A green tree and mudbrick home surrounded by kilometres of burnt forest in Upper Brogo NSW.

Well-watered mulberry tree credited with saving home on NSW South Coast from summer bushfires

The ABC reported that when Brett Hawkins returned to his remote property in Upper Brogo, north of Bega, after the 2019 New Year’s Eve bushfires, he never expected to find his home and one tree left unscathed among total devastation.

Living in dense bushland on the edge of Wadbilliga National Park, on the New South Wales Far South Coast, Mr Hawkins and partner Wendy Wolff evacuated as the Badja Road Fire encroached, and spent the night with hundreds of other evacuees in Bermagui, before returning three days later.

“It was apocalyptic,” Mr Hawkins said.

“There was not a tree left, ash on the ground and smouldering embers everywhere.”

But among the blackened trees, Mr Hawkins found his mudbrick house and mulberry tree in full leaf.

Big green Mulberry tree shadowing a mudbrick home.

“I didn’t quite understand it,” he said.

“I could see straight away the house was intact — the roof was intact, but everything else around it was burnt, with the exception of the mulberry tree.”

Water was sacrificed during the drought

In the months leading up to the bushfires in 2019, almost 100 per cent of the state was experiencing some level of drought, and for Mr Hawkins, water rationing became a priority.

“We abandoned watering the garden and opened the gates to let the animals in,” he said.

But Mr Hawkins said he continued to “sacrifice” a reasonable amount of water for the mulberry tree — a decision that would prove critical for the survival of his property when the Badja Road bushfire swept through the area.

Two people smiling under a big green Mulberry tree in front of a mudbrick house.
Bushfire survivors Wendy Wolff and Brett Hawkins under their green Mulberry tree in front of their mudbrick house.(ABC South East NSW: Kate Aubrey)

“When the fire hit the tree, it was a tree that was full of water, and that definitely helped it resist the fire,” he said.

Mr Hawkins believed that by heavily watering the tree, combined with luck regarding which direction the fires came, the full heat of the bushfires was shifted.

“It was incredible,” he said.

“When the fireball encountered the mulberry tree, which is twice the size of the house, I think there was a deflection upwards of the heat.”

Watering the tree helped to resist the fire

Tree expert from the Fenner School of Environment at the Australian National University, Cris Brack, said while well-watered trees can help during a fire, the bigger problem is when trees hold onto their dead leaves — and particularly, oily leaves.

“For example, eucalypts have a waxy coating on their leaves so that stops the tree losing so much water … and when that dries out, it’s quite flammable,” Professor Brack said.

He said pine trees have branches right to the ground which collect dead leaves — a problematic tree in a bushfire.

“Whereas, if you’ve got a tree that’s got a big clear trunk and there’s no dead leaves stacked in the corners … it almost doesn’t matter what it is,” Professor Brack said.

Brett Hawkins watering his green garden surrounded by burnt forest, after the summer bushfires.

Australia must prepare for ‘catastrophic’ natural disasters amid rising threat from climate change

The report into the 2019-20 Black Summer fires, which left 33 dead and thousands homeless, found the cost of the crisis ran to billions of dollars.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Australia must prepare for catastrophic natural disasters by creating stronger peak agencies, better warning systems and faster military deployments to act on royal commission findings that include a stark warning about the rising threat from climate change.

The royal commission into natural disasters calls for new laws to allow the federal government to declare a national emergency and overcome the “confusion” that arose last summer in the use of the Australian Defence Force to rescue bushfire victims.

After eight months of inquiry, the commission on Friday issued dozens of recommendations such as a call for an expanded aerial firefighting fleet to fill a shortage of aircraft because fire seasons have grown longer in Australia and overseas.

The report into the 2019-20 Black Summer fires, which left 33 dead and thousands homeless, found the cost of the crisis ran to billions of dollars and estimated there were hundreds of deaths from the thick smoke that choked many cities and towns.

While the report stopped short of calling for action on greenhouse gas emissions, it warned of more disasters as climate change grew worse.

“Australia needs to be better prepared for these natural disasters. They may not happen every year, but when they happen, they can be catastrophic,” it said.

“The summer of 2019-2020 – in which some communities experienced drought, heatwaves, bushfires, hailstorms and flooding – provided only a glimpse of the types of events that Australia may face in the future.”

The royal commission, led by former Air Chief Marshall Mark Binskin, said governments should act to make the country more resilient by taking new steps on energy and the environment as well as land-use planning, infrastructure, agriculture, infrastructure and emergency management.

“Extreme weather has already become more frequent and intense because of climate change,” it said. “Further global warming over the next 20 to 30 years is inevitable.

“Globally, temperatures will continue to rise, and Australia will have more hot days and fewer cool days. Sea levels are also projected to continue to rise. Tropical cyclones are projected to decrease in number, but increase in intensity. Floods and bushfires are expected to become more frequent and more intense.

“Catastrophic fire conditions may render traditional bushfire prediction models and firefighting techniques less effective.”

The commission cited scientific conclusions that Australia had warmed by about 1.4 degrees Celsius since 1910, with last year being the country’s hottest year on record.

That finding drew praise from Labor, the Greens, the Investor Group on Climate Change, the Australian Conservation Foundation and former fire authority chiefs who called for stronger government action at the height of the crisis last summer.

“Climate change drove the Black Summer bushfires, and climate change is pushing us into a future of unprecedented bushfire severity,” said Greg Mullins, founder of the Emergency Leaders for Climate Action and former commissioner of Fire and Rescue NSW.

Mr Mullins said the findings should mean no new coal or gas projects, but the federal government responded by restating its policy to reduce emissions by 26 per cent by 2030 on 2005 levels.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison set up the commission in February after a political storm over his response to the bushfires, amid claims he responded too slowly while on holiday in Hawaii before Christmas.

But the report said state and local governments had to take primary responsibility for disasters and could not expect federal authorities to “take over” the response when local authorities were closer to events.

On the role of hazard reduction in preventing fires, the commission acknowledged the “polarising” debate but did not take sides in the fierce dispute over whether environmental protections stopped burns that might have prevented last summer’s fires.

Instead, it said authorities should improve “the public’s knowledge and understanding” of fuel management.

The report made no criticism of political leaders or emergency authorities but identified problems in co-ordinating the emergency response between federal, state, territory and local authorities.

“We note that in some states there was an apparent reluctance to seek ADF assistance, or delay in seeking assistance,” it found. “The reluctance or delay may have been due, at least in part, to the apparent confusion on the thresholds for request.”

Mr Morrison deployed the ADF on January 4 at a time when Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews was seeking military assistance to evacuate trapped fire victims at coastal towns including Mallacoota, while NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian was not seeking similar aid.

The royal commission found the use of the ADF should remain dependent on a request from a state or territory except in “limited circumstances” when the federal government declared a national emergency.

While Mr Morrison committed $20 million to new water-bombing aircraft on January 4, the commission found a shortage of aircraft held back fire authorities. This masthead revealed on January 3 the federal government had rejected a 2016 proposal from the nation’s aerial firefighting centre to create a “national large air-tanker” fleet.

Key recommendations

  • Create a national waterbombing fleet
  • Establish a national resilience and recovery body
  • Improve understanding about fuel management and hazard reduction burns
  • Create the power for the federal government to call a national emergency
  • Urgently deliver a new Australian warning system for all disasters

The commission’s report recommended a “sovereign aerial firefighting capability” to share resources across the states and territories, including more air tankers.

While states already have air tankers and helicopters, the royal commission found these were not shared at some points over the 2019-20 bushfire because of the intensity and length of the crisis.

“The limited availability of aerial firefighting resources sometimes resulted in jurisdictions being unable to satisfy operational demands,” it said. “The increasing duration of fire seasons in the northern and southern hemispheres, and the increasing duration and severity of fire seasons in Australia, will make it increasingly difficult to share aircraft domestically.”

The key recommendation was to create a “modest” fleet based in Australia and funded by federal and state governments, while continuing to use aircraft from overseas when possible.

