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Foreign Policy Analysis
Living Through Australia’s Black Summer: Fire Country

Living Through Australia’s Black Summer: Fire Country

As you can see, it’s nuked. It’s just gone. This isn’t even our fire season. This is not our fire season. Next month is when we really
should be thinking about it. Towards the end of 2019, Australia was hit
by the most devastating bushfire season the country has ever seen. By mid-January, an estimated 10 million hectares had been incinerated. An area larger than the 2019 California fires and Amazon fires combined. Dozens of people have lost their lives,
thousands of home have been destroyed and estimates suggest that more than a billion animals have been killed. On New Year’s Eve the fire front
tore through southern New South Wales, devastating a number of small towns and communities, displacing hundreds of people overnight. A week after the fires hit,
we visited the neighbouring towns of Quaama and Cobargo. About 380km south of Sydney to see how people are faring
in the aftermath of this disaster. You can tell when you’re starting to enter
the part of the country where the fire’s come through because it goes from these colours of
brown and yellow and grey to just utter black. It just feels completely post-apocalyptic. We’re heading into Quaama. It’s a tiny little country town that was hit
really badly over New Year’s by the bushfires. And I think a lot of the locals here feel a bit forgotten because Quaama is a little tucked
off the highway, it’s not an easy spot to find. Some of the traveling staff or Red Cross
or things like that people who are now on the ground
helping people to get support services just didn’t realise that Quaama was even here and that they needed to come here. Holistically as a community, we felt everyone’s loss. We’re grieving for our friends who have lost so much. What we remember about visiting when our children were little what it meant to be there at someone’s 21st birthday or wedding in a home that’s no longer. This is the trail that… This is my driveway. This was your driveway? Yeah. Right. I moved here when I split up with my partner. About seven years ago and just… built this place. So this is a place that you built with your own two hands. Here and there I got help but I probably didn’t ask for help enough. I think that’s going to change. I presume this was above the stove? No, that was the fireplace. Above the fireplace. So the whole roof has fallen off. So you can see where the roof
has been completely wrenched free. Yeah. And that was the lounge room in there and fireplace, it was so cozy. Yeah, yeah, I bet. Everything’s gone, like… Everything, every fork, every knife. I’ve done art works for all of my life
and I’ve left every single picture. I have nothing. Are you thinking now about all the things that you could have gotten? All those things that can never be replaced, you know. I know inside there’s broken parts. On the surface I’m organising things for the community and being there for my family, my girls. I’m sort of just dealing with it now. When we found out we had
a house and our neighbours didn’t… All you can do is cuddle and cry. You feel guilty. I don’t know how to explain it. We’ve cleared a bedroom out
just in case they want to come down and stay but the bedroom’s window faces onto that. It’s like a… I don’t know. There was a chook still sitting in that
with eggs and it was smouldering. Funny things chooks. They opened it up so the chickens could get the run of the orchard. And I came back and had burnt
the corner post clean out of that and it was smouldering still. And there was a chook laying eggs in it. What made you decide to stay and defend rather than evacuate? Well, two things. I’m born and bred, it’s a part of me this place. But I knew we were fairly well
prepared compared to a lot of people. What have you lost in the fire? There was nearly 100 head of cattle. They would have been funnelled into the mountain, and literally within minutes later that
mountain just went boom. Fire storm went through there. The neighbours heard all sorts of horrible noises up there. Somewhere up in that hillside
there’s 100 head of cattle. And with that breeze that I’m smelling now,
I think that I’m smelling my 100 head of cattle on the breeze as we talk. Would not have been a good way to go at all. It wasn’t until after, I thought,
“The bloody sheep.” And I thought they’d all be dead. I jumped up the same day, I went up there. And believe it or not, out of 30 odd, there’s only six killed outright. Because they’re in full wool, it insulated them. But it had burnt feet off,
it had burnt noses off it had burnt ears off. So, I just went straight back,
grabbed the rifle, and all you can do is just go around
and just yeah… shoot them, so… They’re all buried
up the paddock at the moment. How did that feel,
having to do something like that? I’ve got to admit,
I’ve probably become a bit hardened. It’s the sort of thing
that catches up with you after. I’ve got to admit,
I’ve never cried so much in my life. I’ve never been hugged so much in my life. By people I don’t even know. If that makes sense. I don’t know,
it’s a bit numb, it’s just numb. I’m probably the sort of person
that can actually file something away and just close a door on it. My own father committed suicide
here on the property. due to various…
