EXCLUSIVE: Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his firefighting brigade colleagues have spoken to Sky News host Peta Credlin of the “immense” challenges they have faced during this season’s devastating bushfire season.
Serving as a volunteer for the NSW Rural Fire Service for 20 years, Mr Abbott and his fellow firefighters have opened up about the enormous toll the fire season has taken and how communities have rallied together to support each other during the last few catastrophic months.
When my grandmother’s older sister (Mrs Coleman) first came to Mallacoota (ahead of the arrival of my grandparents), she said there was a small band of aborigines, who moved about, burning wherever they went. However, they went with drovers taking cattle from the Bega area to Port Albert for shipping to Tasmania. They never returned.
However, fire was a constant in the bush. Everyone learned to live with it. They had to, as there were no bulldozers, water tankers, aircraft, 4WDs with teams of fire fighters, computer modelling, fire planning, CFA etc.
Bush dwellers of the time had a completely different understanding of the necessity of regular fire in the environment and its acceptance, than that of the majority of people today. Smoke was something we learned to live with. In good weather, particularly the autumn, smoke would lag in the valleys and on the lakes and low lying areas, sometimes making it difficult to navigate on the water.
With the government preferring or directing that burning not take place until after the Easter holidays, some of the best autumn burning conditions are missed. The opportunity to fuel reduce even small areas has contributed to the mess we now have.
Hardly anyone is talking about these numbers yet they show just how far beyond our control the pyroconvective firestorms are and why we need to be so much smarter at preventing them. They also show how irrelevant temperatures onsite are, compared to fuel load and wind speed.
The term unprecedented has been applied to almost every aspect of the fire season across the entire nation.
It has been shocking, tragic and devastating – and it is not over. But the terrible truth is that we have seen such trauma again and again, from Black Saturday in 2009 to Ash Wednesday in 1983, from Black Tuesday in 1967 to Black Friday in 1939, and further back to Black Thursday in 1851. Millions of hectares burned, thousands of properties destroyed, dozens of lives lost.
We have had disasters where more properties have been lost, more area has burned and six times as many people have been killed. We have been told the fires started earlier than ever but spring and early summer is the usual fire season in northern NSW and Queensland, and, for example, we know there were widespread fires in southeast Queensland in the winter of 1946.
Claims by climate scientist Joelle Gergis that rainforests in Lamington National Park were burning for the first time were disproved by reports from the spring of 1951 about fire taking out “2000 acres of thick rainforest country” in the park.
Indigenous fire practitioner Victor Steffensen wants to see a change in the way Australians manage the land.
Brian, you were the first person who told me and then I spoke to Vic Jurskis about it and scientist David Packham. You are the first person who said to me the intensity of these fires burns the humus content in the soil right down to the mineral layer and you then told me that it will rain because we have the flooding rains after the droughts and that topsoil is washed away and floods into the creeks and clogs them up. It’s absolute degradation.
I mean once upon a time, a lot of our areas of our national parks used to be a forested country and the sawmillers had a sustainable industry and they used to manage the bush they used to do a lot of the hazard reduction burning, people tracks open and because they value timber, timber was important. Now, we’ve closed them all the forest industry down virtually.
We’ve locked up the parks we don’t let people into them. We’ve closed all the trails off and our timber just gets burnt and wasted and meanwhile overseas they’re cutting down rainforests to supply Australia with timber. I mean how crazy is that?
The Volunteer Fire Fighters Association (VFFA) is being flooded with offers of support and assistance.
The VFFA has received many inquiries from people who are wanting to:
1. donate money,
2. donate food and water, and
3. provide logistical support and assistance.
The following information is provided for anyone who wishes to support firefighters or the firefighting effort in NSW.
The VFFA congratulates the NSW RFS after receiving a positive feedback story from one of our members.
The 2019 Summer edition of the VFFA magazine is available now in hardcopy, view online or as a download.
As former State Fire Chiefs call for a summit on bushfires, expert and scientist David Packham explains that it has nothing to do with climate change and everything to do with fuel-loads.