travel and life with lee mylne

The summer Australia burned

It will be remembered as the summer Australia burned.  The year that – for many Australians – Christmas was cancelled.

As I write this, bushfires have been burning out of control across this vast continent for months. Where there are no fires, cities are choked with acrid smoke. Hundreds of homes have been razed and families are facing a Christmas with nothing but the clothes they were wearing, and perhaps – just perhaps – what personal treasures they could fit in their car. Wildlife are fleeing in the face of the fires, if they can.

Catastrophic. That’s the word being used to describe the fires that are burning across Australia. In the past week, families in parts of New South Wales were told “it’s too late to leave” as raging fires tore towards their properties and were advised to seek shelter in “solid structures” wherever they could. Can you imagine how terrifying that would be?  From the safety of my city home, I can’t.

The city of Brisbane, where I live, is miles from the nearest fires but like most of Australia’s eastern seaboard, is often choked with smoke this summer.

Australians are used to bushfires; it’s an accepted part of the hot summers that come every December to February in the southern hemisphere and people who live in bush areas or surrounded by vegetation are schooled to take precautions each year to minimise the risk. There have been terrible, tragic bushfires in other years, with many lives lost, and some phrases that describe them have become accepted terms that are immediately understood: “Ash Wednesday” (1983) and “Black Saturday” (2009).

But this fire season is different. Fires started burning in September and firefighters – most of them volunteers – have battled to contain or control them. We are told there is no end in sight. That the fires could burn for months yet.

Those of us safe in the cities watch in horror on television and social media as the events unfold. Distraught homeowners weep at the loss of their lives’ dreams as they pick through smouldering ruins. Kangaroos bound ahead of leaping flames, and koalas with burnt paws, gasping for water, are snatched up when possible, while other wildlife perishes. We listen as scientists explain that climate change and weather cycles are contributing to the dangerous combination of high temperatures, strong winds, and dry conditions.  Some of us can barely remember when it last rained, as struggling farmers will attest.

And we learn things too. For example, if fires are powerful enough they can cause fire-generated thunderstorms, which happen when rising turbulent air draws in cooler air and causes lightning, high winds and sometimes rain. In some cases, new fires are started this way. The rain seldom falls where it is needed.

Temperatures are soaring into the high 40s (Celsius). It’s the hottest summer on record in many places. As we swelter and choke on the smoke-laden air, health issues are exacerbated for those with respiratory problems. In the cities, families are seeking relief in air-conditioned shopping malls and cinemas. Country folk don’t often have that luxury.

Christmas is just days away, but many people in bushfire affected areas will have nothing to celebrate.  Firefighters are physically and emotionally exhausted, even with help from crews who have flown in from New Zealand, Canada and the USA to support them.

This week, two firefighters died in the line of duty. Geoffrey Keaton, 32, and Andrew O’Dwyer, 36, were both fathers of small children, so young that they will never remember a Christmas with their fathers.

Volunteer firefighters Geoffrey Keaton and Andrew O’Dwyer died in the line of duty in New South Wales. Photo: Rural Fire Service.

Every day, things change.  When I started writing this, more than 100 fires were burning in the state of New South Wales alone. Yesterday, the Southern Highlands village of Balmoral, home to around 400 people, was obliterated. More than three million hectares of this land has burned in New South Wales and Queensland alone.

So how are Australians feeling as the fires continue their destructive and unpredictable paths? Distressed, sad, helpless, certainly. But there is also anger.  Anger at a government that has denied climate science, downgraded policies designed to address climate change, and shown little empathy for those now affected by the continuing bushfire emergency.

This week, that public anger has been fuelled by the revelation that Prime Minister Scott Morrison had gone to Hawaii on holiday with his family. Is that leadership? Not in my eyes, and not in the eyes of many other Australians of all political persuasions. His contention that he did not “hold a hose” or “run a control centre” and that it therefore made no difference where he was is almost unbelievable. Leaders stand for much more than just practical help (witness New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in the aftermath of both the recent White Island volcano eruption and the Christchurch shooting massacre earlier this year).

Prime Minister Morrison was at one time the head of Tourism Australia, where he oversaw a widely ridiculed promotional campaign that used the slogan “Where the bloody hell are you?”.  This week, Australians were asking that of him: Where the bloody hell are you when we need you? In Hawaii??!!

Of course everyone deserves a holiday, but timing is everything. And when I found out that Mr Morrison’s last family holiday, after his successful election campaign in May, was to Fiji, it made me wonder why he isn’t showing his young daughters more of their own country.

Regional Australia – those areas away from the major cities – are crying out for visitors to help them sustain their local economies during one of the worst droughts in memory. Some towns in Queensland have run out of water, which is being trucked in to fill tanks and dams.

