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Our Sunburnt Country


Fire Danger Rating: CatastrophicWhen the 2009 Black Saturday fires hit, I was living in the city about 30km from the nearest fire front. I still recall the red eye of the sun as it pierced through a dense haze of smoke, and the acrid smell of burning eucalyptus as it blew in on the hot, dry breeze. For days, total fire bans had been in place across the state, and the fire danger rating was classified ‘extreme’. Back then, that was the highest rating we had.

Even in the relative safety of the city, we were edgy. The authorities had warned us not to leave, like we were in one of those apocalyptic films and were about to experience a nuclear fallout. The streets were quiet. Conversations muted. The air itself charged and expectant.

That night, faces of the missing appeared on the news. The roll call continued the next day. And the one after. And the one after that. My housemate learned the fate of two friends when she saw their photos on the front page of the newspaper. They’d tried to save their horses and never made it back to the dam, that single pocket of safety amid a burning landscape.

The school camp in Kinglake that we’d booked for our Year 7 students was razed. Many parents donated their children’s camp fees to assist with rebuilding the facilities.

Another fire danger rating was added to the spectrum: ‘catastrophic’. A special task force was established to catch arsonists. Regulations were rewritten to ensure houses have fewer trees surrounding them. Residents installed sprinklers on their roofs. Families wrote comprehensive fire safety and evacuation plans.

The country prepared. Next time, they said, we’d be ready.

*     *     *

It’s 3:30pm, and Melbourne has just hit 41 degrees. In some parts of the state, temperatures are soaring as high as 44 degrees. Today’s fire danger rating is ‘extreme’, one notch down from ‘catastrophic’. It feels the same as last time, though.

Our sunburnt country is rearing its head. Let’s hope we hear before too long the drumming of an army, the steady soaking rain.


For emergency updates, tune in to your local ABC radio station, or visit your state or territory’s fire service website.



CFA (Victoria’s Country Fire Authority)

Bureau of Meteorology


Acknowledgements: Dorothea Mackeller, My Country.


8 Comments leave one →
  1. 04.01.2013 3:40 PM

    Excellent post. Very enjoyable. Writing and blogging is something that I enjoy very much.

    Great blog you have here. I’ll be sure to let others know about it for sure.

    Have a great day.

    • 04.01.2013 3:43 PM

      Thank you, Easy Lifestyles. I enjoy writing as well. Glad you liked my post.

      • 04.01.2013 3:56 PM

        I sure did. Feel free to stop by anytime an visit my blog. I have exciting things planned this year for my visitors.

  2. 04.01.2013 7:43 PM

    Some very good points about Black Saturday. On that day I was at Soverrign Hill. There was hardly anyone there and most shops were closed there.

    Stay safe. I have a feeling you are fairly close to where I live as I was roughly the same distance from some of the fires. It wasn’t a fun time for anyone.

    • 04.01.2013 8:46 PM

      Hi Leanne,

      No, it wasn’t a fun time. Sovereign Hill must have been strange that day. It’s eerie when towns shut down like that.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  3. 08.01.2013 11:43 AM

    I vividly remember the days that those bushfires ruined much of Victoria. At that point, I was thirteen, and every night I’d watch the news for updates, hoping that something was going to be done about it.
    With the help of my family, I organised an auction night to help raise money for the appeal, and while the night was full of entertainment and dancing, tears were also shed. I remember how one lady approached me and told me that she had lost two very close friends of hers in the Kinglake fires, and how they would’ve thought the night was an excellent idea and would’ve loved to be there.
    The night was a success; we had nearly 300 people show up and we raised $26,500. It really showed me the willingness of people to dig deep and help out others when in need. The same goes for the way many parents of students at your school donated their camp fees to help with rebuilding. The good that is within people really came out around that time, and that’s what I love about Australians – our generous nature. I just hope that the same can be done for the awful Tasmanian bushfires of the past few days.

    • 08.01.2013 12:08 PM

      Hi chelseainspace,

      From all accounts, Tasmanians are going out of their way to help those still trapped on the Peninsula. I know a few people who live down that way. One family I know had to be evacuated by boat to Hobart.

      As I write this, NSW is in the middle of a day with catastrophic weather conditions. My parents received text messages through the night, warning them to prepare for today. They packed up some essentials early this morning, cleared the gutters, attached the sprinklers to the roof, and now are waiting to hear whether they have to evacuate. No immediate threat as of yet, but if a fire comes, it’ll be quick.

      Fingers crossed the wind doesn’t blow in their direction!

      • 08.01.2013 1:04 PM

        Thank goodness that the Tasmanians are getting the help they need. From my experience, Tassie gets a little swept aside by the mainland.
        I hope that your parents will be okay. Yes, fingers crossed they will be lucky with the wind! They’ve done all the right things to prepare in any case.

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