The commission called on governments to “restructure and reinvigorate” their ministerial forums to improve decisions on long-term disaster preparations as well as immediate responses to threats, and said this could be done through the national cabinet.

But it also said the country needed an “authoritative disaster advisory body” to consolidate advice and improve co-ordination between governments.

The commission heard emergency warning systems conveyed 492,938 messages on the fixed-line phone network and 4.2 million messages to mobile phones during the crisis, but said a better system was needed.

“State and territory governments should urgently deliver and implement the all-hazard Australian warning system (AWS),” the report said.

It found states and territories were “slowly progressing” the AWS since the need for a national system was recognised in 2004, and said the new system should apply to bushfire, flood, severe storms, cyclones and extreme heat.

The report noted the way state alert systems, ABC radio and social media helped keep people informed of the fire threat last summer, but said there were “cross-border anomalies” in areas where people were not within range of ABC radio stations.

While it noted the good use of applications like “Fires Near Me” in NSW and “VicEmergency” in Victoria, it called for a national app or at least the use of national standards.

The royal commission hailed the work of thousands of volunteers and acknowledged the financial pressures on many who took time out of work to fight fires and help bushfire victims last summer, but did not propose a full-time payment system.

“We recognise that direct payment does not align with the values of volunteerism,” it said.

It said state and territory governments should help employers so they could release staff to serve as volunteers.

Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud noted the states already had water-bombing aircraft and co-ordinated this through the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC).

Mr Littleproud said he would be taking advice and speaking to state governments on how to act on the commission’s findings.

“We will now need to work with the states to make sure the mechanism around that is done,” he said at a press conference on Friday.

Wynne winners: Standout Indigenous works dominate in bushfire year

My first choice: John R. Walker's
'Fireground 2 (for Matty H)'.
My first choice: John R. Walker’s ‘Fireground 2 (for Matty H)’. CREDIT:AGNSW, JENNI CARTER

The Sydney Morning Herald’s art critic John McDonald reported that a visitor to the Art Gallery of NSW has written to me, saying that after living through last year’s horror bushfires on the south coast, he was surprised at the lack of fire paintings in the Wynne Prize. He was also disappointed that the Salon des Refusés seemed to ignore the bushfire crisis, although it does include fire paintings by Peter Gardiner and Geoff Harvey.

It’s true that the Wynne Prize – which is awarded for “’the best landscape painting of Australian scenery in oils or watercolours or for the best example of figure sculpture by Australian artists”, is not overrun with bushfire paintings, but there are a few. The most notable is John R. Walker’s Fireground 2 (for Matty H), which would have been my first choice for this year’s prize. Walker, who is based in Braidwood, watched the advance of the flames and spoke with the firefighters when they returned from their daily battle.

Walker’s expressionist, semi-abstract painting is based on observation and an imaginative reconstruction of the stories he heard. He has tried to capture the smoke as it billows up from a thousand tiny points of flickering red, enveloping the spindly black remnants of trees.

Another fiery work is Aida Tomescu’s Silent Spring. Strictly speaking, this painting is probably an abstraction rather than a landscape, but it’s breathtakingly powerful. Great smears of white and red suggest smoke and flames while the churning of the painted surface evokes the surging violence of the fires. Even the areas of exposed linen hint at the emptiness left when the blaze has passed. The title, Silent Spring, is a bit of poetic licence, because Rachel Carson’s well-known book of that name dealt with the destructive effects of pesticides rather than fire. Those who got close to the bushfires remember them as anything but silent.

Breathtakingly powerful: Aida Tomescu's 'Silent Spring'.
Breathtakingly powerful: Aida Tomescu’s ‘Silent Spring’.CREDIT:AGNSW, JENNI CARTER

Two other artists who address the topic are Luke Sciberras and Lucy Culliton. In White Christmas, Bell, NSW, Sciberras records his surprise at finding a landscape covered in fine ash and bursting pods, lending a white tinge to the scorched earth. He depicts nature in an orgiastic mood, with swirls and blobs of paint dancing in front of our eyes. It’s a lavish display of energy with scant concern for composition, but I suppose nature does much the same thing.

Lucy Culliton’s Guningrah, Bottom Bullock, is a more subdued effort. Ostensibly a view of a creek and rows of bare, grassy hills, we’re alerted to the presence of the bushfires by the smoky, pink-grey tone of the sky. Culliton has had more difficulty insinuating that smokiness into the foreground, which retains a natural colour scheme.

That makes four out of 34 finalists looking at the fires – a subject that screamed from every news bulletin this time last year. If it seems a small percentage for such a catastrophe this may signify the rapidity with which we try to forget difficult and unpleasant events – a habit that usually guarantees their recurrence. It also provides an insight into the Trustees’ priorities when selecting this exhibition.

In recent years indigenous artists have dominated the Wynne, and 2020 is no exception. Almost half of the show consists of Indigenous painting and sculpture, and it would be difficult to argue it doesn’t deserve to be there. Nevertheless, the Aboriginal ascendency has produced a groundswell of discontent among those who feel the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction. A supplementary prize sponsored by the Roberts family, for the best indigenous work in the show, is interpreted as a mark of special favour.

A major work: winner of the Roberts Family Prize Nyunmiti Burton's 'Seven Sisters'.
A major work: winner of the Roberts Family Prize Nyunmiti Burton’s ‘Seven Sisters’. CREDIT:AGNSW, FELICITY JENKINS

If the lack of indigenous artists in the Wynne once seemed scandalous, now it’s some of the white artists who feel they’re suffering discrimination. In the jargon of Political Correctness, to question the new state of affairs would be an admission of “white fragility” and incipient racism. It may be more realistic to attribute the grumbling to that venerable but elusive Aussie ideal: the fair go.

It’s not possible to approach the Wynne in a colour-blind manner because the Indigenous paintings employ an entirely different visual language. Can one make a meaningful comparison between Nyunmiti Burton’s Seven Sisters, and small, realistic pictures such as those by Natasha Bieniek, Eliza Gosse or Lucy O’Doherty? In terms of scale alone, Seven Sisters is a major work whereas the others are engaging, but modest in their ambitions.

Nonggirrnga Marawili used natural pigments and recycled print toner on bark for 'Lightning and the rock'.
Nonggirrnga Marawili used natural pigments and recycled print toner on bark for ‘Lightning and the rock’.CREDIT:AGNSW, JENNI CARTER

With its almost visceral impact Burton’s picture would be a stand-out in any exhibition, as would Nonggirrnga Marawili’s Lightning and the Rock, and Alec Baker and Peter Mungkuri’s Nganampa Ngura (our country). I was less taken with the winner of this year’s prize, Hubert Pareroultja’s Tjoritja (West MacDonnell Ranges, NT).

This work has grown directly out of the watercolours of Albert Namatjira and other Aranda artists, such as the artist’s father, Ruben Pareroultja. Hubert’s innovation has been to expand the scale of these views and use acrylic paint. The unexpected result is a picture that looks like a surreal dream image of Central Australia painted by Salvador Dalí. In most Aranda views conventional perspective sees the landscape receding into a fuzzy shade of blue or purple, but apart from a glimpse of blue in the centre of the work, Pareroultja has painted his distant hills a bloody shade of red. Tree roots in the foreground and rocky outcrops in the distance are recorded with the same exaggeratedly crisp sense of detail.

Can one make a meaningful comparison between ‘Seven Sisters’ and small, realistic pictures, engaging but modest in their ambitions?

This produces a defiantly non-realistic painting, although it’s not clear the artist set out to deliberately break all the rules. I can’t deny the eye-catching nature of the picture but its strangeness is not at all seductive. The rocky desert landscape appears to be made of raw meat, while pictorial space is flattened out like a mosaic. If the Trustees were intent on giving the Wynne to the most unusual work in the show, they succeeded. Whether it’s the ‘best’ is a matter for debate.

