The view from the house after the fire
One month and 30mm later
Over there in the foothills, things are still tough. Stoic 84-year-old quarry-man, Jim, is still coming to terms with what he’s lost. Thankfully, his son and workers got out just in time but nearly a lifetime’s work went up in smoke that day.
Here on the other side of the valley, we’re just grateful to have been spared.
A couple of dumps of rain have brought summer (and the threat of fire) to an end and while the grass is yet to get moving, it is greening. Groups of cows are being sent on maternity leave, seed is being drilled into tired pastures and we’re cleaning out the calf shed again.
In five years, our little valley has seen fire twice, devastating floods, drought and plagues of grubs. It’s all a bit biblical.
“May you live in exciting times.”
– ancient Chinese curse
It’s all a little surreal. We are still being urged to take shelter from a fast-moving bushfire but the cows are in for the evening milking and the kids are watching Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom. Over a howling south-westerly, I can hear the thudding blades of water bombing helicopters.
All in all, it’s a miracle. After an anxious day spent with friends in town, I can breathe again.
The fires are only about 5kms away but they’re upwind. Just to be sure, the cars are still packed to the gills with our most precious belongings and every few minutes, I trot outside to survey the fire activity.
The cows spent the day in a closely grazed paddock with access to the river and will stay by the dam tonight, in case we lose power and can’t refill the troughs.
That south-westerly change was our salvation but we know it will have been someone else’s menace. Take care.
I woke to the alarming smell of smoke this morning and immediately felt anxious.
But a gentle breeze stirs only the leaves of the eucalypts and there are no malevolent plumes on the horizon. We’re safe for now. The haze blanketing the farm most likely contains the ghosts of the great trees burning at Goongerah, far to our east. There, like here, it is tinder dry and just about everything is flammable.
All the same, the dry here is nothing compared to the drought conditions in New South Wales, where, judging by the news reports, there would be little left to burn.
Wayne shrank back in his seat last night as pictures of gaunt cattle hung on the screen and muttered, “Well, we’ve got nothing to complain about then”.
Just now, I came across an opinion piece titled Australian farmers should not be treated as a protected species and found it painful to read. A drought is like a fire that goes on and on and on and on, eating through a farmer’s soul over months and years. The economics of it – the main focus of the article – are like burns: the real hurt goes much deeper and lasts far longer. Buried in the comments that follow the story is this, from “Australian Pride”:
Well, speaking as a genuine Australian farmer, things couldn’t really get much worse right now.
The seasons have been poor for years now, the climate has gone to hell and it’s getting harder and harder to keep the soil nitrogenised. Morale is pretty bloody low to be honest.
I would think about packing it all in, but farming is all I know. Farming is hard, I lost my father Chaffey was crushed to death while he was fixing some equipment in November. I suppose I feel that I have to go on for him, but when do I say enough is enough eh? That cold beer at the end of the day doesn’t taste so good when you know that your crops are dying and the hand-outs are all you have to live on.
I have kids of my own. One of them watched their grandfather getting crushed in the machinery. How can I tell them that the farm is the best place for them? What kind of future are they going to have? Sometimes I despair. Maybe we should just give it all back to the aborigines?
I wish I had the heart to illustrate so eloquently what the story’s author could not see. But farmers do get through it, somehow. My Dad used simply to say: “You just keep putting one foot in front of the other, one foot in front of the other”.
Please, don’t say you no longer care.