Smallest State, Biggest Hearts

| February 21, 2013 | 8 Comments

When I first heard about the bush fires in Tasmania earlier this year my heart skipped a beat. I grew up in Tasmania and I still have a lot of close family living there, including my dad, step-mum and brother, all of whom live in the beautiful country-side south of Hobart. So when I heard there were fires, and big ones, I immediately had to find out, where, when, how-bad…


		
		
			
			
		
	
View of Tasman Peninsula fire from the air (Image Credit)

 

Thankfully no one in my family were affected as the fires were south-east of Hobart on the Tasman Peninsula. This is joined to the rest of Tasmania by two narrow isthmus’s and is famous for, the former convict settlement of, Port Arthur and a big tourist destination.


On January 4 on the hottest day recorded in Tasmania’s history, at 41.8 degrees, a number of large bushfires, intensified by the heat wave, burnt out of control. Due to the narrow land bridge at Dunalley, where the fire storm hit hardest, and Eagle Hawk Neck residents were forced into the water and further down the peninsula where the only escape was by boat. A massive seaborne rescue was launched for the more than 2000 people sheltering on beaches, in boats and at Port Arthur. People were ferried not only by police but numerous private volunteers in a huge dunkirk-style operation.

Top Left: Tim Holmes takes a photo of his grandchildren with their grandmother sheltering from the flames in the water as well as his view back to his property. Top right: Ruth Kearon photographs a group of residents waiting for rescue after being forced to the waters edge. Above: Scott Bradshaw’s view of the fire from Mt Nelson, a suburb of Hobart. 

On January 5, 2013 40 fires were burning across Tasmania. This image is from January 8, 2013. In the south east you can see the Tasman Peninsula fires still burning 4 days after the town of Dunalley was destroyed.
(Image: via Tassie Local)

 

I followed the stories closely and it soon became clear that something phenomenal was happening and a lot of it was due to the amazing community spirit that started to shine through. It was helped along and co-ordinated by Facebook pages such as Tassie Fires – We Can Help, that was set up by Hobart woman Mel Irons on the day the fires hit, and Pay It Forward – Tasmania run by Meegan MacQueen.

“The spirit of Tasmanians in times of crisis is amazing, everyone wanted to do something to help! We were receiving donations of food, offers of accommodation, people caring for others’ animals, books for the school, it was truly heart warming to see us all pull together and help each other. You cant get a better community spirit than what you will find in Tassie. Smallest state, biggest hearts.”
Meegan MacQueen

What happened, and is still on going now, is nothing short of extraordinary. Most of the infrastructure on the Tasman Peninsula was knocked out by the fire, so imagine days with no power, running water, cell phone towers and land lines all burnt out… but those who could help flocked to the pages to offer assistance, from transport to help evacuate people, donations and supply of food and livestock supplies all along the coastline to those stranded, to kids offering up their Christmas presents for those who had lost everything. Offers of clothing, tools, building materials, accommodation, furniture, second-hand cars, as well as numerous people just giving their time – hairdressers giving away free haircuts, babysitters offering to take kids off peoples hand while they literally sorted out their lives, generators, petrol vouchers, you name it all within hours of the fires. Examples such as this and this became a daily occurrence.

“To have the privilege to experience the Tasmanian sense of community from the angle I did is something I will never forget. Everyone now knows various stories from the bush-fires that started in Tassie in January 2013. Take those amazing stories of heroism, connection, community, generosity and love, and multiply them by one hundred. And that only scratches the surface of what people in Tasmania, Australia and around the world have done for friends and perfect strangers over the last 6 weeks. Communities pull together in a crisis. In Tassie we have been lucky enough to experience something quite extraordinary.”
Mel Irons

In all at least 100 properties were destroyed including 65 at Dunalley where the police station, primary school and bakery were destroyed and more than 49,000 acres of bush were burnt out. One of the most amazing things of all was the determination of the community to get the local primary school up and running in time for the new school year and they did it! The temporary New Dunalley School was rebuilt in just four weeks. A truly amazing feat!

“It is a temporary school without the temporary feel – already the school feels at home in the demountables that house classrooms, toilets, storage, offices and staff room, surrounded by decking, lawn and play equipment – and if you look away from the burnt surroundings and out to the familiar sea view, you could almost imagine that the fires never came.”
From the New Dunalley School website.