Defiantly non-realist: Hubert Pareroultja's 2020 Wynne Prize-winning painting 'Tjoritja (West MacDonnell Ranges, NT)'.  
Defiantly non-realist: Hubert Pareroultja’s 2020 Wynne Prize-winning painting ‘Tjoritja (West MacDonnell Ranges, NT)’.   CREDIT:AGNSW, MIM STIRLING

Artists such as Gareth Sansom and Guy Maestri have also contributed unorthodox landscapes, but of a more lyrical bent. In The rain song, Maestri – who can look like a different artist from one show to the next – has created a landscape of flat patches of colour, with clusters of rhythmic line and pattern. It feels weirdly randomised, as if Maestri were building a fantasy landscape with whatever elements he pulls out of a hat. It’s a feat of stylisation that defies classification.

In No man is an island, Sansom, by his own admission, has drawn freely on Arnold Böcklin’s famous work, The Isle of the Dead (1880). His original twist is to re-present that melancholy scene, complete with a doomy title from John Donne, in the most attractive colours. It’s not a recognisable Australian vista but a kind of inner landscape: an insight into whatever was passing through the artist’s mind as he sat at home in Melbourne, wondering if the lockdown would ever end. He doesn’t seem to have been taking it too hard.

The Wynne Prize, Art Gallery of NSW until January 10.

Calls for PM to have clear disaster role

Victims of the summer's devastating bushfires are keen to see the royal commissions recommendations.

7 News reported that the federal government should have the power to declare a national emergency, with the prime minister making the call, as part of a more co-ordinated approach to managing devastating bushfires and other natural disasters, a royal commission has urged.

Sparked by last summer’s catastrophic and deadly fires across NSW, Victoria, the ACT and South Australia, the commission has also called for Australia to develop its own aerial firefighting fleet and introduce more consistent warnings and fire danger ratings across the country.

Amid fears fires, floods and other events will become more complex, more unpredictable and more difficult to manage because of climate change, the commission proposed a “whole of nation” response.

Governments at all levels should be engaged, along with indigenous and other communities, to ensure effective disaster management, action and recovery.

“This does not mean that the Australian government should take over from state and territory governments,” the commission said in its report released on Friday.

“Rather, it means that we need whole-of-nation, whole-of-government and whole-of-society co-operation and effort.”

The commission said it should fall to the prime minister to declare a state of national emergency, which would be the catalyst for a more coherent, pre-emptive and expeditious mobilisation of federal government resources.

A declaration would be an important signal to communities and individuals about the severity of the disaster and the need for government agencies, including the defence force, to be on high alert to help states and territories in the response and recovery efforts.

The commission found that states should remain primarily responsible for managing the on-the-ground response to any particular event, at the same time restating a previous recommendation that a body similar to national cabinet be established to take charge of high-level, strategic decisions.

The NSW Rural Fire Service Association said the royal commission had backed a number of its proposals.

“Firstly, we strongly support states remaining primarily responsible for disaster management,” president Brian McDonough said.

“Local knowledge and experience is incredibly important in the management of natural disasters.

“Secondly, we urged the commission to make it easier for states to call on support from the Commonwealth, in particular from the ADF, which has been adopted.”

The RFS also supported the commission’s call for a more consistent approach to bushfire warnings and danger ratings.

The report described the current differences as “confusing, upsetting, and sometimes even dangerous”, with past efforts at reform “disappointingly slow”.

On the question of fuel management, the royal commission said state and territory governments should clearly communicate their fuel load strategies and review legislation to ensure land managers knew exactly how and when they could undertake hazard reduction.

Rather than relying on leased resources, it recommended a national aerial firefighting capability include the purchase of air tankers and helicopters which could be tasked to the areas of greatest need.

Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud said the federal government intended to work collaboratively with the states to respond to the commission’s 80 recommendations.

Fourteen of those are directed to the federal government, 23 to the states and territories, 41 are shared between the jurisdictions, and two are specifically focused on the insurance industry and the Australian Building Code board.

“The royal commission report outlines lessons for us all on how to better prepare for, manage and recover from natural disasters,” Mr Littleproud said.

“There are lessons for governments, essential service providers, insurers, charities, communities and individuals.”

He said the next step would be to call a meeting of emergency service ministers.

“The government does not intend to take a backward step on this. We intend to address these recommendations as quickly as we can,” the minister said.

Last summer’s fires burned through 10 million hectares, claiming 33 lives and destroyed 10,000 homes and other structures.

More than 80,000 head of livestock were killed and millions of native plants and animals were lost.

Indigenous rangers say fire mitigation work under threat after Black Summer bushfires triple insurance costs

A ranger using a drip torch to light fire on bushland

The ABC reported that indigenous ranger groups warn they will be unable to continue fire mitigation work because of insurance premium hikes following last summer’s bushfire catastrophe on the east coast.

A document obtained by the ABC shows the overall cost of insurance has tripled for one northern Australian land council as “risk ratings increased in the wake of the east coast bushfires“.

The Kimberley Land Council (KLC) coordinates Indigenous ranger groups who perform fire mitigation across much of the north-west of Australia, in a region almost twice the size of the state of Victoria.

But this work will not continue “with the current cost of insurance”, the document states.

The irony of insurers’ fire risk ratings preventing Indigenous management of fire is not lost on the outgoing CEO of the Kimberley Land Council, Nolan Hunter.

“Our groups can’t do fire management without insurance,” Mr Hunter said.

“When you don’t keep that in check, the fuel load grows and grows … [and] as a result you’ll get higher wildfires that emit more heat, are more destructive, and create more damage.”

 Eco Beach Resort during October bushfire 2018.
An uncontrolled bushfire threatened the Eco Beach Resort on the west Kimberley coast in 2018.(Supplied: Luke Sutherland)

Indigenous ranger groups from the Kimberley have travelled to Paris and Botswana in recent years to share their fire management skill which can increase biodiversity, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce the risk to property.

“It would be great if people understood that Aboriginal people are leading the way on fire management across northern Australia,” Mr Hunter said.

“Aboriginal people in Australia could have assisted in helping with the bushfires in the east.”

‘Terrible’ fire season next year

Sam Bayley has worked for Indigenous ranger groups for 15 years and is now a consultant with environmental enterprise firm Conservation Management, helping to coordinate conservation work across the Kimberley region.

He said smaller Indigenous ranger groups independent of the land council, including one he worked for, have been hit even harder by fire insurance problems.

“We were told that we weren’t covered for any fire related activity,” Mr Bayley said.

“[It] includes cool season burning, Indigenous fire burning, and suppression activity leading into the fire season that we’re in now.”

Bushfires lead to surge of interest in cultural burning.

Mr Bayley said the catastrophic fires on the east coast and other natural disasters caused the current insurance situation.

“Given the high profile of wildfires over the last couple of years, it’s just gone through the roof,” Mr Bayley said.

“It’s making it untenable for small Aboriginal corporations to undertake fire activities — which is the major part of their job.”

With northern Australia heading into a wet season, Mr Bayley said big risks will come if the insurance problem is not resolved in time for Indigenous rangers to perform fuel reduction burns early next year.

“What we’ll see after the next wet season is the build-up of a lot of fuel and a terrible fire season next year,” Mr Bayley said.

“It could have a big impact — not only on Indigenous Protected Areas and jointly-managed reserves and parks, but also on pastoral stations, infrastructure, and all kind of assets that are in the northern parts of Australia.”

Risks to wildlife

Australian Wildlife Conservancy CEO Tim Allard said there would be major implications if insurance costs prevented fire mitigation work.

“Fire is a part of the Australian landscape,” Mr Allard said.

“You’ll have lightning strikes later in the year. Those fires will start and they’ll burn through millions of hectares.”

Kimberley fire October 2018.
The Kimberley Land Council says fire management can’t be done without insurance, leading to increased fuel load and destructive wildfires.(Supplied: Kimberley Land Council)

A single fire started by arson in the late dry season of 2017 burnt through 3 million hectares of the Kimberley where fire management had not been practiced.

