Right across the Greater Sydney bushfires are burning out of control. Over one hundred and fifty homes have been lost, and fortunately only one life so far. We are currently experiencing hotter than usual weather patterns for this time of year, today’s forecast is 32 degrees Celsius with hotter and windy days to come.
This is the view from the Crago Observatory on top of Bowen Mountain, the fire is approximately 6km away, a change in the wind direction could fan the fires in our direction, it is a critical time with many nervous residents on the mountain preparing for the worst.
Volunteers and firefighters are working around the clock to fight these fires, back burning bush where possible, they are doing a fantastic job, if not for them thousands of homes and lives would have already been lost.
As I watched the glow of the fires over and beyond our valley I listened to the National Radio Station for updates and warnings. A caller by the name of Jeff Cook phoned in to recount his experience of a previous devastating fire which tore across Sydney during the summer days of January, February 1994. Jeff who hails from South Australia was flown to Sydney to help fights these fires as part of the South Australia Country Fire Services (SA CFS), Jeff wrote his experience in a telling poem, and narrated it live on radio as I watched on.
THE BUSHFIRE EXPERIENCE
From the airplane we could smell it as we flew towards the east
While the smoke-filled skies encompassed us our chatter never ceased
We were flying to the firegrounds -our hardened fire crews
Where nature wreaked her vengeance through her fire-hungry fuse
As we crossed the rugged mountains where the pioneers once trod
We couldn’t see the flames for smoke and pondered on our God
Then as we drew to Sydney we saw calamity unfolding
and found them unbelievable, these scenes we were beholding
We were driven via freeways – which you’d think were free from harm
To where we saw the burnt-out outskirts, now devoid of all their charm
Where the city-dwelling people now had stories they could tell
Of how they and all their neighbours had come face to face with hell
There were dramatic signs of what had been, remains of what was lost
Midst the burnt and smouldering forests from which sprang this holocaust
Where the animal and birdlife gave all that they could give
As the bushfires overtook them they had perished where they lived
As we drove on through the cinders through the suffocating smoke
The searing, swirling winds hit us, the ashes made us choke
We rallied at a meeting place, they assigned us to a truck
And as we went to meet the fire we wished each other luck
I can’t describe the horror of the inferno that we saw
Or didn’t see because of smoke, although we heard the roar
Like a thousand locomotives and a million screeching tyres
Plus a furnace all around us as we tried to fight the fires
There was heroism aplenty shown by every person there
For you had to be a hero to breathe that gross and fetid air
filled with burning leaves and ash and smoke, the scream of roaring wind
If hell is half as bad as this, I regret that I have sinned
While the other crews worked with us we could only strive to save
Some houses and belongings which the god of fire forgave
For our puny little hoses against the massive fire’s thrust
Were as sprinklers in a desert of a thousand years of dust
Though we never ever thought that we would see a fire like this
The exercises we had done no longer just hypothesis
But we fought with strengths God gave us and the power of reasoning too
With all our training and our planning telling us just what to do
The locals bought refreshments of coffee, tea and food
But the circumstances of our breaks were hurried, hot, and crude
While we breathed a bit of better air we relived what we’d done
Exchanging tales with other crews of battles lost and won
The camaraderie we found while fighting nature’s worst
Has forged us to a fighting team, so proud our hearts could burst
And we wondered at the kind of heart that lit so many fires
the arsonist with one little match and nature’s multipliers.
What kind of man would put at risk so many lives of others
The families living all around, small children, fathers, mothers?
Could he conceive the heartbreak that he’d precipitated?
The losses that no man could fix would go uncompensated.
For who can replace photographs, or working dogs or pets?
Free children from the nightmare that every night besets?
And who replace the homes, the dreams, restore the memories?
It can’t be done no matter what, for nothing can appease!
* * *
They flew us home in just four days – some lighter by a stone
And all with horror memories of the hell we’d lived alone
With our families far away from us, lungs filled with ash and smoke
And newfound friends and counterparts with whom we’d barely spoke
And every firefighter who had helped us to defend
Had shared so much together we’d be mates unto the end.
Jeff Cook, Minlaton SA 5575 Ph 08 88532237 0407 939994
(written after SA CFS crews went to NSW to fight fires around Sydney)
Thank you Jeff for sharing your poetry with us, your words gives us a glimpse of what it is like to be standing face to face with a burning inferno. A part of our Australian heritage but one will never grow accustomed to.
***Please note that Jeff is happy to share his poetry with others under the proviso that his details are kept with his work***
***Please Respect His Wishes***