Recently, my parents acquired a book put together by their community about the fires and then the floods which swept through the area last summer. People contributed photos and stories of their experiences. The book shows humans doing their best in a world turned totally crazy. On their faces are fear, sadness, determination, and hope.
It is particularly poignant because I know some of the people who lost their homes. I know people who lost 70 head of cattle in horrific circumstances because there was no fire crew available. I know the local fire captain – what a kind man he is and how damned hard he worked for more than three solid months for no salary.
There’s a photo of a fireman lying down on the ground, pointing his hose at a burning shed while being hosed by another fireman to keep him cool enough to survive. The caption explains that inside the shed was another fireman spraying the inside walls to preserve all the hay there – thousands of dollars worth bought in by the farmer to keep his cattle alive during the drought. They saved the shed. They saved their own lives. They saved the farmer. All because they cared. No other reason.
One story (by the local pub owner) tells of how they waited and waited with the sky looking the same dark brown-grey-orange for 4 days and smoke closed in so visibility was no more than about 20 metres. And then suddenly the fire was raging across the valley toward them. There was 3 minutes of terrifying hell and then, by pure chance, the wind direction changed, and the township was saved.
There’s a photo of a gaunt and scruffy looking kangaroo and her joey drinking at a garden water bowl and the caption tells how they drank non stop for 15 minutes.
I thought (as I sat transfixed by the reliving of that terrifying time) imagine if every community effected by last summer’s fires made such a book. And imagine if every community sent their book into Parliament House to the Office of the Prime Minister.
That establishment would have an instant library of books, a catalogue of personal evidence, a eulogy of losses, a song of grief and pain and beauty and comradeship and love and uncompromising hope.
And I dare to bet, our PM wouldn’t read any of them. But I like to think some enterprising public servant would leak the news to the press and it would be an amazing statement that any government might find hard to ignore.