Tourist boards are telling city folk that the best way they can help out is to come and visit, spend some dollars in the local shops and cafes. They are urging travel journalists like me and my colleagues to write about their regions to help boost visitor numbers. Why can’t the Prime Minister and his family take up this suggestion, as many other people are doing?

For most of us, of course, Christmas has not been cancelled. We will go on with our plans, bake our cakes, wrap our gifts, decorate our trees, gather our families and friends around us. We’ll also donate to bushfire appeals, and give pause in our celebrations to think about the plight of those less fortunate, not so far away. Around the country communities will rally to cater to firefighters and displaced families on Christmas Day as they have on every day since Nature began wreaking its fiery havoc.

But some families will be wondering where their next Christmas will be, where they will make their new homes, what their future will bring. Others will be mourning the heart-breaking loss of family and friends.

Sunsets this summer have been spectacular. Smoke haze has rendered them other-worldly in their beauty, but that beauty has been tainted by the knowledge of what lies behind them. And when the sun goes down on Christmas Day, when the celebrations are over, spare a thought for the firefighters still out there working their guts out in the heat and the dirt to save someone else’s home.

My Christmas wish is for an end to these fires. For no more loss of life. And for rain.

Wherever you are this Christmas, I wish you a happy and safe festive season.

If you would like to donate to help those affected by the bushfires, here is a list of links from the ABC.

82 Responses to “The summer Australia burned”

  1. bmalzard

    Powerful piece Lee, and I feel for those suffering loss in these terrible times. Let’s hope for rain and respite for the firefighters. Bless them. And for the folk who have lost all, may donations and help ease the pain over the Christmas period moving into 2020.

  2. Prajjidna Daliman

    I’ve suffered the same in October and I know how hard it is living with choking haze caused by bushfire.
    I lived in Indonesia and you must have seen the news about Kalimantan Island thick haze before.
    Wishing that it will be raining soon and you have a great year in 2020.

    • A Glass Half Full

      Thank you for sharing your own experience. Yes, haze from Indonesia sometimes also can be seen in Australia. Thoughts are with you and your countrymen too. Thanks for your good wishes!

  3. civejogarddan

    Dobri ljudi,
    podrzimo te hrabre vatrogasce i ostale koji se danju i nocu bore sa prirodnim katastrofama. Posebno saucesce porodicama, ova dva , tragicno nastradala vatrogasca ostavivsi za sobom dva mlada zivota,svu svoju nadu i radost, koji nece ni zapamtiti , ali ce to sa ponosom i setom spominjati da su ocevi dali zivot da spasu druge, ugrozene ljude.
    Good people,
    let’s support those brave firefighters and others who deal with natural disasters day and night. Special condolences to the families, the two tragically injured firefighters, leaving behind two young lives, all their hope and joy, which they will not remember, but they will proudly and with remembrance mention that their fathers gave their lives to save other, endangered people.

  4. Joanna

    We had rain in the Scenic Rim for two consecutive nights, after so many, many months. Water restrictions are scheduled for early Jan. Thank you for this beautiful post.

    • A Glass Half Full

      Oh yes! Some Christmas rain was most welcome in south-east Queensland, but here’s hoping it falls in the right places and goes even a little way to helping with the fires. Thanks for your kind words. And I do hope you get more rain soon too.

  5. Anita Bacha

    How sad and dreadful to read about the fires and the loss of life of these two firefighters in their thirties! My prayers are with the bereft families and the people of Australia.
    May it rain 🌧 and may you have a Merry Christmas 🎁 and a Happy New Year 🎊🎈
    I am writing from Mauritius. We are having heavy rainfalls here due to cyclonic weather. Let’s pray and hope that the tropical cyclone hovering around the nearby islands spare us.

    • A Glass Half Full

      Thank you for your comment Anita. I wish you a safe and happy Christmas and New Year too – and that you are spared cyclone damage. My home state of Queensland is also prone to cyclonic summers – further north than where I live. But we are well aware of what cyclones can bring with them. Stay safe!

  6. hinds2526

    I will wish for the same thing..Its one of the saddest thing to see! I hope the fires will end soon. Thanks so much for sharing this!

  7. Anonymous

    Similar kind of sad things that happened across the world. All the people in the worlds has to play a role to reduce the carbon so that we can avoid such incidents in future.
    Let’s pray for the rain….

  8. Anonymous

    Such a sad thing things happened across the world. It is a time for all the people to play a role to control the carbon emission.

    We wish for a rain at the earliest.

  9. Mario Guerra

    I am deeply affected and saddened by this catastrophic fire in Australia. My condolences to those brave firefighters who lost there lives in the line of duty. My prayers go out to the families suffering from the fires. I will do my best to spread the news and bring hope to Australia. I pray for rain to put out the fires and bring peace to Australia. God be with you all.

