This is an eyewitness report from the NowPublic member Rikx who was on the scene.
Australian Wildfires - Black Saturday Reflections - Eyewitness
Black Saturday - Reflections on a Victorian Tragedy - Australian Wildfires
by Craig Parker
Words Copyright © 2009 Craig Parker
Images Copyright © 2009 Australian Broadcasting Corporation
I am one of the lucky ones with the Victorian bushfires. I didn't lose my house. I didn't lose friends or family. I didn't lose pets. Yet I find it hard to comprehend what has happened. I can't begin to imagine or understand the painful loss, confusion and numbness of those who survived. How can we unless we have seen it with our own eyes and experienced the same losses? I therefore believe I and everyone owe it to the victims and the survivors to learn from what has happened and to reflect on our lives and society. For this reason, here I reflect on my experiences during and after the bushfires which are now shaping my desire for a society built upon sustainable goodwill, and which give rise to a number of important questions I believe we must ask of ourselves and others.
Thankfully the bushfires did not reach the cattle and sheep farm on which my horses Pluto and Genie live. The farm is between Wallan and Epping and is managed by my best friend Sammi. We could see glimpses of Mt Disappointment from the property, but not the flames. We could see the billowing smoke which seemed to surround us partially as we looked north toward Wallan, as well as east and south-east along the expanse of Mt Disappointment. On Saturday night we could see the hot red glow over Mt Disappointment, as though Hell had opened up. We convinced ourselves that we would be okay because the wind direction wasn't pushing the fires in our direction, and the typical weather change expected later that day would also most likely push it away. In retrospect this self-comforting was unwise for at least two reasons: the wind direction can change unexpectedly; and since at least some fires were started by arsonists it was possible new fires could have been started down-wind from us.
Nonetheless, we checked the CFA website for fire reports and threat announcements every few minutes, called our friends to ensure they were safe, and checked for fires/ember attacks. I rang friends closer to the fires along Mt Disappointment asking if they needed help. I was told "no, you would probably just get in the way". I did not take offence. They were right. As a city bloke I have had no experience starting a camp fire, let alone fighting bushfires or spot fires. If I had gotten involved, my naivety would have got me killed or, worse, resulted in the death of friends who might have tried to rescue me from my own stupidity. I felt like a duck out of water on the farm as it was, and water is exactly what we didn't have enough of.
I was extremely worried about Pluto and Genie and their safety, because they are like my children. In addition, my house is in Mill Park, which is the next suburb in from the northern most suburb of South Morang. Another large fire had started in South Morang in a bush area along Gorge Road a few kilometres away from my house. There was also a house fire in Mill Park. There was a lot to worry about - so much so that you had to prioritise the worries! I just felt so helpless. I couldn't check on my house without leaving my horses. And if a fire did threaten the farm, there would have been nothing I could do to protect my horses, except open gates. Our fire management plan was to leave, but we also had to think of what we would do if there was no escape. At least our main fire threat was grass fire rather than bushfire, which meant we would have stood a greater chance of survival. We discussed strategies such as driving fast through an approaching grass fire into the burn-out area. (I heard days later how one Kinglake resident used this strategy to save herself and children when she realised they could not continue driving down the main road to Whittlesea.) Being a city bloke, the need to discuss such strategies had never occurred to me, since I am only on the farm on weekends. I would have been a sitting duck – yes, back to the duck metaphor.
The Incident Summary page on the Victorian CFA website (and, to a lesser extent, ABC Radio) was our lifeline. Some friends in Kinglake were also using this website as their primary source of information. Sammi and I refreshed this webpage continuously all day. It lists the location of fires, street names, type of incident, status, size of the fire and the number of units in attendance. It was a worryingly long list which included the major fires such as East Kilmore. Every minute, it seemed, more units were in attendance. But suddenly the list grew to an unmanageable length, no doubt because spot fires were being reported, to the extent that the list literally took minutes to read. It was becoming only too apparent that the fires were becoming dangerous because the fire "type" column on the incident webpage showed terms in addition to "grass" and "other", such as "structure". This could only have meant property was being affected. The list was so long that if you wanted to know about a particular area you had to do a text search. I searched on "Mill Park" and "South Morang" to ensure my house wasn't under threat – it was this way I learned of the fires near my house. I also searched on Eden Park, Wallan, etc to ensure the farm was not under threat.
