This Is What It's Like To Lose Everything In A Bushfire
Shortly before a bushfire ripped through Bobin on the NSW Mid North Coast and destroyed my home, I had planned to meet with local students.
We were set to begin work on a Youth Council, to see the young people in the community given more leadership opportunities. These intelligent, passionate young people were the organisers of the Taree September Climate Strikes. In the midst of evacuation, letting my sheep and working dogs free so they could escape the oncoming inferno, I was able to send the students a message cancelling our meeting.
All they responded with were offers of assistance, support, and -- should the worst come to pass -- a home to stay in.
Well the worst did happen. Our beautiful land, 111 acres of grassland, bush, rain forest, creeks, and our home has been entirely destroyed in a fire started five weeks ago at Dingo Tops.
It’s hard to know how we’re feeling. For a week, all we’ve had time to do is help the community and our friends save their homes. We’ve barely been back to our place in part because there’s nothing left there to save when others are still at risk, but also because years of regenerative agricultural and land management practices disappeared in a matter of minutes and hours.
That hurts to remember.
Our sheep, which are our co-workers in restoring degraded land to health, were fortunate enough to all survive, along with their trusty livestock guardian Maremmas -- Bear and Marloo.
We even had a lamb born last Tuesday -- a little ram lamb who has earned the name Smokey. Both ewe and lamb are now safe and healthy thanks to a fair bit of luck, animal cunning, and the support of local farmers.
A farmer friend drove a three hour round trip to drop us a whole ute-load of feed, which is allowing us to keep them; despite what you might see in the media, livestock can be used to add fertility and biodiversity to soils: repairing, cycling carbon, increasing the water holding capacity of the ground.
That’s where we’re at now.
The wildlife and farm animals will be key in restoring our devastated land back to health. Our farming philosophy is not about maximising a dollar above the natural capital of the land and waterways, its about working with the biology. That hasn’t changed for us. Our rainforest regeneration sites are gone, our eucalypt forests are gone, our agroforestry trees are gone, our pastures are gone (not to mention our home, fencing, and sheds) but this fire has taught us a lot about burning.
Western approaches to burning have created huge swaths of scrubby bush that goes up like a matchstick and we as a country have barely begun to draw on Aboriginal technology, especially where fire is concerned. Our First Nation’s people have over 60,000 years of knowledge about how to live with this land. As Bill Gammage explained in his most recent book The Biggest Estate on Earth, Aboriginal society used fire and the absence of fire to ensure every environment functioned in its most productive state.
They would not have let this happen.
Literally the day before the fire, my husband Simon was trying to organise a partnership between Indigenous teachers, RFS and Local Land Services to experiment in traditional cultural burning and see how it could fit into our holistic management framework for land repair.
This isn’t a political issue. This isn’t about Greens vs farmers or Labor vs Liberal. This is about people and our role in this place we all call home. Bobin has been my home for three years as of November 7 and I’ve never known a community more committed to each other and their homes.
That’s what this is about, no matter where you sit on the political spectrum. With increasing temperatures, degraded soils, plummeting biodiversity and decreasing rainfall we need to be smarter and we need to be more open minded. We need to listen with empathy to what our country is telling us and come together -- city folks, rural folks, farmers, townies, everyone.
Don’t wait until you’ve lost everything to make the changes that could save your life.