AUSTRALIA: Farming communities ravaged by a bushfire event of biblical proportions in north-western NSW are being redeemed by a religious blessing – there but for the grace of God go I – that typifies the spirit of rural Australians, says Parkes federal Nationals MP Mark Coulton.
The brutal inferno struck during an extreme heat event that scorched the state over the weekend of February 11 and 12.
It razed an estimated 55,000 hectares of farming-land east of Dunedoo, destroying vital agricultural infrastructure like sheds, machinery and homes, about 5500 kilometres of fencing and more than 5000 head of sheep and cattle, with the loss count continuing.
Mr Coulton said he was flying overhead to observe the massive bushfire which produced smoke clouds stretching 20,000 feet high and generated lightning, creating a unique weather event all of its own, due to the potent cocktail of surging natural forces.
Ive never seen anything like it, he said of the ferocious fire-cloud technically known as pyro-convective.
It was an event beyond the control of mankind and it was a miracle that nobody was killed.
Its hard to imagine more complete destruction and I dont think there was anything that could have been done to prepare for it, or stop it.
Most of the homes and the machinery were insured but the real financial losses are from the fencing and livestock.
Mr Coulton said on the Saturday night, local farmers, contractors and workers from the NSW Rural Fire Services joined forces to build a substantial fire-break using graders, loaders and back-burning.
But he said as soon as it warmed up again on Sunday February 12, the inferno jumped over the man-made fire-break with ease and set about its devastating path of natural destruction in the Narrabri and Warrumbungle local government areas.
The damage bill for fencing repairs alone is set to reach about $28 million, he said of the so-called Sir Ivan fire named after it ignited on Sir Ivan Dougherty Drive, just off the Golden Highway.
Included in the damage toll is a 12 house community in Uarbry that was almost wiped off the map while the St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church, built in the 1920s, was reduced to a pile of rubble.
Mr Coulton said the fire also destroyed all the stuff that people are personally attached to like dogs, chickens and horses, which produced an additional emotional toll.
Everyone is really attached to their own livestock and thats the real kicker, he said.
But since the devastating fires, Mr Coulton has met and spoke with many affected locals and property owners to hear their personal stories about the unpredictable and uncontrollable fire storm and its impact on their lives.
Those talks have also produced tales of neighbours helping neighbours while the spirit of community good-will has also seen assistance measures delivered from far and wide like hay thats been brought into the region to help feed stranded livestock.
Mr Coulton said significant cash donations had also been provided via the mayors bushfire appeal and would be used for buying materials to aid the rebuilding efforts.
He said the overall contribution of volunteer time and resources to enhance the rescue and recovery effort was typical of the deep spirit that makes these rural communities work so well.
Dunedoo has this underlying country spirit like so many other country towns do throughout Australia and a lot of the time we take that for granted, he said.
But its only when the worst of the worst happens that we really do appreciate what weve got around us.
This spirit exists because other communities look over and think, there but for the grace of God go I and if I was in that position, what would I want other people to do?
So theyre focussing their assistance efforts on their own understanding of what theyd also need, if they were less fortunate, and such a natural disaster happened to them.
Mr Coulton also praised BlazeAid which has set-up shop at the Dunedoo Showground to manage a volunteer labour work-force thats supporting farm fence rebuilding and in return for that kindness locals are pitching-in to feed the volunteers.
He said BlazeAid was a very, very valuable and well respected resource that had assisted rebuilding efforts in fire-damaged rural communities over recent years, not just in NSW.
BlazeAid come in and actually help supply the labour to put these fences back up very quickly, working with the farmers, he said.
That also provides great emotional support to the local guys so theyre not just out there, on their own, trying to get the fences stock-proof.
Theyre working with the local people so theyre not so isolated but it also reduces the repair costs, by supplying the labour, because putting up a fence is about 50-50 materials to labour.
Mr Coulton said when assessing the fire damage on February 18, he also witnessed convoys of fodder turning up in trucks that had arrived from all over the state.
I spoke to one fellow, Niall Lewis, and hed started out driving his truck from north of Burke and picked up a load of hay from Rowena while others brought hay in from Bathurst and places like that, he said.
Many people were just doing it spontaneously and that generosity has been continuing on with hay coming in from Scone and other places and all sorts of communities are organising support now.
Mr Coulton said people who werent impacted by the fire were out helping and supporting their friends.
Its one thing for government departments and NGOs to come through and do the right thing and thats greatly appreciated but receiving help from your friends and neighbours is very much appreciated, he said.
A lot of local people that were not directly impacted by the fires are actively involved and this is an ongoing thing.
After the initial adrenalin rush and the excitement of having people everywhere, and visiting politicians and the hay deliveries and fence building, this is going to be a very long road.
Repairing infrastructure and rebuilding will be big enough jobs on their own – but afterwards, if we get a normal winter, itll take a long time to get the pastures growing again and its not the sort of country where you can just race in and plant a cash crop.
A lot of it is grazing country and cant be easily farmed so theyll be really locked into getting pastures re-established and going back into livestock production, to earn income again.
Mr Coulton said hed spoken to Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce about the governments response which included immediately providing category A and B disaster assistance and assessing a state government application, due in category C.
He said the fires throughout NSW on that same weekend also impacted part of Mr Joyces New England electorate and that of fellow Nationals MP Andrew Gee in Calare.
To volunteer or donate to the Sir Ivan Fire Appeal visit www.sirivanfireappeal.com
The Mental Health 24 hour service can be access on 1800 011 511.