Some phone calls from friends confirmed that the fires had reached Mt Disappointment. Almost immediately the CFA website incident list multiplied exponentially, with just about every second entry being for Kinglake. I had a sickening feeling when noticing that these entries nearly all said "structure". I heard a few days later that the Kinglake residents had initially thought the fire would miss them. However, the wind change blew the fire up to the densely wooded township of Kinglake. According to a news article in The Australian (http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25059308-5018722,00.html), the East Kilmore started at around 11.30am and quickly threatened to enter Mt Disappointment. The CFA realised that if it reached Mt Disappointment there would be no stopping it. Just before 3pm it jumped the Hume Freeway and commenced its assault on the forest. By 6pm many towns including Kinglake had been destroyed. However, friends in Kinglake said the ember attacks had started by 3pm – around the same time the fire had reached or crossed the Hume.
Lives Lost - What We Didn’t Know
What the CFA website didn't (and can't) show was the human tragedy which was unfolding. I did not associate "structure" fires on the CFA website with casualties at that stage. I had assumed that residents had had time to escape or were defending their properties successfully. Only those in the middle of the fires knew what was really happening. The rest of us were oblivious of the extent of the tragedy until watching the news on Sunday or receiving phone calls from survivors. The website also did not fully convey the valiant efforts of the CFA fire fighters on the ground. There is no question that the impact of the Victorian bushfires would have been much worse were it not for the bravery of these volunteers.
It is perhaps not my place to speculate on issues such as fire warnings, which will no doubt be investigated in the Royal Commission. Nonetheless, we knew the winds would reach anywhere between 70-100 kilometres per hour, and that these would produce spot fires many kilometres from the fire front. It was known that if the East Kilmore fire entered Mt Disappointment it would move fast due to the dry conditions and wind, and that residents would have little warning. Could more residents have been saved if they were warned at 11.30am or soon after there was a chance the East Kilmore fire (or embers) could reach them? Would they have had more time to escape or prepare? If my recall is reliable, the fire threat warning for Kinglake and surrounding areas did not appear on the CFA website until 2.30pm – approximately 3 hours after it started. Does this mean the warning was not made until the threat on the Mt Disappointment forest had commenced or was imminent, rather than pre-empting the threat much earlier? Was it telling that the CFA fire warnings on Sunday covered a much larger area than was apparent on Saturday, even though the weather conditions on Sunday were more favourable? I have purposefully made these questions. I don't have the answers. But I think these are very good questions.
When Sammi and I found out that the fires had reached Mt Disappointment our main concern was for our friends. One friend from Kinglake only just made it out, but had no choice but to leave her horses not knowing if they would survive. Another friend survived by reaching the local Kinglake CFA shed (which was designed to defend against fires, and had fire fighters in attendance) along with 200 other people. One thought which cross a few minds of those inside were they feared all of them would be found later perished. Thankfully they all survived and were taken to Whittlesea by bus on Sunday morning. But I have heard unconfirmed rumours that large groups of residents who gathered in safe-havens in other towns (without the CFA facilities) were not so lucky. I cannot begin to imagine the terror of being in the middle of a fire storm, even in a well protected CFA shed. The fire storm has been described in the papers and on TV. While the mental images from these descriptions are horrific, we can at least listen in safety. The real thing would be … I hope I never find out.
It seems that a number of people who defended their homes were unsuccessful - even those fully prepared. Those who stood a better chance were those with clearings around their houses, often in defiance of Council laws and in spite of fines. These people are now planning class actions against their councils, arguing that if they had obeyed the local laws their properties would have been destroyed, or their lives lost. I heard stories of some who had fought for years to have problematic trees cleared from along roads, only for these trees to fall during the fires to block roads and escape routes.
