Australian bushfires..you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone…

The devastating bush fires burning across much of Australia has made this a long and sombre summer for most Australians.  The extent of the bush fires, and the ferocity of those fires is unprecedented.

Today’s  newspaper has a photo of an older man, former owner of a lovely home in a community he and his wife loved; he pointed to the charred rubble on the ground and said…

life was good, and then suddenly there was nothing.”

In December and January many holiday makers go to the pretty NSW South Coast of Australia, and this year we too, intended to meet up with our family there for Christmas.

We cancelled our holiday just before Christmas, and stayed at home. Luckily we did. We had a lovely time at home, and cleaning birdbaths and watering was a daily occurrence.

In early January the fires tore across the south coast, destroying homes, and communities, and with some loss of lives.

The Brindabella Mountains during a hot summer.

Canberra too, is in a fire prone area, and, in January, as the fires continued to burn in National Parks and along the coast, we had to prepare ourselves for the possibility of leaving our homes at short notice.

What do you take when you may be leaving your home for good?  

A suitcase of clothes, essential documents, water, a full tank of petrol in the car, photos, and sleeping bags (where did they go…given away years ago?) USBs, chargers, torches, batteries, candles, matches, the list goes on.

If there is no power, we are back to torches, matches and candles…. the real world!

We have lived in Canberra for over 30 years, and those of you who follow this blog know that one of the joys of living in Canberra is that almost every suburb is surrounded by bush, and the birds, the kangaroos, wallabies are part of every day living for us.

A young kangaroo watching us as we walk up Mount Taylor is spring. (before the drought)

A very important looking Cockatoo, on his/her way to Mount Taylor..

However, this comes at a price during droughts and bush fires season.

Two young Galahs who always stay in family groups, or in pairs.

Communications during bush fire threats are much better these days, it brings a chill to all Canberrans to remember how poor the communication was during the 2003 fires.

These days we have a helpful app called “Fires Near Me” which gives daily and hourly updates on fires in our region.

During the really hot days, everything is quiet,  and the smoke from the surrounding fires is thick in the air. A quality index reading above 200 is considered hazardous to health. On one particular day the reading in Canberra was 5,000, the highest level in the world for that day.

It is a great relief when a cool change comes,  the smoke haze improves (for a while), and the birds come back again.

As the weather clears, the cockatoos fill the skies with their screeching as they swing confidently into the garden to check the almond tree..(miraculously full of fruit).

This  gives us an endearing sense of normality.

Cockatoos feeding in a nearby garden.  Paul says the cockatoos have an App called “Food Near Me”

Needless to say, they and all animals and birds are welcome to any food we can give them.

We live near Mt Taylor, home to many kangaroos, wallabies, birds, butterflies, lizards, insects, indeed, a smorgasbord of animal and insect life. Now, in the early morning and the late evening some kangaroos, one with a joey, come down our street to drink from the birdbaths, and buckets of water we leave out for them.

A group of volunteers called Water our Wildlife put stations of water in the same place daily so that the animals know where to go for predictable water supplies.

 As I write there are no active fires in or very near Canberra, however, we have been in a state of alert since the beginning of  January.  So much has been written about the fires, and so much sadness,  that I decided to just show some photos of our two most loved holiday destinations, both of which are also on high alert..

Kosciusko National Park ..(some contained fires in the higher regions)

This is an area rich in flora and fauna……

A sign near this beautiful Snow Gum (Eucalyptus trees) says “these grandfather trees are two and three hundred years old. Aboriginal tradition says that the spirit of ancestral travellers live in these warraganj (old snow gums)

During all the fires, there is the devastating loss of wildlife, flora and fauna, and loss of habitat for those who survive.

However, this little Pygmy Possum (a mouse sized marsupial) is capable of surviving for almost two weeks by bringing its body down to the low temperatures during times of extreme cold or heat. The biggest threat to this little possum is clearance of the land…another story.

Our second frequent and much loved holiday destination is:

The NSW South Coast ..also on alert..

We have spent many happy days with friends  walking along these pretty beaches solving world problems .

The bird life in this part of the world is amazing, and to see the birds fly between these beautiful spotted Eucalyptus trees, with jet pilot  precision,  is both stunning and a privilege.

The Rainbow Lorikeets are very noisy in spring when they feed off the flowers from the Spotted Eucalyptus  trees…and then reverse into the bird bath for drinks…ever cautious..

 

A walk through a wooded area near the sea..

I hope this young Swamp Wallaby, and others, have found safety..

Firefighters are often fighting for long days with extreme temperatures…no wonder they are sleeping on the ground.

Amongst all that is lost, and fear of what may be lost, is the absolute admiration and out pouring of gratitude for the fire-fighters.

They are the first port of call for wildlife too

this firefighter nearly missed the birth of his son.

The son of fallen volunteer fire-fighter Geoffrey Keaton receives a posthumous award on his behalf, from RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons. Photo NSW RFS

Some firefighters have been killed, most with young families. These families have to grow up without a father, which is a life long sentence.