  10. Ritch

    I feel for your people who are suffering right now. I declare rain and protection for those fire fighter volunteers. Take care ❤

  11. guidingparadox

    It truly is important for us all to remember all that is plightful in the world to truly feel privileged for the peace and harmony we live in

  12. Aakriti

    Truly said people living in cities cant imagine the plight of country people.
    The climate change is wreaking havoc everywhere and it is high time that governments start sustainable development practices.

  13. knsander97

    Please let it rain and those fires stop burning Australia.
    I come from the West coast of Australia and it sickens me to see such destruction.

  14. papagtom

    I feel what you are going through. In southern Oregon in the U.S. where I live, fo 3 months (all summer) we were choking on forest fire smoke. It was so bad, most days we couldn’t see the house across the street.

  15. Cindy Gelpi

    Heartbreaking destruction! California, where two of my daughters live, experienced similar devastation last year, although not on the same scale and not during the Christmas season. My heart goes out to the victims of this destruction. May the leaders of the free world who deny man’s part in this climate disaster be voted out soon, so we as a world can join together and make climate friendly policies to counter this situation. Thanks for such a informative article.

  16. Glenda Council Beall

    Excellent post. Such devastation from fire is beyond understanding unless you have been a victim, I think. My niece lost her home to a forest fire in California. I evacuated from my home due to a large fire approaching me. Thankfully, it did not reach my house but our community was very frightened. This was very informative and I agree about leadership around the world that closes eyes to these kinds of catastrophes.

    • A Glass Half Full

      Thank you for your comment. I’m so sorry to hear that your family has been affected by fires in California, which of course we heard about here in Australia.

  17. Michelle Giles

    Thank you for your post. I am so saddened to hear of this tragedy. My sincere condolences and prayers are with all those who are suffering and have lost loved ones because of these fires! Looking forward to the bibles promise at Rev 21:4, “And death will be no more, neither will mourning, nor outcry, nor pain, the former things have passed away”.

    • A Glass Half Full

      Thank you Helen. Yes, I have read that NY Times piece – it is being widely shared on social networks. Now we have 23 people who have died in the fires…and nearly half a billion animals. Just tragic.

      • Helen Cherry

        and many more are predicted to die at a later date because of loss of habitat.. Our politicians need to wake up, start taking action and stop being in the pockets of the big oil and coal giants.

  18. passionateperseverance

    When Notre Dame burned, millionaires and billionaires alike rushed to its aid. Whilst it was sad, it was a building, that CAN be rebuilt. The Australian people and their beautiful wildlife deserve better. Powerful post and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. My thoughts and prayers are with Australia as well as my donations. I encourage others to give what they can too, all the best for 2020.

    • A Glass Half Full

      Thank you so much! It is very heartening to see how people all over the world are holding Australia in their hearts right now. And the donations help too!

      • passionateperseverance

        When someone in the world is hurting, we too should hurt and in cases like this empathy is not enough, action is needed. You’re very welcome!😊Loving your blog, keep it up.

  19. Ice

    I wish for Australians a speedy recovery from this nightmarish situation. May those who have homes freely welcome the now homeless.❤💪🙏

    • A Glass Half Full

      A lovely sentiment, and something that is definitely happening…many people are opening their homes to those who have lost theirs. Thanks for your comment.

  20. Penny Ramsdale

    A very powerful, sobering piece, Lee. My heart goes out to all those affected by the bushfires, and those brave firies, putting their own lives on the line on a daily basis. It is just so tragic. We are even getting the smoke here in New Zealand.
    Lots of love from New Zealand x

    • A Glass Half Full

      Thank you Penny. I’ve seen the television images of Auckland swathed in smoke – hard to believe, isn’t it? It’s cooler here today, but the fires burn on, and are expected to do so for months yet.

  21. Dave Gardner

    I have a few digital friends there and I can only imagine the destruction and hopeless feeling of losing everything. I am particularly saddened by the loss of the firefighters’s lives in your story, particularly during the holidays. I hope things get better there. Sending good thoughts.

    • A Glass Half Full

      Thank you Dave. Sadly, there have been more deaths of firefighters since I wrote this piece. Now it is raining…and there are floods to contend with too, in some areas. I hope things get better soon too.


    My thoughts and prayers are with Australia. (My family home-country as well). Thank you for writing such a important piece. I remember the “where the bloody hell are you?” campaign and too right for that to be referenced back.

  23. wordlywoman2

    Mother nature sent in her own fire brigade over the weekend and put out some of the fires with a deluge, now there is flash flooding and more evacuations. There are still people in the burnt out areas waiting to receive help. Just who’s in charge is anyone’s guess.

    • A Glass Half Full

      The last few days of rain have been welcome in many areas, but it seems that if it’s not one thing, it’s another. Flooding is as devastating as fire in some cases, and those affected do appear to be waiting far too long for help.

    • A Glass Half Full

      Thank you. Rain over the past few days has really helped, putting out many fires in New South Wales. We can only hope and pray for more, in the right places.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: