Monday, 9 February 2009


“Death is for many of us the gate of hell; but we are inside on the way out, not outside on the way in.” - George Bernard Shaw

The immensity of the disaster that our bushfires have wrought is interfering with carrying on as normal, although we are all desperately trying to keep on going. Most people are doing something in order to help the victims of the blazes, be it a donation of money or blood ($13 million has been donated already), doing volunteer work, organising help in terms of donations of tents, clothing, food or doing what they can at work or community in order to raise money or help.

The death toll has risen to 173 people this morning, but unfortunately, this is expected to climb even higher as police and fire crews move through the devastated landscape and sift through rubble and ash. The pictures coming back form towns like Marysville and Strathewen are heart-wrenching, these two places already having yielded the remains of 45 people and having been literally obliterated from the map as over 95% of all buildings have been razed to the ground.

Disasters such as these reveal the very worst and they very best in people. The police are investigating arson in many of the destroyed areas and our Prime Minister has characterised these sub-humans as “mass murderers”. Our neighbouring state, New South Wales is currently reviewing arson laws and I think that the time is ripe for a nation-wide revision of these laws and the introduction of more severe sentences to deal with offenders. The Police Commissioner has initiated a massive operation to apprehend the arsonists and our Premier has announced that a Royal Commission will investigate the circumstances surrounding the bushfires and possibly look at redrafting official government and CFA policies regarding the “ stay and defend or evacuate” directives.

Most of the towns affected by the fires were idyllic spots amongst the bushland, with towering, magnificent eucalypts around the town and beautiful native flora undergrowth. These forests provided many an opportunity for bushwalks, encounters with the plentiful wildlife and a respite from the urban hustle and bustle. There, where the creeks trickled in amongst the fern gullies and the cries of the birds provided a constant natural symphony, now only ash and burnt-out stumps of trees. There, where thriving communities were welcoming visitors with their country hospitality and smiling faces, now only rubble and utter devastation. There, where the city folk could go and visit their relatives and friends now only a tragic notice that their loved ones either perished in the flames in a horrible death or that they are still missing…

The present threat to Healesville about 50 km to Melbourne’s Northeast is especially worrying for us, as we have friends living there. They are doing their utmost to protect their property, but have already packed bags, just in case they need to evacuate. This is a terrible feeling, firstly what to pack in a couple of bags, knowing that all that you leave behind may be destroyed by the flames? Then, waiting, listening to the latest bulletins phoning neighbours, relative, friends to tell them that you are ready to leave your home. Healesville is another beautiful town on the outskirts of Melbourne and home to the famous Sanctuary of native wildlife. The toll on the animals, both wild fauna and farm animals in these bushfires must not be forgotten either…

Even as I write this, more than twenty fires keep on burning around Melbourne. Exhausted fire crews are continuing their fight against the bushfires and are relieved by crews that have flown in form neighbouring states, ACT, NSW, Tasmania. New Zealand fire crews have made themselves available and volunteers are also helping as much as possible. Cooler temperatures around the low 20˚C mark are helping also. However, by the end of the week the hot weather will return and firebugs may become active once again, despite the horror of the pictures that their actions reveal. Within each human being there is devil and an angel. Each one of us hovers on the razor thin edge that separates these conflicting identities, and any one of us totter and fall in the abyss of evil or climb tenuously and laboriously to reach the side of the good.

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