Perhaps now sanity will prevail. Ecological sustainability (which I am in favour of) must preserve life, not just the environment. Our current ecological policies have resulted in more damage from intense fires than any other human action. Now that I have seen the Kinglake countryside in the aftermath (which I will describe later), no one can convince me that what is now left is better than controlled burning or alpine cattle grazing. These bushfires have a ground temperature of approximately 800 degrees Celsius – 1,000 degrees is enough to melt steel. So how can a bushfire ever be an acceptable risk compared to the fire management strategies of the Aboriginals and the Mountain Cattlemen? How many endangered flora and fauna species perished in these fires? Yes, age-old fire management strategies might result in the demise of some members of an endangered species. In 75 years of the Mountain Cattleman grazing cattle and managing fuel reduction using fire there have been no bushfires. About two years ago, and 12 months after the Aboriginals and Mountain Cattleman were evicted from the alpine regions, this pristine forest suffered the same fate as Kinglake. It would seem to me that our endangered species would stand a greater chance of survival and longevity under the effective management of our native Australians and cattleman. Shouldn't our politicians be learning from them, rather than those whose policy advice results in large scale ecological terrorism? Some of the survivors of the Victorian bushfires have said that the "greenies" were not out there fighting the fires they helped create. I am sure this is not an accurate generalisation, but reflects their sentiment. Again, I am no expert but these are important questions which need answering. And we should be asking moral questions too such as whether a human life is more important than the extinction of an endangered species of grass in our national forests? For many of us, and especially survivors, the answer is simple. Perhaps it is only the survivors who should be asked for the answer?
A Birthday To Remember
On Sunday it was Sammi's birthday. I know it is not how I would have liked to spend mine, so I can only imagine Sammi's mixed emotions. My only thought before Saturday was the threat of approaching 40 and a well deserved mid-life crisis. Instead, Sammi was calling friends to see if they were still alive. Thankfully all my friends survived. Also, we still needed to be vigilant with our monitoring of fires during her birthday. The fires around us were still out of control. The rest of the time was spent watching Sky News and the horrifying tragedy which was unfolding as the day progressed. We knew that many people had been killed, but at that stage none of us could fully comprehend the enormity. I still can't. How do you reconcile the death of hundreds? How do you understand the terror they all went through? How do the survivors cope knowing that many of their family and friends are missing, hoping for the best but fearing the worst? I felt so guilty. On the one hand I was grateful it wasn't me. On the other hand I just couldn't dislodge that heavy feeling in my stomach. It would have been easier to distance myself from the events which were unfolding (which TV broadcasts make only too easy because the images could be from anywhere) in order to avoid the emotional impact. But I also knew that this would dishonour the victims and the survivors. The events are with them forever, and they should stay with us too.
On Monday I couldn't face work and instead went back to the farm. I had spoken by phone to my friend from Kinglake who was planning to rescue her horses from the mountain with Sammi's help. I doubted that I would be of any use, but nonetheless I wanted to try. If I couldn't do something to help all the survivors, at least I wanted to try helping my friend. She had found out from neighbours who remained in Kinglake that her horses had survived, but she did not know their condition and wanted to rescue them. Rationally, going up the mountain would have been at best dangerous. But we should also not discount the emotional side. Our horses are our children, so I knew how important it was for my friend to get to them and, if possible, get them off the mountain. Would you want your human children to remain up there? My children were safe in their paddock. My friend's weren't. I could see that Pluto and Genie were content eating grass and unhurt. My friend couldn't see her horses. I normally feel agonised enough when Pluto or Genie have a minor injury. It would have felt many times worse if they were up on that mountain. My friend needed her horses.
We discovered that roadblocks had been set up, including on back roads which most but locals did not know about. We tried in vain through official channels to get access to the mountain. My friend was being extremely strong even though it was clear that concern for her horses was eating her up. But the continual physical and metaphorical roadblocks were taking their toll. Just as we had started planning "unofficial channels" out of desperation, a friend of hers had succeeded in getting the two horses and was floating them down. Quite miraculously, the only thing which had survived at my friend's place was her float! And it was this float which was being used to rescue my friend's horses. It is like hearing that your children would soon be safely in your arms. My friend's horses are now happy on the farm which Sammi's boss has provided to house equine refugees.
Late Tuesday afternoon road access to Kinglake had been restored to residents. This was remarkable in itself. Later we were talking to another friend who works for the Council and who was the first up the mountain on Sunday morning driving (can't remember what type of vehicle) to clear the road with the CFA. The description of what he saw was horrific. I will spare you this, but likening the fire aftermath to a nuclear explosion (depicted in many movies like Terminator) is as close as I dare imagine. His work with the CFA meant that the three of us (Sammi, my friend and I) could go to Kinglake (so long as there was at least one resident in the car) to rescue another horse - a small Shetland called Napoleon who was okay but in desperate need of vet care. If left untreated, horses can damage the lining of their lungs from coughing. This is potentially fatal. It was also a chance for my friend to see what was left of her house (nothing) and to come to terms with what had happened.
