your readers. It’d be really nice of you.

    ~ Peace ~

  3. Muse – That video is amazing, isn’t it? I’ve watched it several times now and I’m still stunned by the ferocity of the fires and the winds; you can understand why they moved so quickly and did so much damage when you see it like that. The thing I did notice was that no one in the video seemed to be wearing the right kind of clothing to protect themselves; perhaps they were simply unprepared or didn’t realise but if that was true for many people, I can see why there would have been so many deaths and burns in the fires. Perhaps awareness needs to be improved in the future.

    I’ve heard of the Healesville Sanctuary; the work they’ve been doing with the animals after the fires has been amazing. That story about the koalas they’re helping was very moving. I don’t know if they’ll be able to be released again as most of the bushland was burnt out, but the sanctuary will probably be able to support or relocate them. They actually have a list of stories about some of their patients, including one of the koalas who’s making a full recovery. The animals really are the forgotten victims in all of this and I was worried that they might be overlooked; it’s good to know that they’re getting the help they need as well.

    Love is certainly something we could all use more of at the moment, isn’t it? First the fires and the plane crashes, now the earthquake in Italy… it’s been a sad couple of months. Let’s hope the rest of 2009 is less eventful.

    Peace and good thoughts to you, Muse, always.

    Nipun – Thanks for your comment, and thanks for stopping by. I always appreciate hearing from readers and I’m grateful you think so highly of my blog. I haven’t felt up to blogging recently as I’ve had a lot on my mind but so far self-hosting is working for me; it’s been very freeing.

    The fires were awful and the best way I can describe it is that it was like a perfect storm; everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, and when that happened I think there was little anyone could do to stop it. I think you’re right, though, there’s a lot we can learn from the fires. The main thing it has highlighted for me is the danger of climate change; while this might have been rare now, the conditions that sparked these fires might not be so rare in 30 years if we do nothing to reduce the threat. I don’t think you’ll find many sceptics left in Australia after we had savage floods and fires in such a short space of time.

    The other thing is just the amount of value we place upon material goods. So many people lost their homes and possession but again and again you hear them say they were just lucky to escape with their lives, while other people complain about the minor problems in their daily lives. For a long time now I’ve thought we place too high a value on material possessions and I think the fires – and the financial crisis – highlight that. People have lost their lives and homes in the fires, are losing their jobs and security because of the economy; in the end what do our small troubles matter if we have our lives and our family? That’s the lesson I take from this. And that all life is precious, no matter it’s form; in the end, we’re just animals too, after all.

    I haven’t read that much lately but I’d definitely recommend Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. How the Booker overlooked it is beyond me. Also, any of the Pendergast novels by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are great; they’re like a modern day Sherlock Holmes. I’d start with either Relic or Brimstone. I’m also enjoying Robert J. Sawyer’s Flash Forward a lot as well at the moment, and I’d recommend that if you like science fiction.

    Thanks again for stopping by, and let me know if you like any of the books; I’d be interested to know what you think. Happy reading.

  4. Hi CJ,
    I understand completely how you felt – how devastating something like this is. About two years ago, we had a similar thing happen in California – 1000s of acres burned, hundreds of homes lost, lives lost, pets, wildlife – devastating. And too, there was arson involved there as well.

    Suffice to say that some humans simply care for nothing and dont’ care whom they hurt. It makes me wish they would get caught in their own web sometimes.

  5. Hi Annie – The wildfires you’ve had in California have been awful; I’ve been watching them on the news and thinking of you. They just seemed to take on a life of their own and I’m glad they seem to be contained now. They must have brought back memories of the 2007 fires for a lot of people as well. I remember those fires and speaking to some friends in the US as they were happening… it was very like what we experienced on Black Saturday.

    I honestly don’t know what to think about the arsonists that caused some of the fires. I agree that they have little respect for human life and I could care less about their fate… but I also don’t want us to ignore anything we can learn from this to stop it from happening again. I still think many people just want vengeance and putting an arsonist on trial gives people a face to blame while everything else that contributed to the fires is covered up.

    But so many good things came from the fires as well; how people came together, the donations, the support, the friendships… it’s so easy to forget that. I’m trying to focus on that instead while the wounds heal.

    Hope everything’s okay and you’re settling in now after your move. I’m thinking of you and wishing you the best.

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