farming’s just a hard thing. And it can make it hard for you. You feel like you’ve got an obligation to the land and its history and what generations have done before and I think you feel that you’ve let it down. I’m hoping we’ll pull through it
but I think more than likely there’ll be casualties somewhere along the line. It will probably sometime, I reckon,
in the middle of the night I’ll be sleeping and I’ll wake up
and I’ll probably have a nightmare about it. I just really don’t know. I can’t obviously say that
I’ve been through something like this. How much of an infrastructural calamity is this? It’s bloody major, it’s catastrophic. If those industries go down,
that’s the end of livelihoods for not just the dairy farmers,
it’s all the auxiliary trades and bits and pieces that go on around this place. I spend most of my nights laying
in bed working out the best plan of attack about how we can get people back up
and going and back on their feet again. It’s going to be monumental. In the face of such overwhelming devastation these communities have banded together and taken the relief effort into their own hands. Nowhere is this more apparent than
at the Cobargo Bushfire Relief Centre. A temporary township set up in the local showground that’s become a gathering place and a makeshift home for hundreds of people in the area
who’ve been displaced or affected by bushfires. If it wasn’t for you this place wouldn’t be here. Ah, shut up. Shut up. This place wouldn’t be here. Yeah okay, righto. Mr. Cobargo? Nah, nah, nah, nah. It’s not going to happen. I don’t know,
I didn’t want to take the reigns but it just segued like that. It was initially to help the bushfire-ies. They had nowhere to go,
no one was feeding them. No one was feeding the police. No one was feeding the emergency services. So we just decided
we’d take up and do that. Because these guys are out risking their lives. There’s no doubt about it. Now look at our community here. The Turramurra Sikh Temple Volunteers. How brilliant is that? Okay. We had a Sikh community from
Queanbeyan here the other day. We had the Muslim community from Lakemba. Which is really cool. This is the resource centre,
basically the supermarket of the whole camp. Everything you need here,
lots of fresh drinking water, nonperishables,
snacks that are easy to make, heaps of instant noodles. It’s incredible, this has all come
from all over the country here to Cobargo to keep this going. So I requested a generator. Well… Demanded a generator. Just to boot the site up. And within four hours or five hours
there was a generator here. That was the local member of parliament. Above that level of government,
there’s been no support. Or there’s only been photo shoots
and token gestures. I understand that you had
some trouble with the police at first because of the nature of this being
an unofficial kind of… Can you talk about that a little bit? Well… They just tried to move us on. They wanted us to go to an evacuation centre. We weren’t doing anything illegal. The police had no power. So the people won. I don’t want to set that up on these fragile people. We have to go to an evacuation… They can come to the relief centre in Cobargo,
this is their community. That’s what it’s for. In some sense this just feels
like an ordinary campground. But it’s chilling to think
that all these people are here because, after years of protracted drought, a devastating bushfire has essentially
rendered them completely homeless. I mean, these are essentially climate refugees living in cars and trucks and trailers. Just trying to regroup
until they can live somewhere else. Hi, how are you? Mate, I’m standing tall and proud. Welcome to the abode, mate. Here in the Cobargo Showground. Sunder is a volunteer firefighter,
who’s been living in a tent at the Cobargo Relief Centre for the past nine days. This afternoon he received a text message informing him that while he was
out defending other people’s homes his own property was lost in the fires. Excuse me, addiction, here we go. No, please do. Do what you need to. -So, here we are.
-Here we are. You finding out today about your own place. This was how long ago? Just a few hours? Oh, yeah, just an hour ago. The confirmation of decimation. I sort of knew it was coming. I knew there’d be no chance that anything would stand that intensity of heat. I suppose I’m yet to process that. Process that within myself. Still doing it just from the experience
of the intensity of the fire. I bet, yeah. Come on down, around this circle out here. Watch your head here. I’d be the guy that collects the gear. And try distribute to everybody who hasn’t got stuff. That is an amazing thing. Yeah? You make it wet. It’s wool and you ain’t gonna burn. Boy… That will save your skin and your eye bags. There he goes. I think that saved our lives as well,
one of these things. Your pants have had a bit of a flogging. Probably about 12 or 14 stints at doing fire stuff. Yeah, but I’ve never been issued a badge. I don’t know. Don’t need badges. So you managed to save quite a few pairs of shoes? I love my shoes. And I’ve been recipient of some recent bequeaths. You’ve got your Docs. Yeah, are they Docs? Okay. There you go, now I’m labeled. Mate, upgrading. Is there anything left in the house that you kind of wish you had a chance to grab? Yes. My grandfather’s set of drawers. He was a cabinetmaker by trade. It was my mother’s wardrobe for quite some time. I’m still yet to engage with that emotionally