The worst of the aftermath along the main road to Kinglake had been cleared. The majority of the car shells depicted in the newspapers had been removed, although we could see from the discolouration on the bitumen where they had been. I had a feeling of dread as we drove up the road. Mainly what we saw, however, were what used to be trees (largely tall blackened stumps, many of their branches gone, and very few with leaves) surrounded by a thick blanket of light grey ash. The ash is similar to what remains in a fireplace. It would be better described as powder. We could see for miles through these tall, blackened sentinels which had once protected diverse flora and fauna. It is hard to recall how they used to look – lush forests of green and brown. We could have been in another country it looked so unfamiliar.
And you will all have seen pictures of destroyed houses. They are much eerier up close. It is quite surreal. It is just too horrifying to think what you are seeing is real. And much worse knowing there were victims in a number of the houses which were now only rubble. I felt a strange numbness, as though the scene through the car window was merely a TV show. People we spoke to, who survived by defending their properties, said the houses around them literally fell in about 2 minutes. Signs outside some of the surviving houses said things like "We're okay". This says it all. We did not see many of these signs or surviving houses. As at 23 February in Kinglake Australian flags are now flying at houses and locations along the roads where people are known to have perished.
Save The Horses - A Family Rallies
By Tuesday afternoon word had passed around on the website horse forums that there were many other horse parents who wanted to get their children off the mountain. It was surprising how many horses had survived. Typically these were the ones in open paddocks. Unlike sheep which tend to move towards wind (and therefore fire), cattle and horses run from wind (and fire), and also know to go to water such as dams. Horse reaction times are in fractions of a second, and many were able to avoid the grass fires by jumping fences and so on. Amazing animals! Somehow they survived even in completely burned out paddocks, perhaps by jumping the grass fires to reach the safety of burnt patches. For these horses, the main injuries were cut legs, singed tails and nose hair, and hoof/belly burns. Those who perished were often those in enclosed areas such as barns, or those who still had fly veils and rugs on which caught fire. I heard how one person tried to save horses by putting them in an undercover arena with sprinklers. All these horses perished. It seemed that horses stood an equal or perhaps greater chance of survival than humans, so long as humans did not intervene. I don't think this would make me feel any better if I was faced with the prospect of leaving Pluto and Genie to fend for themselves. I hope that I will never have to face that decision.
Through the online forum about 15 horse floats were organised. This was important for the reasons I mentioned above, but also for the health of the horses, who were breathing in and swallowing fine ash. This can cause colic, which is often fatal. When we were in Kinglake I found that I was coughing periodically, no doubt due to inhaling fine particles of ash. So horses would have been inhaling the ash too. The owners also had grave concerns that their horses were not receiving food or clean water, although authorities were endeavouring to address this. Many of these people agisted their horses on Kinglake, but were not residents and therefore not permitted on the mountain. For this reason, police permission was sought and obtained by a forum member for owners to get their horses. It was quite a sight on Wednesday seeing 15 horse floats in convoy up the mountain and pulling into Kinglake. It was shown briefly on Channel 7. Once on the mountain permission was gained from the RSPCA to rescue the horses, so long as we were only taking those who had owners or their representatives present. We managed to rescue nearly 30 horses for their owners.
About 20 of the horses arrived at the farm managed by Sammi. Some received medical care (injections, oral injections of paste and cream on their burns) but many were fine and are now happy in large paddocks with hay. Local vets come to the farm regularly to check on the horses, and have donated their time and medicine. The vets have been wonderful. I am sure that what they have seen has been terrible. Now the horses seem very content. Pluto and Genie are probably feeling rather neglected because most of our attention has been on the refugees. However they seem happy in another paddock with Sammi's horses so that refugees can live in their paddock for the time being. Even Pluto and Genie have been donating!
We did another trip up to Kinglake to help rescue some more horses on Thursday. This was probably the most distressing day, because one farm we went to had a number of carcasses. The smell was terrible, but we kept busy building a make-shift yard, out of gates which survived, into which we could herd the horses. One horse had to be put down while we were there, but ironically this was because it was blind (prior to the fires) rather than due to injuries from the fires. There was no way to save it, and being blind there was nowhere to take it (assuming we could have gotten it on a float). Nobody could catch it. Five horses were rescued from this farm (including a mare and its foal) and were taken elsewhere. Their owner was visibly emotional, but grateful they were going to better homes. On another property we rescued 4 horses for the owners - 2 of which are now at Sammi's refuge. It was something I guess. We can't rescue them all. And some owners want their horses to remain in Kinglake, especially if they have access to paddocks which were not burned.