It is used as an example of why small, early dry season fires are so important in preventing huge, hot fires that burn across the landscape.

Mr Allard said research clearly showed that the large, hot fires are bad news for native wildlife.

“It affects the smaller species like your quolls and your bandicoots and your golden-backed tree-rats,” Mr Allard said.

“It’s a major issue from a conservation point of view, and it’s a major issue from a pastoral point of view where fires don’t respect boundaries or borders.”

A small mouse-like critter.
Golden-backed tree-rats are vulnerable to large bushfires that can burn across the Kimberley when fuel reduction burns are not done early in the dry season.(Supplied: AWC)

The ABC spoke to a pastoral representative for this story who said fire insurance was not a direct issue for pastoralists as their fuel reduction burning was done in conjunction with state fire and emergency services, and was covered by government insurance.

But the representative did say pastoralists did work with Indigenous ranger groups on fire mitigation on neighbouring public land.

Mr Allard said the insurance industry needed to understand that by increasing costs for insurance to cover the risks of controlled burning, they were greatly increasing the risk from uncontrolled burning.

“The risks you then develop through not having prescribed burning … [are] those late season wildfires that come and burn entire pastoral businesses, or entire ecological communities.”

Cultural burning on Walbanga country.

Measuring risk

The Insurance Council of Australia’s Campbell Fuller provided a written response to questions from the ABC, saying that bushfire caused property losses across Australia last summer, and this had increased costs for insurance companies.

“Australia is seen by reinsurers as a high-risk jurisdiction for natural disasters and for liability products,” Mr Fuller said.

“This is driving an increase in reinsurance costs, which in turn may be having an impact on premiums for some customers.”

Mr Allard said the insurance industry was not accurately measuring the risk to insurers from the successes of Indigenous ranger fire management, who he said are well trained in Western fire management techniques as well as having cultural knowledge of fire on their country.

“Insurers need to work really closely with land management organisations like Indigenous groups and Australian Wildlife Conservancy to make sure they understand the risk profile and understand how it’s mitigating the risk of late season impacts,” he said.

Western Australia’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) said it was aware of the problem of rising insurance premiums for ranger groups.

It said it was working with the Kimberley Land Council to explore ways to address the issue.

“DFES recognises the important role Aboriginal ranger groups play in conducting mitigation activities across the Kimberley, as well as assisting in firefighting efforts,” the department said in a statement.https://www.youtube.com/embed/RM72NtXxyLs?feature=oembedYOUTUBEIndigenous fire methods protect land before and after the Tathra bushfire

The KLC’s Nolan Hunter said the effective sidelining of Indigenous management of fire on their traditional country by insurance costs is another barrier that Indigenous people will have to overcome.

“Indigenous people are significant in contributing to the management and sustainability in those areas,” Mr Hunter said.

“And fire management is just one of the ways in which we do that.”

New RFS station opens at Crowther

Opening of the new Crowther RFS station.

The Hilltops Phoenix reported that a new Rural Fire Service (RFS) station was opened at Crowther, replacing the farm shed that housed the Brigade’s tankers.

The opening was attended by NSW RFS Area Commander Chief Superintendent Ian Stewart AFSM, Member for Cootamundra Steph Cooke and members from the Crowther Brigade.

Member for Cootamundra Steph Cooke said the new station has allowed the local brigade to house their current vehicles and provide better amenities for volunteers to protect their communities. “I am sure they will be greatly welcomed by the volunteers and the local communities,” she said.

The new Crowther RFS station.

“You only have to look at the last season to see how hard our skilled firefighters and support crews work to keep us safe when bush and grass fires and emergency situations threaten.”

A ceremony was also held to present 11 members of the Crowther Brigade with long service medals and/or clasps. David Johnson was presented a long service medal for his 68 years at the Crowther Brigade.

“Congratulations to all of the medal recipients on their dedication, commitment and service to their communities,” Chief Supt Stewart said.

South 32 helps Wollondilly RFS brigades purchase new equipment

Picture: Supplied

The Wollondilly Advertiser reported that Wollondilly’s Rural Fire Service (RFS) brigades have been able to purchase some new equipment thanks to a grant from South32 Illawarra Metallurgical Coal (IMC).

South32 has given more than $49,000 to RFS brigades in Cawdor, Wilton, Menangle, Appin and Douglas Park, enabling volunteer crews to purchase new items such as lighting, cleaning equipment, thermal imaging cameras, personal protection equipment, clothing, GPS systems and computer equipment.

IMC vice president of operations Wayne Bull said the funding came from South32 IMC’s Community Partnerships Program to help keep communities safe this summer.

“We are very grateful for the work of our local RFS volunteers. They do an amazing job keeping the community safe,” he said.

“All frontline workers, including our local RFS crews, are real heroes. I wish them a safe and successful summer.”

NSW RFS Southern Highlands district manager Superintendent Martin Surrey urged local residents to ensure they are ready for the warmer months.

“It could be another busy season, so we are grateful for South32’s support,” he said.

“We’re ready to help keep our communities safe this summer.

“However, please have your own bush fire survival plan and discuss it with your family. How fireproof is your fire plan?”
https://2894271e50ac9b25fe41dbbee95e936b.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

The IMC Community Partnerships Program was established in 2004 to support community projects and initiatives in the region surrounding South32’s Appin Mine.

For more information about the Community Partnership Program or to apply for funding, email: illawarracommunity@south32.net or call: 1800 102 210.

Wollondilly MP welcomes $192 million fund in response to Bushfire Inquiry findings

The Wollondoilly Advertiser reported that the NSW Bushfire Inquiry recently found that more work needed to be done to prevent another major bushfire disaster.

The inquiry was launched after devastating fires ripped through the state late last year and into the early months of 2020 with findings released last month.

In response to these findings the NSW Government has announced a $192 million fund to purchase new equipment for firefighters, invest in night-time aerial firefighting, enhance strategic fire trails, improve local emergency infrastructure and more.

The funding initiatives are expected to be delivered over the next five years.

Wollondilly MP Nathaniel Smith said this package was just the beginning of the state government’s response to the inquiry.

“These initiatives will fund crucial equipment that will keep our community safe, as well as funding jobs in areas at risk from fire,” Mr Smith said.

The Green Wattle Creek bushfire damaged or destroyed more than 30 homes in Wollondilly earlier this year.

The inquiry found that it was one of the largest and most damaging fires in the 2019/20 season, alongside the Gospers Mountain, Dunns Road, Badja and Currowan fires – all of which were started by lightning.

The report also said that climate change “as a result of increased greenhouse gas emissions clearly played a role in the conditions that led up to the fires and in the unrelenting conditions that supported the fires to spread”.

However, the report said several other factors, including dryness, weather and difficult terrain, also contributed to the size of the fires.

“The 2019/20 bushfire season was extreme, and extremely unusual,” the report said.

“It showed us bushfires through forested regions on a scale that we have not seen in Australia in recorded history, and fire behaviour that took even experienced firefighters by surprise.

“And it is clear that we should expect fire seasons like 2019/20, or potentially worse, to happen again.”

Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said the funds announced today demonstrate the NSW Government’s ongoing commitment to protecting the people of NSW.

“Last season’s bushfires had a devastating effect on the whole of NSW and this funding will go a long way in ensuring we never see the same impact again,” Mr Perrottet said.

Police and emergency services minister David Elliott said the $192 million will be allocated to protecting lives, property and supporting emergency management personnel.

“We are committed to continuing to protect the people of NSW and are funding a range of initiatives to support frontline firefighters, extending hazard reduction works, as well delivering better equipment, and support for the natural environment,” Mr Elliott said.

“We worked closely with frontline agencies to identify priorities to address key recommendations arising from the Inquiry. There is no length we won’t go to safeguard communities from disaster.”

