Letter from a Fire-Stricken Nation

5 January 2020

By William O’Chee

Many HTBS readers have graciously contacted Louis Petrin and me to enquire about our safety. We are touched by the kindness of the rowing community worldwide and wish to assure you that we are both safe and well.

Louis is at Lake Munmorah, on the New South Wales coast 90 minutes north of Sydney. He reports there was a fire about 5 km away, but it was kept under control, and nobody was injured. I write this piece from Brisbane, which is about 400km from the nearest major fire.

While we are safe, many across this vast nation are not. The bushfires have mainly been concentrated in the forested areas along the Great Dividing Range in New South Wales and Victoria. The fires are largely the consequence of not burning off during the winter, leaving too much fuel on the forest floors.

Some towns have been obliterated by fires, and across large portions of south-east Australia, skies have been red by day and by night, as these television images show.

In a number of coastal towns, people have been evacuated by the Royal Australian Navy. Others have been flown out by Australian Army helicopters.

The great heroes, however, have been the firefighters.  Outside the urban centres, the overwhelming majority of firefighters are unpaid volunteers. Nearly all have been fighting fires for many weeks. Some, like this man, have found their own houses in flames as they have fought fires elsewhere.

These fires will burn for weeks to come, but already the damage is in the billions of dollars.

Readers wanting to help the victims or firefighters can make donations via the Australian Red Cross, or the Salvation Army. Both are maintaining disaster relief funds and are trusted and reliable agencies.

Growing up in Australia years ago, many of us learned a panegyric poem called “My Country”. In it the following lines appear:

Core of my heart, my country!
Land of the Rainbow Gold,
For flood and fire and famine,
She pays us back threefold.

Our battered towns will eventually recover, but that may take many months, if not years.

Both Louis and I thank you for your concern and commend you all to donate to the appeals above.

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