On this day three years ago, Saturday 7th February 2009, the worst bushfires in Australia's history swept through Victoria claiming 173 lives, injuring 414 people, consuming over 2000 homes and almost totally destroying the towns of Kinglake, Marysville, Narbethong, Strathewen and Flowerdale. 7,562 people were displaced and 78 townships were affected.
The fires became known as the Black Saturday Bushfires, and today in the affected areas people gathered to remember. The looked at the past, but they also looked at the present - and the future.
It takes time to recover from a natural disaster of this magnitude. Today some people have rebuilt their homes; others have moved away; others have yet to begin. People will take a long time to forget.
Colin Thiele's novel, February Dragon, is the story of the tragedy of bushfire and the toll it inflicts each year on hundreds of innocent people. I read the closing pages aloud to my family this afternoon and had to stop several times to wipe tears from my eyes. Here is some of what I read:
The fire had swept past them and was now far ahead, breaking across the distant stubble in a low red wave. Behind them, and all around, was a world of smoke and blackness - black for cinders, black for ashes, black for mourning. The smoke and the stench still covered everything; and dotted all over the landscape like bitter red roses on the black earth were burning things - logs and fallen trees, stumps and limbs, fence posts and farm buildings.February Dragon is a powerful story with a message that all Australians need to hear. It is the story of how the stupidity or arrogant carelessness of people can cause a terrible tragedy. A tragedy like Black Saturday. It is also a really good story. We read it this year as part of our Australianised AO5. Do search out a copy for your children.
Some were small and idly glowing, others were fountains of fire streaming with flame in the wind. Every now and then a tree crashed down the slope of the Big Scrub with a wild shower of sparks like a gigantic roman candle. The air was dirty with smoke and ash, the sky hidden. And now that the monster had rushed past and devoured everything there was a strange silence, the ominous silence of desolation, like the landscape of the moon...
...Columbine was hanging on to his mother's hand. "Come on, Mum," he said. "I'm tired, let's go home." Mrs Pine's eyes still seemed to be smarting from the fire. "Columbine," she said softly, "don't you understand? There is no home."