The package of bushfire inquiry initiatives, worth $192.2 million over five years, includes:

  • $36 million for a new first responder mental health strategy for emergency services
  • $23 million in additional personal protective clothing for frontline firefighters
  • $17 million to retrofit NSW RFS and NPWS vehicles and replace FRNSW tankers
  • $8.3 million extension of an integrated dispatch system for the NSW RFS
  • $9.5 million to fund initial priority works for the fire trail network
  • $5.4 million enhancements to the RFS aerial fleet and training facilities
  • $2.5 million improvements to NSW RFS’s Fires Near Me app
  • $2.85 million to deliver critical equipment for 31 multi-agency Emergency Operations Centres

Mr Smith confirmed further measures to address the inquiry’s recommendations would be considered as a part of future budget processes.

NSW grandmother Sue Frost fought off a bushfire in her firefighter husband’s absence. She’d do it again

Sophie Aplin (centre) wrote a poem about defending her home from bushfire alongside her mother, aunt and grandmother.(ABC Port Macquarie: Wiriya Sati)

The ABC reported that Sue Frost says there are good and bad things about having a member of the fire brigade in the family.

“They can prepare you well, but when it comes to the crunch they have to be gone,” the Pappinbarra grandmother said.

But by no means would Mrs Frost, 75, be helpless if a bushfire threatened her home, set amid bushland on the border of the Werrikimbe National Park, inland from the mid-north coast of New South Wales.

A woman in her 70s standing by a wooden fence post, white sky and distant trees behind her.
Sue Frost sprayed water at the wall of fire coming through the forest garden up to the house, and wet down trees near the house and pergola.(ABC Port Macquarie: Wiriya Sati)

Last November, when the Pappinbarra fire raced through the area and her husband, Robert, the deputy captain of the Pappinbarra brigade, was called away, Mrs Frost was forced to defend their house without him.Plan for bushfiresGet handy checklists and find out what you should have in your survival kitRead more

“When you can actually do something, and you’re behind a big gun of water you can use. I can’t say that I was really scared,” she said.

“You’re too busy to be scared.”

Mrs Frost wasn’t completely alone, however. With her were daughters Emma Frost and Angela Frost, and granddaughter SophieAplin, who were living in their own houses on the same property.

Along with their matriarch, they learnt some valuable lessons that day about preparedness and resilience.

“The plan had always been to stay and defend,” Emma Frost said.

The night of the fire
The Frost women on the night of the fire.(Supplied: Emma Frost)

However, Emma said she had no idea how intense the experience would be, and the only way she could get through it was to tell herself to stay focussed and keep going.

At one point, after an exhausting few hours putting out spot fires with the garden hose, the pipe from the pump broke and she had to resort to bucketing water from bins she had filled around the yard.

‘Profoundly beautiful’ night

Emma standing on steep staircase to the the creek holding the large trunk of a burnt gumtree
Emma Frost said the hose from the pump in the creek burnt and left her with no water halfway through the fire.(ABC Port Macquarie: Wiriya Sati)

After the ordeal, left without power, Emma said she laid outside in the trampoline looking up at the burning forest and still full of adrenaline.

Emma wearing snorkel goggles and respirator, red faced and sweaty
When Emma lost her goggles she went into her son’s room to get more.(Supplied: Emma Frost)

“It was one of the most profoundly beautiful nights of my life, despite what a terrible thing it was,” she said.

“I felt so present and at one with the world and what was going on in the environment.”

Emma said her biggest worry had been when she couldn’t see her sister’s house through all the smoke, and had no idea if they were OK until the fire trucks came through later that evening.

“My sister and niece were up in that house with nobody and my mum was up at her place on her own,” she said.

“That was one of the worst things, not knowing how they were going.”

Emma now has a dedicated flat hose and tank for the job.

“I definitely feel a lot more capable now, and confident I would definitely know what to do,” she said.

Frost women
The Frost family feel they could face a similar situation with more confidence in knowing what to do.(ABC Port Macquarie: Wiriya Sati)

Quaama community to get hall back after agreement on bushfire relief centre relocation

The Quaama School of Arts Hall will be returned to community use following agreement for a demountable to be placed in the grounds.

The Bega District News reported that the Quaama Bushfire Relief Centre will be allowed to operate from a demountable building, freeing up the Quaama Hall for community use, following unanimous agreement at the council meeting on October 28.

The general manager Leanne Barnes has been tasked with the development of a deed to allow a portable building to go on site, in a timely matter.

The matter was brought to council as urgent business due to the need to ensure the hall can be returned to community use as a priority. There are plans for a community market day on Sunday, November 15.

Following the bushfires, a community led Bushfire Relief Centre commenced operations from the Quaama Hall to receive and distribute donated goods, and to provide assistance and support to bushfire impacted residents.

However more recently the wider community has expressed a desire to see the hall be more fully available for community use. Council received a proposal for the Bushfire Relief Centre to vacate the hall and continue supporting bushfire impacted residents by operating from a 12 x 3 metre demountable building in the hall grounds for a period of between six and 12 months.

Council has already conducted a ‘Quaama Bushfire Relief Centre Have Your Say’ questionnaire in relation to the proposal. Of the 130 responses received there was overwhelming support – 83 per cent – for Quaama Bushfire Relief Centre to operate from a demountable site office on the Quaama Hall grounds.

Bushfire Relief Centre co-ordinator Veronica Abbott said council advised her earlier this week of the positive response to the community consultation.

“Thank you community for recognising the need for the work to continue and the need for you to have the hall back in use for allcommunity needs and activities,” Ms Abbott said.

In the meantime, it is culling time in the hall with a lot of items being packed up and sent on to organisations for whom the distribution of used clothing and bedding is core activity.

Council said a suitable site for the demountable is toward the western side of the hall grounds adjacent to the toilets, with the demountable building’s narrow side to face Cobargo Street, approximately in line with the front of the hall.

Hours of operation are to be limited by agreement to minimise disruptions to the privacy of neighbours.

Aranda nursery to grow 160,000 trees to aid bushfire recovery

Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife chief executive Ian Darbyshire, Greening Australia's Graham Fifield and Maryanne Bailey and volunteers Peter Fogarty and Kate Murtagh. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

The Canberra Times reported that the Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife chief executive Ian Darbyshire, Greening Australia’s Graham Fifield and Maryanne Bailey and volunteers Peter Fogarty and Kate Murtagh. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

In the Greening Australia nursery in Aranda, trays and trays of pots are being filled with potting mix and seeds of native trees.

Volunteers gather every Wednesday to work together to grow plants that will help revegetate bushfire-ravaged properties throughout the southern tablelands.

The nursery usually grows 120,000 plants per year but thanks to a grant from the Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife, that number will be boosted to 160,000.

Operations lead for Greening Australia ACT and NSW Graham Fifield said threatened species such as the glossy black cockatoo, koalas and swift parrots could eventually find a home in these trees.

“With the recent bushfires we’re finding a lot of fauna is moving out of those burnt areas adjacent to farming land. So it’s really important for us, in combination with with landholders, to provide additional habitat in addition to what sits within the national park system.”

After years of drought, Mr Fifield said there had been a spike in the number of landholders looking for trees to reforest land as Australia enters a promising wet period caused by the La Nina phase.

“The demand is a bit overwhelming sometimes but it’s obviously a good problem to have, people wanting to plant as much as they can, and obviously that’s a very emotive subject, bushfires, as well so people are very keen to do their bit.”

First-time volunteer Peter Fogarty saw the effects of the bushfires first hand as a volunteer firefighter with the NSW Rural Fire Service at Shannons Flat.

“It was just a lot of hard work, putting in containment lines and being there when the fire was raging, seeing the damage, seeing how fast it moved. But since then seeing the damage in a big way, the extent that the ACT got burned,” Mr Fogarty said.

“But at the same time the natural recovery is pretty amazing too. We’ve had the rain so the bush is on its way to recovery.”Volunteers at the Greening Australia Aranda Nursery preparing seeding trays for trees.  Picture: Dion Georgopoulos+5

He finally managed to book a place in the popular volunteer role to contribute tangibly to the bushfire recovery.