Friday and the weekend was mostly spent receiving and distributing large deliveries of hay and other horse feed - the majority arriving from South Australia. The Victorian coordinator of this mammoth effort has arranged deliveries by the semi-load directly to distribution points which are controlled and supervised. Why are supervised locations important? In unsupervised pick-up points large quantities of feed have been taken by opportunistic people who are not entitled, or have just gone missing for a variety of possible reasons. The problem is that the authorities do not have the resources to supervise these pick-up points. As a result, many of the feed distributors and other donators are now only sending supplies to supervised locations, where the supervisors know residents and can ensure supplies reaches those who need it. And the majority of these supervised locations are operated entirely by volunteers. Receivers of donations are now required to fill out a form so that the distribution points can log and account for all incoming and outgoing donations.
One of these supervised locations is the farm which Sammi manages. She now has the additional responsibility for feed and horse gear deliveries and administering horse medication. With the help of many volunteers, including survivors, we have unloaded trucks and redistributed feed directly to the areas needing it. I have grass seeds in places unmentionable in polite conversation, together with missing skin on my knuckles from loading and unloading chaff bags. This is a small price to pay when seeing the grateful faces of fellow horse lovers, and their horse children. We made a delivery of 100 bags of chaff to Flowerdale, plus some deliveries up to Kinglake. And there is a large shearing shed filled with horse gear which has been sorted, catalogued and distributed to those who need it. And all this has been achieved by the dedicated work of volunteers who have primarily coordinated through online forums, plus those like Sammi and many others who have worked tirelessly to rally all these volunteers into a coordinated group.
A disheartening aspect of the bushfires has been the (thankfully isolated) incidents of human greed. I have mentioned an example of this already – those who take horse feed who were not affected by the bushfires. There are reports of looters. I liked various signs on some Kinglake gates, including one saying "You loot, I shoot" and another which I can't repeat because it included profanity and appeared to be more directed at the media. There are many other unscrupulous acts. For example, one victim had her pursue stolen, including her relief fund cheques. There are also the well-meaning people who donate unusable items like used shavers still with stubble stuck in the blades, clothes stained with paint, horse rugs which are too damaged to be used, etc. It is well-meaning, but this only degrades the survivors. Luckily most of these items are thrown away by volunteers before reaching survivors.
Thankfully this is more than nullified by the generosity from those in local communities, across Australia and overseas. Even flood victims in Queensland are donating their relief funds to bushfire survivors. Some people have given money directly to survivors to ensure it reaches those who really need it. Some survivors I have spoken to feel guilty or unworthy about accepting this generosity, in spite of everything they have lost. It will take many of them so much time – even to come to terms with the fact that they are survivors. Refuge centres have received so much clothing that there is nowhere to store it. Most places will no longer accept clothing or food donations for this reason. And ironically, many survivors have nowhere to put it all. I can't begin to understand what they are going through. And the most heartening and inspiring thing about many of the survivors is that they too are volunteers helping others. For example, my friend has lost everything and yet is more concerned about helping others. This is what the true human spirit is all about I think.
The Human Toll
Another horrifying aspect of the Victorian bushfires is that the death toll is still not final. (Officially it stands at 210.) I have heard terrible things about large numbers of people perishing in community buildings such as schools, churches and restaurants where people had gathered for safety. I hope these rumours are not true, but I fear they are. The authorities tell us it will take weeks to identify the casualties, and it is only when they are identified that the death toll will be updated. This is horrific. I feel deeply sorry for those who have the task of identifying victims. But even more so for the survivors who can only wait for confirmation. As I have been heard, it is the "not knowing" which is worse. At least when "you know" you can start the grieving process. On one news broadcast I heard them say the toll could be over 300. This is devastating, and probably means that the rumours I have heard might be true. It will most likely be many months before all the horrors of the bushfires will emerge. I have heard only recently that bodies are still being discovered in areas which were thought to have been checked.
