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AgLife: Catastrophe of fire

As it seemed like Australia had been on fire for months, my mind in recent weeks has wandered back to previous catastrophic events that, as a journalist, I’ve had little choice but to cover.

It’s given me insight into humanity, both good and bad, though like many fire victims, if you gave me my time over again, I would rather not have gone through the experiences.

I’ve covered many natural disasters, from cyclone emergencies when I lived in Western Australia, to floods and of course the many bushfires during the past three decades. 

I’ve even slept under a desk in the office to wake every half hour for another emergency warning. 

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But that’s emergencies at arm’s length. There’s nothing quite like being there, even if in the aftermath.

As soon as I was allowed in, I went into the burnt-out villages decimated by the Black Saturday fires. 

Even now, that smell of fire and death triggers shocking memories. 

I’ll never forget reading messages pinned to a board asking if anyone knew the whereabouts of a friend, messages of grief, hope and sadness, or of driving around Marysville with only a few houses randomly left standing and so many lives lost.

So, it was with some trepidation that I joined a convoy of trucks laden with donated hay heading into Corryong fire complex.

I managed to hitch a ride with a bloke from the Australian Professional Rodeo Association who, with his mates, had found time on their hands after the fires resulted in the cancellation of several rodeos. 

Like so many young country lads he was a man of few words, but obviously gentle and kind and reaching out to get fodder to where it was most needed. 

While he didn’t talk much, there was plenty of country music and talking over the CB radio, which involved an entirely different language that it’s probably best I didn’t understand.

Certainly, it wasn’t as traumatic as Black Saturday. The land didn’t seem to have been burnt beyond recognition and while there were livestock losses, they were remarkably small.

We also seem to have become a lot better organised with fires, with councils quickly setting up evacuation centres, which were filled with donations of clothes, mobile phone chargers, shoes, toiletries: you name it, it was there.

Tallangatta Hall stage was piled high to the point where some goods had to go to another building. 

I’m sure there would be plenty left over, such was the generosity of not just locals, but even people from Melbourne who drove up with trailer loads to donate to those who’d found themselves tragically homeless.

One farmer we gave a load of hay to said she was flat-out organising logistics while her husband was out burying dead cattle.

She was worried about her mental health after she stopped as the enormity of the destruction hit. 

Sometimes it’s just incomprehensible, and as I warned her, the trigger points can hit months, even years later and suddenly the trauma washes back over you.

It’s cathartic even writing this. But may I end on a question. Where are all the hundreds of millions of dollars of celebrity donations going to?

The farming community has pulled together, but will they be forgotten as this unprecedented global response rolls out? Let’s hope not.

The entire January 29, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!

The entire January 29,, 2019 edition of AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!