Varieties including Blackwood, Black She-oak, Myrtle tea-tree and Ribbon Gum will be grown from seed at the nursery until they are ready to be planted in autumn next year.

The Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife chief executive Ian Darbyshire said the charity decided to put its funding into community nurseries so they could scale up their operations.

READ MORE:

The Aranda nursery will be upgrading the irrigation system, benches and trolley as well as spending the funds on essential supplies such as potting mix, trays and pots.

NSW Premier stops by to thank brigade members for their efforts

Premier Gladys Berejiklian and member for Myall Lakes Stephen Bromhead with members of the Tuncurry RFS.

See the report in the Great Lakes Advocate.

Eden firefighters honoured with Premier’s citation for ‘compassion, courage and generosity’ during horror fires

Rob Aucote, Bernard Wood, Jeff Whiter were presented national medals by Superintendent John Cullen. Photo supplied.

The Eden Magnet reported that  Rob Aucote, Bernard Wood, Jeff Whiter were presented national medals by Superintendent John Cullen. Photo supplied.

The Eden Rural Fire Service has been honoured by the presentation of a number of awards and acknowledgements over the weekend.

On Sunday the brigade was pleased to welcome the Superintendent of the Far South Coast RFS, John Cullen, who recognised the significant efforts made by the members and their families during the unprecedented 2019-2020 fire season, before presenting each volunteer with the NSW Premier’s bushfire emergency citation.

As stated in the accompanying letter from Premier Gladys Berejiklian to each firefighter, “You should be incredibly proud of the part you played in protecting your community when it needed you most.

“Your compassion, courage and generosity have earned you a special place in the history of our state.”

Superintendent Cullen also presented the national medal to three members of the brigade – Rob Aucote, Jeff Whiter and Bernard Wood.

Eden Rural Fire Brigade members with their Premier's citations for the role they played protecting their communities in the horror bushfire season of 2019-2020. Photo supplied.

 Eden Rural Fire Brigade members with their Premier’s citations for the role they played protecting their communities in the horror bushfire season of 2019-2020. Photo supplied.

Eden Rural Fire Service captain Peter Standen said the national medal is awarded for exemplary contribution to the NSW Rural Fire Service, with the three recipients all having contributed more than 15 years’ service each to the town and Bega Valley district.

“Each member was acknowledged for their significant contribution to the NSW RFS and their combined length of service has been over 70 years,” Mr Standen said.

“The recipients had logged over hundreds of hours in volunteer service and Superintendent Cullen thanked each for their efforts.”

Meanwhile on Saturday, the Eden Whalers Australian Football Club presented Eden Fire and Rescue, Eden Rural Fire Service and NSW Forestry with special framed club shirts to express their appreciation for the firefighting efforts of the agencies during the fire season experienced by the community in 2019-2020.

NSW Forestry set to push ahead with post-bushfire logging despite EPA and community concerns

A group of socially distanced people protesting logging in the South Brooman Forest

The ABC reported that new sections of burnt-out native forest in the Shoalhaven have been earmarked for logging less than a year after bushfires destroyed more than 80 per cent of the region’s bush.

Key points:

  • NSW Forestry Corporation wants to log three new areas of South Brooman State Forest
  • The EPA says new logging could breach forestry laws that protect wildlife
  • There are concerns that if logging begins without any bushfire-affected site-specific conditions, it could set a precedent for the rest of NSW

Forestry Corporation of NSW (Forestry) has written to residents outlining plans to log three new areas of South Brooman State Forest but has not indicated whether there will be site-specific conditions post-fires to ensure wildlife habitat protection.

The plans have not been well received by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) and some residents.

EPA chief executive Tracey Mackey wrote an open letter to Forestry and the Department of Regional NSW in September stating that any logging done without post-fire specific regulations would pose a major threat to wildlife and could be a breach of NSW forestry laws.

South Brooman Forest resident Takesa Frank, holding two toy wombats, at the Brooman Campout with anti-logging signs
Anti-logging campaigner and Brooman resident Takesa Frank says logging in burnt areas of the forest will have a devastating impact upon wildlife.(ABC Illawarra: Jessica Clifford)

Brooman resident Takesa Frank has started a campaign to stop any new logging.

“The forest needs time to recover before they come back,” Ms Frank said.

“It’s not sustainable. They’re taking habitat from the wildlife.”

Logging already resumed, conditions breached

Timber harvesting resumed in other parts of the South Brooman Forest earlier this year subject to site-specific operating conditions issued by the EPA to mitigate the environmental risks caused by logging in bushfire-affected areas.

Bushfire fire affected trees in the South Brooman Forest and piles of timber that has already been logged.
Bushfire-affected trees in the Brooman State Forest are being logged already but are subject to strict conditions.(ABC Illawarra: Jessica Clifford)

In July, conditions were breached and the EPA issued a stop work order for 40 days after 26 hollow-bearing trees were found to have been cut down or damaged.

These trees provide crucial habitat for threatened species living in the forest, such as the yellow-bellied glider and the glossy black cockatoo.

Independent MLC Justin Field has joined the community campaign and said he was frustrated that no conditions for the new areas had been set.

“It’s frustrating to me, the EPA is actually saying don’t log these forests under poor conditions, it’s going to destroy the recovery of those forests,” Mr Field said.

“The community agrees with that position and Forestry is trying to come in anyway.”

NSW Forestry defended its environmental record.

“Forestry Corporation is committed to positive environmental outcomes in the forests it manages, while maintaining the supply of essential products such as poles and structural timbers to support rebuilding efforts and local employment,” a spokesperson said.

“Timber harvesting takes place in around 1 per cent of the State Forest each year, which is around 0.1 per cent of broader forested landscape, in line with strict rules to protect wildlife habitat.”

Setting a precedent

There were also concerns if logging under pre-fire rules was allowed in South Brooman it could set a precedent for other fire-affected forests around the state.

“If it’s allowed to happen here they’ll try to do it all over the state,” Mr Field said.

In her letter earlier this year, Ms Mackey recommended a long-term approach to managing the risks of timber harvesting in all post-fire landscapes for NSW but recognised that this was not an easy task.

“The EPA has been working with [Forestry] and NSW agencies to ensure forestry operations are subject to additional conditions to mitigate their impacts,” the letter read.

“As you note, this has not been easy but it does not mean it should be abandoned.”

Forestry had not indicated when they will begin logging the new fire-affected areas of Brooman, but said planning was underway.

An EPA spokesperson said the EPA would be monitoring logging operations at South Brooman at all stages of activity.

“The EPA will not hesitate to take strong regulatory action if the requirements are breached,” a spokesperson said.

NSW bushfire survivor tries cultural burn as Willawarrin community prepares for summer

Karen Anderson looking at the blackened land from the burn on her property.
Landowner Karen Anderson says she has been wanting to do a cultural burn on her property for years.(ABC News: Joel Stillone)

The ABC reported that Karen Anderson was at home making dessert for patrons of the hotel she runs in Willawarrin when the bushfire ripped through the area.

Key points:

  • The Thungutti Local Aboriginal Land Council has recently secured funding to develop a cultural burning team
  • Thungutti man Elwyn Toby says last year’s fire has brought the Indigenous and non-Indigenous community closer
  • A mural of the bushfire, evacuation and fish kills is painted on a fence at the local Aboriginal Land Council to help the healing process

Sixty-six houses were destroyed and 23 were damaged in the deadly bushfires in the Kempsey Shire Council area in the 2019 bushfires.

So this year the publican has teamed up with the Thungutti Local Aboriginal Land Council and the Rural Fire Service (RFS) to conduct a cultural burn on her property.

“Gordon, my husband, he rang me and said, ‘Karen, the police have just turned up. It’s in Willawarrin, we’ve just been evacuated,'” Ms Anderson said.

“He said, ‘Get the hell out of here now.'”

Ms Anderson said the bushfire in the area had created a dangerous pyrocumulus cloud, making the fire more difficult and hazardous to fight.

And suddenly the conditions became “extremely catastrophic”.