with that sort of loss. The impact that that will have is yet to pop out and arrive. Just the sheer thing of the fire arriving,
is pretty horrendous. I’ve been around fires but I can’t say
I’ve been around something like that before. The fire came at about… I’m not quite sure of time because everything was dark. Even in the day. It was so smokey it was black. Maybe it was six. The eeriness of the light. It’s just red, everything red. The acrid taste of smoke. Everybody was inside
but when it changed we came outside and I just started looking at the sky. Everything black,
suddenly opened up with a hole. It’s a clear blue sky and clouds poking up in it. High, white, fluffy little things. There were just these rays of the finger
of God coming through the sky pointing down into the ground. You sort of looked at each other and said,
“Yeah, here it comes guys.” “It’s coming. This is the silence before the storm.” I saw this wall of fire coming out over the mountains. Fire coming from every direction of the house. Ringing the fire-brigade, it’s like, “Nobody’s coming.” They were working so hard
those guys but there wasn’t enough. Against my intuition I stayed,
which I was fighting with for a little while. It was nearly beautiful to watch
in some ways, it was like liquid running up through the paddocks. If it wasn’t so scary,
you’d had sat back and taken pictures of it. There was a red glow behind that ridge
that just was unlike anything and you could just hear this roar. And it just went, “Whack!” This wind. And just full of ember. The intensity and the roar and the sound. It’s like a freight train on steroids. It makes it hard to think,
it makes it hard to communicate with people. The sound gives you a warning. Duck. Get out of the way. Something’s coming. The blew flying tin, big sheets they were. Into this tree and took the top out of the tree. That’s the thing, flying objects
in the air are going to get you too. Besides the heat. Houses make funny noises too. They whistle. The shed was doing whirly-whirly’s. At one stage it was making this siren noise. I’m like, “They come,
they’ve come, they’ve come to help us.” I’ve come around and realised it’s the shed going… You can see the remnants of pine trees. That was one of the scariest things I’ve seen. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. It worked its way straight up over the ridge and then fired back into the next row of trees. Two rows of these trees
going off literally like roman candles. There was one stage,
this big red gum right beside the house just went right up, and I’m like, ”This is it.
I’m going to die here.” Because it was just everywhere. One think I kept thinking was that I hope I asphyxiate before burning. You’re thinking about your grandkids
and whether you’ll see them again. I’ve got two beautiful little girls. A lot of things flash
through your mind, I tell you. I rang my daughter and I just said, ”Just look for me in the trees and in the forest.” “Because I’m here.” And I just… prayed that… you know, I don’t know… Just any entity that might have
been around, I don’t know, to just help. This is usually loud with so much birdsong. See, there’s a tree shadow. You see the outline of where the branches were. It’s the sounds, you know. They sort of stay with you. Animals screaming in the roar of the fire. But there were horses and sheep and… cows running around on fire screaming. And it was coming for us. And we’re all having a laugh
because you’re sh**ing yourself. Everybody’s ducking off to do a poo. -Really?
-While it was happening. -It’s true. -It’s a true thing.
-Big lines at the toilet? Yeah. Down in the bushes and everything
while we’re waiting for this bloody fire to come. It’s true. There was a little bit of laughter. Everybody’s just…
It’s brought us closer. We’re just really looking after each other. How has it been living here? Nice. In the bosom of the new commune. All the different disparate groups. From the police to the ferals. There’s a softness that’s there, an openness. Unusual, you have to say. I know that this is my place
and I don’t want to go anywhere. I’ll be building very differently,
adjust to the environment that is here now. There’s a site that I always wanted
to have my house on. It totally jumped over that spot. It was almost like the fire was saying “Start anew, let’s do it right this time.” We’ll be seeing the repercussions of this for years to come. And not just for a little while,
this will be going on for years. I don’t even think there’s something
that you can even liken this one to. And it’s not over yet. Where to from here? I’m going to have to deal with my own shock. I’m going to have to deal with our community shock. I’d like to be involved in somehow healing the land. Yep, sorry it’s just that one. The forest is destroyed. It’s just not there. This forest is alive. But still life pops out. Life can pop out of amazing things. I saw the ants are still doing it. The first bird I heard was a lyrebird. So hey, that’s pretty amazing. So, we living in interesting times,
as the Chinese curse goes. You seem very grounded
and optimistic about everything. Optimistic, yeah well, hey… Breathing out. Tobacco but… And there’s been so much support and care. And understanding. You know, I started totally heartbroken. This was me making a new life for myself. Now I’ve just got to make another new life. Is it painful for you to come here? -Is there something therapeutic about it?
-Nah, it’s beautiful. -A bit healing.
-Yeah. It’s home.