 

Top: The New Dunalley School was rebuilt in just four weeks with construction crews working around the clock. Middle: Hutchins School students pitch in to help out at farms affected near Hamilton and Ellendale. Bottom: Blaze-Aid volunteers having a hard earned break.

(Images: New Dunalley School, Di Irons and Barrie Irons)

Bushfires are common in Australia, as the bush naturally regenerates through fire, and with a dad who worked for Forestry Tasmania and was often called out to fight fires, they are a big part of my childhood memories. There probably wasn’t one Summer growing up that he wasn’t out fighting fires. The last BIG fires in Tasmania were (before my time) the 1967 Black Tuesday fires which in just 5 hours left 62 people dead, 900 injured and over seven thousand homeless and Hobart’s communication completely cut off to the north of the state and mainland Australia.

There are some schools of thought that believe Tasmania is a ticking time bomb and with certain conditions aligning there could be another catastrophic event, worse than the 1967 fires, sometime in the near future.

Australian authorities warned early on in Summer that much of the country faced extreme fire conditions this season. This was due to the fact that the last couple of years has seen cooler conditions that have aided forest growth, which means it had also created tinder dry fire fuel conditions as a result.

There have been several fires burning threatening houses and properties near Hobart (and around Australia) in the last couple of weeks, but even though there are (at the time of publishing) no current threats to communities the weather conditions at the moment mean there is still cause for concern. A number of my extended family members, including my Dad have posted pictures on Facebook showing their “view” of the smoke and glow of the fire in Molesworth from their properties. So the threat has seemed very real.

View of Molesworth fire from the Huon Valley - February 8, 2013 (Image: Chris Barry)

		
		
			
			
		
	
View of Molesworth fire from New Town, Hobart - February 8, 2013 (Image: Naomi Paton)

 

But it is comforting to know that if Tasmania is again devastated by fires that the amazing community spirit will live on. As Meegan’s status on the Pay It Forward Facebook page said yesterday:

It is such a beautiful thing to know that you are all out there fighting the good fight, showing compassion and kindness, sharing your resources and hearts.”

Well said!


 

Australian Red Cross Tasmanian Bushfire Appeal

To raise money for the Australian Red Cross Tasmanian Bushfire Appeal I have created two printable designs (“Home is Where Your Heart Is” and “Community Quote“) that are available for purchase in my Creative Current Etsy store. They are only $5.00USD each, with around $4.50USD from each sold going to the appeal. They come in a range of colour options.


This is my Thankful Thursday post for this week because I am truly grateful for the kindness of strangers and proud to call myself Tasmanian.

It’s Thankful Thursday where Gratitude is an Attitude!
Link up with some amazing people over at Six By The Bay and share what you are thankful for.
Life is so precious, soak in the special moments…

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Category: Gratitude, Inspiring Women

Comments (8)

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  1. Leigh says:

    Wow 4 weeks to rebuild a school!! Thats so amazing. I love when people come together for a good cause. Its so nice to see one another showing support as opposed to judgement and cruelty. Those photos are scary, that poor grandmother. Can you imagine?
    Thanks for linking up xxxxx

  2. jo glanville says:

    Great story and pics

    ( are you my hubbys cousin?? (brett))

  3. Di Irons says:

    You’ve captured it as it was beautifully Nicky !

  4. Mine and Me says:

    Wow! It is amazing how we can all pull together in times of need. The photo’s are spine tingling!

  5. Me says:

    WOW – I had heard about the fires in Tasmania but hadn’t seen much footage -what amazing photos. I am sitting here covered in goose bumps reading this post.
    We truly live in an amazing country – I have never seen people rally around like they do here – it is just wonderful.
    HAve a great day and thank you for sharing these amazing scenes.
    Me
    #Thankful Thursday visitor

  6. nikki says:

    wow, yes that’s fascinating photos 0_0
    i had the odd coincidence of sitting with my friend from Tasmania the weekend before the fires at a bbq when she told me about how she lived through them as a kid and told me to google it (am foreign and younger). Fire is my ‘primary fear’ heightened by a fire in my appartment block on a christmas morning years ago. I looked up the 1967 fires and couldn’t believe the massive fires only 2 days later or so. We had not talked about current conditions etc. It was quite weird. I think what impressed me most was how people had to literally be plucked from the beaches, that is so unimaginable and scary. good on you for a great community in Tassie to build it all up together again!

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