There is so much more to say about the generosity and kindness of ordinary Australians, the leadership and calmness of RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, and the heartfelt worldwide response, but I will leave that for another post.

Jessica, (blog:  Rusty Duck) will have seen that Kangaroo Island has suffered badly in every way from the fires, and has lost most of its Ligurian honey bees, believed to be the last remaining pure stock of bees found anywhere in the world.

Many thanks to all of you who have sent good wishes, it is lovely to have a blogging community across many worlds.

PS I will write about the gardens in New Zealand in February.

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer bush fires, Port Macquarie, the koala hospital..

Summer can be a fearful time in Australia. This year has seen prolonged drought in many parts of the country, and, with drought comes bushfires..

In 2003 Canberra experienced the worst bush fire in the city’s history.  In one afternoon, 400 homes and 4 lives were lost. A time seared in the memory of all who lived through it.

This eerie smoke filled photo was taken at 3.00 pm in the afternoon in our street, as we all filled cars and prepared to leave our homes.(soon afterwards we were saved by a change in wind direction)

This month there have many  protracted fires in Queensland and northern NSW, and our thoughts and best wishes go out to those affected.

It is heart-breaking to see people confronted with homes burnt to the ground, and animals, and birds, unable to escape the burning flames.

newcastleherald.com.au

Amongst the towns and regions most affected, is one known fondly by my family, the pretty coastal town of Port Macquarie.

Port Macquarie Maps

My parents lived in Port Macquarie, and my brother and his family still live there.

Port Macquarie ..Lighthouse Beach photo by portmacquarieinfo.com.au

We had many happy summer holidays there while our families were growing up.

My parents owned a small house and a very big garden  (some might say a jungle) running down to a creek, and surrounded by beautiful mature Eucalyptus trees.

My Father at the bottom of the garden!

As soon as we arrived for our holiday, Dad would take the girls down to the trees to say hello to the fairies….. when branches rubbed together in the wind.

….this tradition lasted a long time and is a lovely lifetime memory for us all.

(And a big thanks to my brother who kept that lovely garden under control until Mum and Dad died in 2000.)

One of the big attractions for young families visiting in Port Macquarie was Peppermint Park, with all kinds of rides, a big water slide and lots of shady trees  (for parents like me to sit under and enjoy some summer reading)

The water slide at Peppermint Park

The day this photo was taken a koala fell out of one of the big Eucalyptus trees overhead, right into the water slide. He slide to the bottom and ran (koala fashion) back to his tree, no harm done…but much excitement amongst the onlookers!

My parents lived just opposite the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, and  we often walked over to see the koalas. This hospital was established in 1973, and is not only for sick and injured koalas but for research into koala’s health and diseases.

Today, with fires raging,  this hospital is inundated with fire-affected koalas, many in intensive care units being fed formula and having their burns regularly dressed.

Some of the koalas, on the way to recovery, are adjusting to mittens and gloves, which help them to move around while their paws are healing. The photos I have seen of the koalas when they first arrive are heart-breaking, but many recover surprisingly quickly.. as seen with this very healthy looking koala below.

International Fund for Animal Welfare

The Animal Rescue Craft Guild has also been using pillowcases, and flannelette sheets for pouches for young kangaroos and wallabies.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare

The hospital has been overwhelmed with  donations of money, food, towels and pharmaceutical supplies. The money will enable wildlife organisations to distribute drinking stations for koalas and other wildlife in the fire ravaged areas.

Northern Star

This year the fires have begun earlier than usual, and are more widespread, and much more difficult to contain. Although each state has a firefighting service, we could not do without the volunteer fighters; all firefighters  are affectionately known as ”the firies”.

The town of Port Macquarie, thanking ”the firies”  on a smoke filled day.

When the fires are burning, volunteers are needed on all fronts, local people and charity groups are invaluable in providing food and accommodation to the firefighters, and this is often for indefinite periods of time. The people who are left homeless are suspended in an unreal world, often without much money or shelter, to continue a normal life. The kindness of friends and neighbours and other members of the community is paramount.

Daily Telegraph> Northern Beaches

So, many thanks and salute to those who fight fires, and those who help on a voluntary basis, not to mention the reciprocal help and support given by firefighters from California, Canada and New Zealand…..doesn’t that just give you hope for the world?

However, much as Australians understand that bush fires are a fact of life, the amount of bush fires burning across the country this year suggests we are in uncharted territory. It is not sustainable to assume we can always rely on volunteers, and hope that the fires won’t be as bad next year; long term planning is needed …. hopefully both state and federal governments will soon begin serious discussion on future policies and budgets for our changing world.

I have used this David Attenborough quote before, but it’s worth a repeat:

It seems to me that the natural world is a great source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. 

It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living. 

Many thanks for taking the time to read my blog, and may you be warm in winter and cool in summer.

PS: Two koalas from the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital appear in the National Geographic DVD, and these two superstars are called Crescent Head Jimmy, and Oxley Twinkles.

I can’t help thinking my first photo of the cute koala in yellow mittens might be Oxley Twinkles!

Copyright: Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.