100 comments on “Living Through Australia’s Black Summer: Fire Country

  1. This is…very depressing. I really wish I could save their country, but I’ve no power to do it.
    I hope their friends and families prays for the best.

    From Japan, I’m Sparkschu Itai.

  2. i dont know if anybody could watch this and not feel heart broken; its unimaginable the amount of impact its caused for thousands. Still crying writing this comment; but it's so beautiful to watch how some of these individuals change their outlook and can still be so optimistic. It's absolutely admiring; and really puts you in a perspective of how strong our country is when we unite together. As well helps me move on myself. because if these people can; so can I.

  3. Fires have been horrible but the good thing is how Aussies come together in a crisis like this, we've already given all of our blankets to a wildlife shelter that ran out due to the influx of burned possums and koalas, also the donations people make and the efforts of the firefighters, even in this bullshit situation you can at least trust most other people.

  4. I don’t like to talk about depressing things but I think everyone should remember that this will return, don’t know when but we should stay prepared.

  5. 14:29 At first, with the footage of the luggage and clothes as context, I thought his was talking about his grandpa's underwear.

  6. Life manages to Pop out of some amazing things. It sure does, keep your head up and be a family and a community. That's all you got and all you can do.

  7. Maybe invest in cultivating lots of succulents around the land? They helped lots in California during the fires, the houses with succulents didn’t get touched

  8. Stop complaining yous don't now the meaning off having nothing … you see how others starv or get killed buy its own people or another goverments and your conplaning about what

  9. lil Ironic how they interview cattle farmer and talk about dairy farming etc, and No. 1 cause of climate change is animal agriculture. How bout lets stop all that so we can rebalance everything as it should be, so fires and everyother devastating disaster doesn't stop all life on earth:D

  10. The clip at 18:41 should be shown to everyone who doesn't live in a fire prone area so they can understand what these fires are like. That clip is unreal.

  11. The red head lady almost died like so many others that did actually die because they decided that they weren't going to evacuate which I don't understand it's such a stupid decision

  12. Can anyone name this touching music starting at 15:15? Would be greatly appreciated. I am feeling with those people and animals!

  13. Asbestos man worked removing that for one year… took a pretty bad toll on my life.. terrible lungs now at only 21..

    Man having kill you own animals you love has to be very hard man..

  14. As a 7th generation Californian… My sympathy and prayers to you all in the AU… We know the loss you have suffered. I am so sorry this happened to you all.. God's speed and blessings.

  15. i live in australia, fires damn near burnt my town down multiple times throughout this bushfire season…. the facts stated in this docco are 90% wrong. good footage tho

  16. Fires like these are pretty common in my part of the world. The roar of a firestorm when it hits green sap in the pine trees will send a chill down your spine. So help you if a firestorm passes over you. I remember a story about some guys who were caught on a ridge a few years back, burried themselves in the mud of a small spring, no more than a dribble, and it passed over them for the most part.
    But I really wonder. They knew it was coming. Where were the saws? Did no one have a plow to cut a fire line? I get there's no water, but you can back burn and clear all the fuel near your home to save it. I really wonder.