Smoke billows out from bushfires over the beach and townships of Forster-Tuncurry in New South Wales
NSW’s Mid-North Coast faced devastating fires last year.(Supplied: Martin Von Stroll)

Willawarrin resident 58-year-old Barry Parsons became the fourth victim of the NSW bushfires after his body was found at the southern end of the Kyuna Track.

“We realised two days after the fire that we lost one of our locals,” Ms Anderson said.

“It was devastating when we got the news. Yeah, it was hard.”https://www.youtube.com/embed/lXk5idKCfpo?feature=oembedYOUTUBEThe Thungutti Local Aboriginal Land Council has secured funding for a cultural burning team, working with non-Indigenous landowners and the RFS.

Ms Anderson’s property was also destroyed, but her house was saved.

“We lost cattle because their throats had been burnt,” she said.

‘Been doing this for 40-plus thousand years’

Indigenous men at the cultural burn.
Practitioners say the traditional fire management method results in a more fire-resistant landscape.(ABC News: Joel Stillone)

The Thungutti Local Aboriginal Land Council recently secured a $20,000 funding from St Vincent de Paul Society to develop a cultural burning team, working with non-Indigenous landowners and the RFS.

Ms Anderson is the first landowner in Willawarrin to try the traditional fire management method used by Aboriginal people over thousands of years. It is said to encourage regrowth, resulting in a more fire-resistant landscape.

“We’re all worried about the upcoming fire season,” Ms Anderson said.

“There’s still so much fuel — everybody’s on tenterhooks — if we can learn how to do this during the right time then we can lessen the risk in the future.

“I’ve been wanting to do this [cultural burn] for years, but I haven’t been game.”

A cultural burn on Karen Anderson's property at Willawarrin west of Kempsey.
Thungutti man Elwyn Toby says the cultural burn on Karen Anderson’s property helped farmers learn the traditional methods.(ABC News: Joel Stillone)

“Landholders need to listen, learn from cultural burning because we’ve been doing this for 40-plus thousand years,” an elder at the burn said.

Leading the cultural burn at Ms Anderson’s property was Thungutti man Elwyn Toby.

“I joined the RFS to show that we could be out there too because we have a bit of knowledge of how fires work,” Mr Toby said.

“I remember … the day when the elders used to light fires, the wind could be your worst enemy and it could be your friend too.

“We utilise the wind to our advantage, we scope the area out.”

Mr Toby said the traditional method to maintain property “should have been done years ago”.

“We didn’t know if any landowners were interested in cultural burn, but with Karen and their property, it was beautiful that we could show farmers which way we burn,” he said.

“I’ve very proud of my community and what we’re doing now with the cultural burn, working with the RFS. Now we communicate … the fires actually made people stronger.

“It made it closer as a community — non-Indigenous and Indigenous — so that was the outcomes of the fires.”

Aerial shot of the cultural burn.
Mr Toby says the elders utilise the wind to their advantage during cultural burns.(ABC News: Anthony Scully)

‘It’s about looking after your neighbour’

After the drought and the bushfires came floods from drought-breaking rain earlier this year, which isolated people in the community.

Dunghutti woman Cynthia Younie said they were cut off for about two days, but they had learnt to look after each other.

“We get regular floods here. We have a good telephone chain, every neighbour rings every neighbour all the way down the Macleay River, just to let them know that there’s flood warnings,” Ms Younie said.

“It’s about looking after your neighbour.”

Indigenous man working on the cultural burn west of Kempsey.
Indigenous elders say landholders need to listen and learn from the thousands of years of knowledge.(ABC News: Joel Stillone)

Her husband, Paul, who is the captain of the Williawarrin Fire Brigade, said the flood caused the ash and debris to wash down the river system.

“So we had black water flowing down with dead fish — there were thousands,” Mr Younie said.

But the town has banded together to clean up, rebuild and heal.

Mr Younie said part of the recovery of the community was to get men together.

“Men are the hardest to talk about their feelings and emotions, a part of allowing that first step in mental health — being resilient doesn’t mean you can’t change,” he said.

“Things I saw during the last fire season … to seek help isn’t a sign of weakness — it’s not a sign of strength.”

‘Four horsemen of the apocalypse’

Thungutti Local Aboriginal Land Council chief executive Arthur Bain said they had painted a mural on their fence to help them remember.

A mural on the fence at the local Aboriginal Land Council.
The mural in Willawarrin is an opportunity for the community to talk about what they have gone through.(ABC News: Joel Stillone)

“An image of the fire coming over the mountain, the evacuation, the fish kills and COVID, so that 10 years down the track people will remember that it really happened,” he said.

“Those images will go up on the fence and in the short-term it’s an opportunity for us all to have a yarn and talk about how we felt during that time and give each other some support.”

Ms Anderson said the community was like her extended family and together they could get through anything.

“Droughts, fires, floods and now COVID … we’ve had the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and we’ve told them to sod off,” Ms Anderson said.

“We’re a resilient bunch of people.”

Women at the cultural burn on Karen Anderson's Willawarrin property west of Kempsey.
Ms Anderson says together the community can go through anything.(ABC News: Joel Stillone)

$1.2 billion of $2 billion bushfire fund spent: Colvin

National Bushfire Recovery Agency National Coordinator Andrew Colvin during Senate Estimates on Monday. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

The Canberra Times reported that the National Bushfire Recovery Agency National Coordinator Andrew Colvin during Senate Estimates on Monday. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

The man in charge of Australia’s bushfire recovery efforts says the journey to rebuild will be a long one, amid questions over whether victims of the Black Summer fires had received adequate support.

National Bushfire Recovery Agency national co-ordinator Andrew Colvin told Senate estimates $1.2 billion of the $2 billion bushfire recovery fund had been spent.

Of that money, the federal government has spent $717.6 million, with $471.8 million being spent by states and territories and awaiting a Commonwealth reimbursement.

When combined with the disaster recovery payments allowances, around $1.8 billion was already on the ground helping communities, Mr Colvin said.

However, he cautioned that recovery would still be slow going, despite the big spend.

“Recovery takes time,” Mr Colvin said.

“We’re just over 12 months from the beginning of the fires, and only eight months past the end The journey is a very long one.”

But Labor Senator Murray Watt accused the agency of misleading the public about the amount of money the Commonwealth had spent on bushfire support.

“Why wouldn’t again why wouldn’t you just be honest with people and say we’ve spent $717.6 million? Why is it good have been inflated to a better higher figure? Is that to make the government look good?” Senator Watt asked.

Liberal senator Zed Seselja said Senator Watt was “quibbling over accounting treatments”.

Senator Watt also grilled the agency over how much of the local economic recovery fund has been used and where it will be directed.

In May, the government announced $448.5 million would be directed toward local projects and recovery but Senator Watt pointed out only $9.9 million – or two per cent – had been spent so far.

The agency responded it was not the only funding initiative available for those affected and that it was reliant on states and territories finalising their priorities.

Of that amount, NSW would receive $270 million of it and is being matched by the state government.

It’s expected the jurisdictions will receive the funding by April 2021.

Separately, Home Affairs secretary Michael Pezzullo was quizzed over a $4 billion emergency response fund which is yet to be used.

The fund, which was created in the aftermath of the last bushfire season, has not been touched, Emergency Management Australia confirmed.

However Mr Pezzullo said the law passed by the parliament required officials to determine if there were other sources of funds available to assist before deploying money from the fund.

Mr Pezzullo said billions of dollars from other funds would have to be expended before this fund could be touched “otherwise I’d be in defiance of an act of Parliament, which I’d prefer not to be”.

He also pointed out it was an endowment fund, which would grow over time.

Sydney news: First photographs show extent of North Head bushfire reduction blunder

A drone photo of a burnt cliffside landscape with the city in the background
Mr Kelly’s drone photos show the extent of the North Head fire damage.(Supplied: Andrew Kelly)

Hazard reduction blunder claims half of North Head

The ABC reported that aerial photographs show for the first time the extent of damage to North Head bushland by a hazard reduction burn that jumped containment lines on the weekend.

