This year started, as many summers do in South Australia, being hot. I remember growing up there. You always planned on having at least two or three weeks of very hot weather, but this year the heat combined with hot winds. Many senators will remember the bushfires that raged through South Australia in the hills to the north-east of the city, particularly around Sampson Flat, where we had some 27 homes that were lost, fires that spread to around a 240-kilometre perimeter, involving some 600 firefighters. There were 132 people who ended up requiring some treatment.
Those statistics belie the effect it had on many families who had to evacuate, on people who lost property, fencing and livestock, and children who lost pets. It was a pretty grim start for many people. The thing that really encourages me about Australia though is that when you see these kinds of crises occurring you also see the compassion of other Australians and the courage they show and the character they show by getting alongside and really recreating community.
On 1 February I had the privilege of going up to Kersbrook, to the football club there, to attend an event that was run by Eddy Barrett and Jodie Clavell and a number of local businesses. They had put on a fun day for kids. This is post the fires. A lot of these people had been involved during the fires, in both firefighting and supporting the clean-up. But they realised that they also needed something to rebuild for the kids and for the communities, so they put on a fun day. Businesses such as THR Developments, All Transport Crash Repairs, Noises for Kids, Mark Jannsan, Kennedy Engineering, Clovercrest Baptist Church and HPSTransport all put on an afternoon for kids. It was just fantastic that a whole range of kids were enjoying that.
It also provided an opportunity for some of the other groups that had been involved to go and to reconnect with people, and to continue to provide support. Some of those groups that I was able to connect with not only on that day but in other visits were groups like Samaritan’s Purse. They are an organisation that I have always known as the group that does the shoe boxes at Christmas time for kids in Third World countries. But they actually have a whole relief arm that had came down from Queensland with a semitrailer that was specifically kitted out with firefighting equipment, chainsaws and other equipment for clearing blocks. Essentially, they had a professional team that acted as a catalyst to engage local volunteers to go up and help people clear blocks, cut down trees and clear fence lines to enable other groups, like BlazeAid, to come in and actually start re-fencing. So it is just a testament, I think, to the Australian character. Here you have people who have driven all the way from Queensland down to South Australia to help out with that support and that recovery effort.
It reminds me very much of the clean-up after the 2009 bushfires, where another group, also out of Queensland, Global Care, with their slogan ‘mates helping mates’, did a very similar thing. They came down and were really there for the long haul. Well after the media had moved on and forgotten the fact that those fires had swept through and there were still lots of families who needed help and support, there were groups like Global Care on the ground helping out and providing support for people who were seeking to clear, work through insurance issues, work through issues with local councils, and get things like caravans and portable toilets set up so that they could resume some kind of life while they started sorting out their building.
The other group that really reached out was Clovercrest Baptist Church, which helped to run the fun day. But, more importantly, they turned their church into an emergency relief centre in collaboration with the CFS and the state government, providing water, clothing, bedding and toys. Over a period of weeks, they had people like the Crows football team—some 15 of their players came and helped to pack hampers and delivered hampers up to members of the Kersbrook community who had been affected. At the end of the first week they had delivered some 500 hampers to over 1,200 people in that area. And those consisted of everything from clothing to food and even pamper packs for women who had to leave their home and go to shelters and who had left all those kinds of possessions behind. Even at this fun day, weeks after the fire had passed, they were still there helping to run the day and helping to provide that relief effort—those goods for people. All of those goods had been donated by the community in South Australia.
There were some fantastic stories coming out, including where one volunteer firefighter had come out and said, ‘Gee, what I would give for a beer!’ Somebody heard that and, social media being what it is, tweeted. The next thing, up rocks a refrigerated trailer full of more beer than they could poke a stick at. Things like that that propped up all through the fire zone were really encouraging. So whilst Australia, and particularly South Australia—the driest state in the driest continent in the world—is prone to drought and fire and some pretty devastating consequences, it is a great country. I will finish tonight’s debate with the words of Dorothea Mackellar from part of her poem My Country:
Core of my heart, my country!
Land of the Rainbow Gold,
For flood and fire and famine,
She pays us back threefold –