  17. Not really even close to being the worst fires in Australian history so can this lie stop being spread? nearly 200 people died in the 2009 fires and more than ten times as much land burned in the 1974-1975 fires when 162 million acres burned…

  18. govt cut funding to fire services, incredibly poor land management caused by greenie policies. Greenies protesting backburns by fire services. BUT LETS JUST BLAME IT ON CLIMATE CHANGE. Brain washed sheep. there is an hidden agenda here!!!

  19. Why did I click on this?! Now I feel like crap and that horrible feeling has come sinking back. Our fire season started really early, then the rest of the country was on fire too. Last week we had flooding from one extreme to the other has it really only been a couple of months in between?

  20. why wernt controlled burns performed by the home and village owners before the fire could spread, fire breaks need to be created, areas of brush, leaves and twigs on the ground burned in a controlled space, not by the fire department, but by educated home owners. If there is no fuel there is no fire, large areas could of been saved due to simple steps and procedures. This will cost the government and people way more time and money then doing simple prevention steps

  21. Bit serious of a subject for a shitty tabloid channel isn't it? Can't we get an update on the skank who got addicted to heroin on snapchat, or the human wolverine? What about the pyramids? Can you do an article on how the aliens made them?

  22. all the people plugging their ears saying " this is normal were all gonna be fine" fuckin crack me up. must be climate deniers

  23. How utterly moving and insightful. For so many people smoke in our cities gave us a very small dose of a whole other reality. This piece takes you there, right there.

    Congratulations Vice !

  24. How about we just all agree to NOT fucking live in Australia? Can we do that? Literally about to turn into real life Mad Max.

  25. Fuck me, when Sunder, the tall and proud volunteer, cracked at the prospect of healing the land, I broke. I hope I become half the man he is.

  26. Once the report came out that 80% of bush fires were caused by crazy climate activists. Australia was no longer newsworthy.

  27. wow, I was gonna „thumb up“ this because it‘s an incredible piece with amazing storytelling but then came that freaking disclaimer about acknowledging that tribe that happened to „own“ the land bc they just happened to have stolen it from the next tribe when the bad, terrible white man came. Beyond ridiculous

  28. Really well done. Even with the fire I was struck by the beauty of the place and the character of the people as well. Thanks for putting this up.

  29. bla bla bla so sad lets cry…bullshit!every year they burning,every year cry …you polluting earth like no one else every year thousands of animals dyes because of you and what you do?prepare?no just cry omg we are so poor we had massive wildfire again…ugly nation take a responsibility finally and prepare for it properly at least once

  30. climate refugees?? your a tool mate!!! they are bushfire survivors not climate refugees!!! 70-80% of the fires were deliberately lit and the rest started due to dry lightening. The ferocity of the fires was directly due to the greens actively forcing the miss management of fuel load reduction policies for there own political gains. Wake up people of the world, were being lied to by the greens about causes and preventions when it was there stupid ideas that have fuled this, not climate

  31. God is hitting back! God can't forgive the sin their forefathers did my question is what happened to the original people of the land.

  32. I'm from Portugal where we also get terrible fires every year, our seasons are also becoming longer and longer, but nothing of this magnitude… Every few years the forests near me burn down, sometimes a few miles away, sometimes way too close for comfort, like in 2005 where we almost lost our house. I'm not sure our way of life – what we like about living surrounded by nature, trees, vegetation – if it's sustainable anymore. It's just too dangerous, everything has to be cleared, well away from houses etc
    What I have seen is how Australians have stepped up, from your amazing firies (mostly volunteers like ours too), to the communities seen in this docu, to the people looking after the wildlife, to the outpouring of donations. Basically everyone except for the politicians in the pockets of the coal industry. Your spirit is truly admirable, how you don't lose your dry sense of humour even when faced with devastation.
    I hope to visit soon and help with my tourist dollars, I don't care if the forests are a bit scorched and whatnot… I'm used to seeing burnt eucalyptus anyway… Think we got them from you guys!

  33. This fire season is exactly why i started my degree in conservation and land managment, i really hope i can do something if anything

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