Around 50 firefighters battled the blaze in Sydney Harbour National Park on Saturday after it got away from them when the weather changed.

Manly local Andrew Kelly took the photos on Saturday afternoon using a drone, showing how close the fire came to buildings.

Mr Kelly estimated 50 per cent of North Head’s bushland had been destroyed.

Rows of small bushes stripped and blackened, the ocean behind
The NSW RFS said there was no threat to homes in the area.(Supplied: Andrew Kelly)
A burnt cliffside aerial photograph, the city in the background, smoke in the air
Mr Kelly estimated about half of North Head was destroyed by the blaze.(Supplied: Andrew Kelly)

Properties evacuated after North Head hazard reduction burn jumps containment lines

News reported that emergency services have evacuated properties after a scheduled hazard reduction burn in Sydney’s northern beaches jumped containment lines.

Homes and businesses in Sydney’s northern beaches have been evacuated after a hazard reduction burn jumped containment lines.

Crews are working to control the blaze at North Head, which spotted past control lines around 2pm on Saturday.

A Watch and Act warning has been revoked with the fire burning towards the lookout in a south-westerly direction under north-easterly winds.

The hazard reduction burn at North Head jumped containment lines on Saturday afternoon. Pic: 7News Sydney

The hazard reduction burn at North Head jumped containment lines on Saturday afternoon. Pic: 7News SydneySource:Supplied

Emergency services are responding to the blaze. Pic: 7News Sydney

Emergency services are responding to the blaze. Pic: 7News SydneySource:Supplied

It is not currently threatening homes in the area.

Visitors to the national park, as well as commercial premises and residential properties nearby have been evacuated.

Anyone living in the area is advised to remain in their homes and shut windows until told to do otherwise.

Roads and tracks near the fire have been closed and police have requested people avoid the area.

Up to 60 firefighters are working to contain the blaze, with 26 trucks from NSW Fire and Rescue, the Rural Fire Service and National Parks.

Between 10-15mm of rain forecast on Saturday night is expected to help reduce the fire.

Between 10-15mm of rain forecast on Saturday night is expected to help reduce the fire.

Insurers say prescribed burns could help fine-tune premiums

Insurance News reported that as Australians await promised new government investment in natural disaster resilience, insurers say bushfire mitigation efforts may help them “fine-tune” premiums.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in his Budget speech earlier this month that further investment in mitigation projects will be announced in the Government’s response to the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements, which is due to deliver its findings on October 28.

The commitment has been well received by the industry, with the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) saying it supports the adoption of comprehensive bushfire mitigation strategies which can include targeted hazard reduction burns.

“Where hazards have been reduced for an area, the release of updated bushfire risk mapping that shows the reduction in exposure may assist the insurance industry to fine-tune premiums,” spokesman Campbell Fuller told insuranceNEWS.com.au.

ICA says hazard reduction burns can be an effective way of reducing the exposure of properties that are near or on bushfire-prone land.

ICA CEO Andrew Hall says the Federal Government “must take a lead on building a more resilient Australia. A significant investment is required.”

Bushfire and Natural Hazards Co-operative Research Centre CEO Richard Thornton says the centre’s Prescribed Burning Atlas – a new tool to support fire and land management agencies with options for prescribed burning strategies – makes clear there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to prescribed burning.

“What is suitable for the ACT will not necessarily be best around Hobart,” Mr Thornton told insuranceNEWS.com.au. “There is no universal ‘right’ level of prescribed fire because there are competing objectives to be considered, vastly differing ecosystems to be covered, and constantly shifting variables in demographics and land use.”

He says strategies must be tailored to different environments, and the cost-effectiveness of these different strategies can vary considerably between regions.

The windows for undertaking prescribed burning have also shrunk due to drought and climate change, and Australia’s “fickle” weather system means that periods that are too dry can make it too dangerous to burn, while during periods that are too wet little will burn.

“The complexities around prescribed burning are large and growing,” Mr Thornton says. “The number of people and businesses continues to increase in previously empty forested regions, the impact of smoke on communities causes concerns [and] the management of water catchments is important.”

While fuel reduction burns can decrease bushfire intensity, flame height and the forward rate of spread, Mr Thornton says that on extreme high-temperature and high-wind days the effectiveness of most prescribed burning on stopping runs of large fires is minimal, because medium and long-range spotting will see these areas over-run.

“No amount of prescribed burning can reduce the risk to zero. We will always need to accept some risk.”

IAG has launched a “First Saturday” campaign encouraging Australians to complete small tasks to make their homes safer on at least one weekend a month. It says bushfire risk is complex and there are many factors that affect people’s risk.

“Hazard reduction burns can help to mitigate this risk,” an IAG spokesperson told insuranceNEWS.com.au.”However, other factors should also be considered around how to protect our communities, including where we choose to build homes and the standards to which we build them, as well as how we prepare our homes to reduce risk.”

A Senate committee inquiry into last summer’s bushfires recommends the Commonwealth Government allocate funding from the Emergency Response Fund to each state and territory for the establishment of a dedicated hazard reduction workforce.

It says funding should be sufficient to ensure both hazard reduction and ongoing research activities can be conducted on an annual basis, it said.

The SA Government has already moved to increase prescribed burns by 50%, allocating nearly $100 million for the task.

North Head fire: Sydney bushfire causes evacuations, halts Big Brother production

A helicopter at the site of the North Head fire. Picture: Matrix Media
A helicopter at the site of the North Head fire. Picture: Matrix Media

The Weekend Australian reported that an out of control bushfire caused evacuations on Sydney’s northern beaches on Saturday – and forced production crews to flee the Big Brother house.

The fire at North Head, near Manly, started as a hazard reduction burn before turning into an emergency when flames were blown past containment lines.

The blaze sent smoke billowing across Sydney Harbour, leaving a haze hanging over the city.

Smoke from the North Head fire billows in the air over Manly. Picture: Damian Shaw
Smoke from the North Head fire billows in the air over Manly. Picture: Damian Shaw

NSW Fire and Rescue said about 200 people were forced to evacuate from locations close to the fire in the national park, including the historic Quarantine Station.

That included the 50-strong production team from Big Brother – including host Sonia Kruger – which is working on the 2021 edition of the reality show.

The fire at North Head. Picture: 7 News
The fire at North Head. Picture: 7 News
People were evacuated from a number of sites at North Head. Picture: Matrix Media
People were evacuated from a number of sites at North Head. Picture: Matrix Media

“Due to the impact of a prescribed hazard reduction burn at North Head, the Big Brother crew onsite were safely evacuated,” a spokesperson for production company Endemol Shine Australia said.

“Filming is yet to commence and production will resume when it is safe to do so.”

Text messages sent to staff show filming was meant to begin on Saturday, when contestants were expected to arrive on site.

Big Brother host Sonia Kruger was among those evacuated on Saturday.
Big Brother host Sonia Kruger was among those evacuated on Saturday.

On Sunday the Rural Fire Service said the fire was “pretty much contained” after a night of backburning and rain.

It had burned through about 10ha of the national park by the time it was brought under control.

Big Brother 2021 house evacuated due to fire during pre-production

ByMediaweekPosted on October 19, 2020Big Brother Fire

Big Brother production staff and host Sonia Kruger were evacuated from the site

Australia’s most famous house is making headlines again but this time the drama isn’t happening inside, reports 7News.

On Saturday Big Brother production staff and host Sonia Kruger were evacuated from the site as a hazard reduction burn around North Head on Sydney’s Northern Beaches jumped containment lines.

The show is about to start filming a new season, but it’s understood housemates have not yet entered the house. The only people affected by the evacuation were producers, crew, and Kruger.

“Due to the impact of a prescribed hazard reduction burn at North Head, the Big Brother crew onsite were safely evacuated. Filming is yet to commence and production will resume when it is safe to do so,” an Endemol Shine Australia spokesperson said.

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