REAL AUSTRALIA

Beneath the noise, miracles are taking place

Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from Australian Community Media, which has journalists in every state and territory. Sign up here to get it by email, or here to forward it to a friend. Today's newsletter is written by Kathy Sharpe, a group editor with ACM.

Where the action is: On the ground - across much of the state of NSW yesterday. Picture: Marina Neil

Where the action is: On the ground - across much of the state of NSW yesterday. Picture: Marina Neil

Have you noticed that whenever there's smoke in the air there's also a lot of noise from politicians?

But as is usually the way, the people making the noise aren't the people doing the work, and behind the scenes, something miraculous is happening.

At the hint of fire danger, a volunteer walks off his or her job with the blessing of their boss, kisses their family goodbye, puts on a yellow suit, gets into a truck and drives through burning forests and fields, working around the clock to save homes and lives in hellishly hot and windy conditions.

Others go door to door to warn residents, stand at road blocks to keep people safe, co-ordinate the effort in command control posts and prepare and deliver food and water for the firies.

Still others set up evacuation centres where they feed, clothe, shelter and comfort traumatised people and care for pets and injured native animals.

This week, while we have witnessed the superhuman effort of volunteers in NSW and Queensland , politicians took the opportunity to say dramatic and stupid things from the sidelines - thanks Barnaby, Michael, Jordan and John, but let's not dwell on that.

While there have been great advances in how we fight fires, things are really not that different from the days our fathers and grandfathers remember, when the men of the town stood shoulder-to-shoulder to fight fires with sticks and hessian sacks.

The job at hand is about defending property, door to door, one house at a time, one life at a time.

We now have apps and sky-cranes and computerised mapping, but our greatest assets are still courage, team work and selflessness.

Terry Welsh has lived on his property near Macksville, NSW, his whole life. He told Nambucca Guardian News reporter Mel Leigh Dee he's been fighting fires since he was knee-high to a grasshopper. As a seven-year-old he was taught to kick out flyaway embers with his boot. But he couldn't save his family home from the ferocity of this fire.

Of the contribution of the agencies and volunteers involved, our reporters across two states have recorded too many examples to mention. Like this, in a grateful letter to the editor at the Nambucca Guardian News, where Geoff Wilson of South Arm writes "I especially would like to thank the brave and skillful helicopter pilot who flew above me and escorted me through the first kilometre of my drive to safety."

The focus has been on NSW and QLD this week, with first time ever catastrophic fire warnings, mass closures of schools, camping grounds and national parks, three dead, many injured and 200 homes lost in NSW alone.

Readers right around Australia will know this is a very real scenario for us all, no matter where we live.

I'll end with tributes to those whose lives were lost, Vivian Chaplain and George Nole and Julie Fletcher, remembered with love in the pages of their local newspapers.

Kathy Sharpe

Group editor, Australian Community Media

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