REAL AUSTRALIA

Voice of Regional Australia: Fire season is coming, what have we learned?

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GONE: My childhood home destroyed by fire on November 8, 2019. Picture: Jess Wallace.

GONE: My childhood home destroyed by fire on November 8, 2019. Picture: Jess Wallace.

In the space of a few hours, my childhood home and a lifetime of memories, were gone.

On the neighbouring ridge, a few hundred metres away as the crow flies, my grandparents' place was destroyed too - along with hundreds of others who call the Nambucca Valley home on the NSW Mid North Coast.

The destruction was devastating. Almost a third of the beautiful valley was destroyed by fire. But like so many small communities, despite all the chaos, locals rallied together to support each other when it was needed most.

Almost a year on, and the country's worst summer of bushfires has changed many lives forever.

For my grandparents it has meant never returning to live out their days on the farm - the only life they have ever known.

They've since made the transition to becoming 'townies', living for the first time with next-door neighbours and a garbage collection.

But as country folk tend to do, they're just getting on with the job and working with what they have.

For my parents, the road to rebuilding has been a long and slow journey, thanks somewhat to COVID-19, but more likely to bureaucracy.

For my mum particularly, the journey has its ups and downs and is often peppered with flashbacks to feelings of being trapped to die in flames.

Gospers Mountain Fire, Bilpin, Dec 2019. Picture: Kim Chappell

Gospers Mountain Fire, Bilpin, Dec 2019. Picture: Kim Chappell

But asking for help to move past the trauma hasn't come easily - and she is not alone. According to Beyond Blue director Derek Schoen people in remote areas are six times less likely to seek mental health support than those in cities.

But he says since being hit by the fallout from drought, bushfires and now coronavirus, there is more willingness from rurual people to deal with the mental health effects of a horrible 2020.

And then just like that, we're heading into a new fire season, with regional crews across the country preparing their communities for the summer ahead.

If we've learned anything - surely it's that there's no such thing as being too prepared.

Maybe a common mistake made in the past, which I myself am also guilty of, was not personalising a bushfire risk-management plan.

It's not that we don't recognise there's a risk, we just fail to put ourselves in the situation and so often we fall into the trap of thinking "it won't happen to me".

But, if nothing else, last year's fire season has certainly humanised the devastation that such a naive attitude can bring.

The bushfire danger period for NSW starts on October 1 (although it has already started in some areas) and is expected to run until March 31; and while there are mixed reactions from many landowners to the NSW bushfire inquiry, one thing can be agreed on - fire management practices need to change.

Burrawang Rural Fire Brigade Deputy Captain, Elizabeth Ellis and Brigade Training Officer Phillipa Drewett and several Burrawang residents at a previous fire preparation and firefighting skills workshop. Picture: Supplied

Burrawang Rural Fire Brigade Deputy Captain, Elizabeth Ellis and Brigade Training Officer Phillipa Drewett and several Burrawang residents at a previous fire preparation and firefighting skills workshop. Picture: Supplied

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, many brigades haven't been able to run their events for their usual 'Get Ready' campaigns, instead they are getting creative and taking the training online.

Burrawang, in the NSW Southern Highlands, came up with the idea to launch an online, four-step program to equip residents with life-saving information and help them plan for their own individual situations.

No matter where you live, you can get involved. Visit https://burrawangrfb.org/community-resources/week-one to start week one of the challenge.

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