SYDNEY: It’s still early summer and fire is an opponent not easily beaten. While weather may be on our side for now, the fickle nature of both fire and climate does not guarantee prolonged safety That’s not even considering next year and the years after.
Now, when the effects of bushfires are bearing down upon us, the trials and tribulations forced upon us do not end.
It is less than two years since the 2018 Tathra bushfires swept across the community of the small New South Wales coastal town, destroying in excess of 100 structures, including 69 homes. Despite such time having passed and no lives being lost, the effects were still being felt in the area even before the current bushfire crisis arose.
We’re now experiencing these events for the second time in as many years, but they still don’t feel real. Even as they unfold, it’s a struggle to remember that elsewhere, life goes on, that in the outside world not everything has been put on hold.
Every aspect of your life is uprooted, you just drop everything and spend days on end preparing, monitoring every piece of information you can find, scanning social media for updates on where your friends and family live, monitoring the fires, hosing down your homes. The waiting is unbearable.
There’s an overbearing sense of dread every time you need to sleep as you’re cut off from all of these sources of information. What if a containment line breaks? What will happen to those I care about when I wake up?
And when it is over, you’re left to pick up the pieces, the only comfort being that you’re not alone in doing so.
I fear this may be indicative of the ordeals that countless communities across Australia will face in the coming months, even years, as healing and recovery take place – but will we even have a chance to recover before the next bushfire crisis?
For many small towns, particularly in the Bega Valley, a significant portion of their business comes in around the holidays, tourism often being the lifeblood of such localities. However, with treasured members of communities lost, businesses reduced to dust and infrastructure damaged, it can take a long time for things to return to normal, if they ever do.
New council restrictions have made it impossible for some businesses to reopen; one of the ravaged caravan parks remains closed to this day as a result.
For a town that relies on tourism, this represents quite a serious blow to all businesses, and by extension, all families in the area. When businesses struggle, so too do employees, and with reduced work and reduced income, many struggling families have and will experience difficulties remaining afloat.
Even in the surrounding areas of the Bega Valley Shire, small businesses have been struggling to endure, with many shutting down in the months leading up to the Christmas holiday period, which was for many their chance to finally recover. The most vital business period of the year has been lost.
With a “tourist leave zone” extending all the way from Batemans Bay to Wonboyn, these communities which have already been devastated will face intense financial hardships right when they are at their most vulnerable and in need of support, perhaps to an even greater extent than the community of Tathra has since 2018.
The tourist leave zone ensures the protection and safety of residents and visitors, and allows communities to manage the demand for resources necessary to protect and care for those who live in the area. But we must also remember that Australia is a nation of mateship – together we thrive, together we prosper and together we can regrow. These communities, especially those not directly and physically impacted by fires such as Tathra, Bega and the areas surrounding them, are in need of this camaraderie and support, now more than ever.
Over the past weeks we have all seen that as a nation we are stronger together. Our communities simply will not survive without the support of our fellow Australians.
It has become increasingly apparent that something must change, this cannot continue, we cannot spend our years fearing each oncoming summer, dreading what they may bring.
This is Australia: hot days should invoke thoughts of beaches and of barbecues, not bushfires and burning towns.
Scrambling in fear and exhaustion to deal with these fires as they arise and then cleaning up afterwards is not sustainable. It will both bankrupt us and break our spirits.
Perhaps what I fear most is becoming acclimated to this, growing to accept it as another part of life, that if things continue as they are, our nation may become desensitised to events like these.
If you have been watching, reading or listening to the coverage of these bushfires, there’s one word you’ve likely heard over and over: “unprecedented”.