A Time For Reflection
The Victorian bushfires have certainly given me reason to reflect on my life and society. The public reaction to the plight of the bushfire survivors has been inspiring. This reaction, together with the terrible human tragedy, highlights what is really important – human life, happiness, love, etc. It also demonstrates the importance of community and how those in rural areas are there for each other, especially in a crisis. I yearn for the connectedness and sense of belonging which seems to typify rural communities, while instead I experience the social dispersion of metropolitan Melbourne. It is typical for us urbanites to live, work and play in different parts of the city. We are connected by our mobile phones and Facebook pages, or through disparity work or social or local groups which are disconnected from one another. But do we really understand what it means to be part of a tight-knit community where face-to-face connections are more valuable and where everyone knows your name? Or do those in rural communities feel this sense of disconnection too?
I find myself contrasting the positives emerging from the bushfire tragedy with the many negatives apparent with the global economic downturn. The downturn has emphasised what I see as significant questions. Is economic growth sustainable? Is it wise for us to live in hope that the economy will bring us prosperity when it can so easily crumble? Should money really be valued more than basic human needs? We talk about "progress", but do we actually ask ourselves "to what end"? Have we even questioned whether there is a better alternative to a financial-based economy? Or has our economy put so much pressure on us to survive on a day-to-day basis that we no longer have the time or energy to question its appropriateness? And would those in power who benefit most from the status quo allow radical change?
I ask myself what an economy could look like if it was based more on social goals (such as those epitomised by the response of society to the bushfire survivors) rather than financial goals. Instead of companies convincing us to consume products and services we don't need and fuelling our preoccupation with material wealth, we would instead be encouraged by companies to pursue socially beneficial activities. Just like the carbon market will arrive at an economic value for carbon emissions, might an alternative economy place similar value on social goals? Should we have the Australian Social (not Stock) Exchange? Could shareholder value be measured based on the amount of social good achieved by an organisation, not its financial value and excessive profit? Organisations such as the Red Cross, RSPCA, hospitals and many others would achieve the most shareholder value. And aren't we all shareholders when it comes to demanding that the welfare of society, and our environment, be held above all else (especially money and profit)? Shouldn't shareholder value be evaluated based on which organisations can best meet our stringent social and environmental expectations, rather than seeing Corporate Social Responsibility as an optional add-on? Or are we so self-absorbed that we would find such goals to be too idealistic? Heck, we put men on the moon! So don't tell me we can't work out a better alternative to a financial, greed-driven economy!
The ultimate question, however, is whether as a society we want to improve. The sad thing is that when it comes to terrible human tragedies, history repeatedly shows that society's impressive ability to rally behind victims and survivors quickly fades. As the next few months go on, the Victorian bushfires, the victims and survivors will receive increasingly less attention by society and the media. For those not directly affected, beyond 12 months we will only think of the victims during annual memorials as we go on with our lives. We will forget about our reflections and the promises we made to ourselves to become better people and value human life above all else. Our desire for a connected, socially-driven community will be a distant memory as we focus on economic survival, our mortgages and the like. We will forget to ensure that the Federal and Victorian governments implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission, as politicians bicker and buck-pass until our attention is deflected, inevitably, to new issues like the economy. I am not purporting to be on any moral high ground here. I have been just as guilty as everyone else in this regard with past disasters too.
What it will take before we will realise that our lives should not be governed by an artificial, man-made, greed-based economy? I include myself here because my values are in need of re-evaluation just like everyone else. The ability for families to put food on the table, our resolve to get kids off the street, etc should not depend on a growing economy and associated job creation. They should not have to wait for a natural or social disaster before the whole of society rallies to assist them. We should not delude ourselves that periodic donations or voluntary efforts absolve us of our responsibility for the welfare of those beyond our family unit. Our occasional appearances at the voting booths should not be the only mechanism by which we can cast out elected members who do not honour these moral duties. And while we might scoff at the doomsayers who predict inconceivable catastrophes which will send us back to the dark ages, I wonder if we are not already in the dark (or blind) ages. It is only in a crisis that we rally behind one another, and at other times we retreat into our individualistic cocoons which blind-sights us into forgetting that we are really part of a much larger social system. If it takes a bushfire to unite us, then our only hope that solidarity, humanity and enlightenment will become the norm (rather than the exception) would be if we had wide scale ecological ruin. Let's not wait for the arsonists and terrorists to bring this upon us.
It is on these issues I now must reflect, and I hope you will too. Look at what we achieved together after the Victorian bushfires. Imagine what we could achieve if our economy and our entire society was build upon sustainable (rather than crisis-driven) philanthropy.
Words Copyright © 2009 Craig Parker
Images Copyright © 2009 Australian Broadcasting Corporation