About the Survivors

We are bushfire survivors, firefighters and local councillors. We have joined together to demand the Government take immediate action on climate change.

These are our stories.

Lyn Trindall, Bushfire Survivor

Lyn Trindall

Bushfire Survivor
Winmalee, NSW

I was affected by bushfires in the Greater Blue Mountains area on the 18th of October 2013.

We only barely had time to pack a few major belongings and flee to safety. The fire was already raging with homes burning in our pathway to exit. I am in a wheelchair, which made life difficult and slow for me to escape the danger. In our haste, my wheelchair missed the edge of the drive, spilling me into the garden bed. Fortunately a fire truck was driving past and they ran to our aid.

After being lifted into the car, my Husband drove towards Richmond, which was the only exit out of Winmalee. It was a very harrowing & frightful experience and we were forced to stay away from our home for 3 nights.

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Angel Owen, Bushfire Survivor

Angel Owen

Bushfire Survivor
Agnes Water, Queensland

Back in 2007, my family and I woke to the sound of eucalyptus leaves crackling and the smell of smoke. Initially, we thought it was a back burn but were we wrong. We stood on our veranda and watched this mammoth fire jump our drive way and make way towards our house with no remorse.

Within 15 minutes two cars had been engulfed and a tree fell on our only tank, crushing it. My parents went on to fight the fire for what felt like hours while me and my siblings tried to find a safe space to wait while all we could hear was the power of the fire that surrounded our house.

Around 15 fire brigades from as far as Turkey Beach and Gladstone arrived to try and put out this fire which had, by this time, extended past our property into Deepwater National Park.

Hours later, the 3 metre flames had been put out with just smouldering trees and logs remaining. My parents then began to look at the water pipes and to no one’s surprise, melted. We had no water and our dam wasn’t far from empty. It took my family years to recover both mentally, physically and financially from this bush fire.

Climate Change is more than just the stereotypical ‘melting ice caps and sad polar bears’. Climate Change is more extreme weather events (bushfires, flooding, cyclones), it is rising sea levels that will impact people who have contributed the least to the issue (our brothers and sisters in the Pacific Islands and other low lying island nations). It is the dispossession and destruction of First Nations people country and culture all over the world! CLIMATE CHANGE IS A PEOPLE PROBLEM! These issues will not go away if we follow business as usual.

Australia is one of the sunniest and windiest countries in the world! We have everything it takes to move beyond coal and gas and transition to a future powered by 100% renewable energy. It is time to step up to the plate and deal with this global issue or step down from this position of power, you’re out of touch.

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Ali Griffin, Bushfire Survivor

Ali Griffin

Bushfire Survivor
Healesville, Victoria

I lost my home in Yarra Glen in the Black Saturday Bushfires. I now live in Healesville, and work in Marysville. I love where I live and work, and the people I work with. Our regional towns are strong and resilient communities, so we don't usually speak out about our lot. We take responsibility for choosing to live where we live. However, we will not take the blame for the lack of action on devastating climate change. Whenever we get windy and dry conditions, people in our community get very stressed and feel incredibly anxious. This last all summer now, due to the changes brought about by global warming.

Charcoal became a fascination for me after losing my home in the Black Saturday bushfires. The total lack of colour I found incredibly beautiful. The truly unique shapes left after fire has stolen all trace of oxygen and goodness became a source of wonder. The fact that the burnt object is deemed valueless after fire seemed ridiculous. I saw beauty in its rawness, its vulnerability. Its crumbling surface. Its weakened state. A beauty I wanted to share with others. I set about making moulds of especially attractive pieces of charcoal. I cast these in black resin.

And then I either made simple artworks out of them, or paired them with gold leaf and ‘precious’ gems and metals to produce jewellery. These pieces have been commented on as gorgeous. People see the value in them. Even monetary value. If we can change focus on what people really find precious, we may actually be able to tackle such overwhelming and life threatening issues such as global warming and climate change.

It breaks my heart that I have failed my daughter. It breaks my heart that she has to strike from school to be heard and was ridiculed by our own Prime Minister for her actions. That her childhood was tainted by the loss of our home on Black Saturday. And that ‘I’ feel the guilt. And that ‘I’ feel close to tears at the thought of her future living in a world with a less hospitable climate.

But then I realise that I have tried. I have done many things to bring attention to environmental issues over many years through my work as an artist. I raise awareness of what is really important in life. I recycle. I reuse. I have tried to do all I can. But my efforts don’t even come close to canceling out the lack of leadership we have on this matter.

This is not a debate. This is LIFE. Our politicians could become the hero of our time. To step up and take action on climate change. To be the leaders who saw these challenges as opportunities for a better life for our children’s futures. We know this will eventually force us into change. Why not do it now, before it’s too late? Don’t we owe that to our children?

Photographer: Jesse Graham

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Andrew Jeeves, Volunteer Firefighter

Andrew Jeeves

Volunteer Firefighter
Wonboyn Lake, NSW

I am a volunteer member and Training Officer of the Wonboyn Lake NSW Rural Fire Service. This summer we had a call from our operations centre on the far south coast to be able to respond at five minutes’ notice on any day when the Fire Danger Rating (FDR) was calculated to be ‘Very High’. This is only the third level of six rising danger levels. Normally we are asked to be on rapid response when the FDR gets to ‘Severe’ (fourth level). This unprecedented change is due to abnormally dry conditions and very low levels of moisture in the southern forests. Drought exacerbated by climate change is the main contributor.

In March last year, our brigade helped mop up the devastating fire at Tathra. We were on 24-hour call for a week. Days after the main fire, small fires spontaneously erupted out of mulch in garden pots. Fire seasons now start earlier and last longer. Fire agencies usually enjoy six-month’s respite from bushfires between April and September, but last year we had only three months’ break.

As we hit record temperatures across Australia, we look toward more dangerous fire weather, higher fire danger levels more often, more fires and longer fire seasons due to the current and increasing impacts of the climate crisis. We will have to learn to accept more fires like those at Tathra where 70 homes—but thankfully no lives—were lost.

It’s time for the Government to put aside their ideology. It’s time to follow the electorate—more than 70% of Australians believe it is time to act on the climate crisis.

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Janet Reynolds, Bushfire Survivor

Janet Reynolds

Bushfire Survivor
Numbugga, NSW.

I moved to the Bega Valley in 1992 and began to create a home space that was not too much of an intrusion on the natural environment. More than a thousand native plants, food for the natural inhabitants, were planted amongst the existing forest. It attracted a vast array of wildlife and no domestic animals were a part of this sanctuary. I loved, and love, this place deeply.

On August 15th 2018, record breaking winds brought a massive fire racing through the forest to my property. With almost no notice I grabbed a few belongings and headed out. As I drove around the bend I was confronted with a wall of flames and a fallen tree across the road. I stopped the car, jumped out, picked up the tree and threw it off the road. Keep in mind that I am small, not very strong, nearly 74 year old woman! Adrenaline is a wondrous thing! A friend and myself made it out safely but behind me were all the collections of my life. The art, carvings, ceramics, rugs, furniture, artefacts, from my years in Africa. The same from my 45 years in Australia. All the memories and photos of my family and friends, the love letters and drawings from children I had taught, letters from my parents, even love letters from my youth! All packed neatly and carefully in plastic boxes.

However the greatest loss of all is the life that has been destroyed in this massive fire. The joeys who were just popping out of the pouch in the days before the fire, the five goannas who patrolled relentlessly in the warm months, the thousands of finches and wrens, the death adders, black, brown and tiger snakes, and all the myriad life forms who created the wonderful energy of Numbugga. Some of course will have survived but many have gone and my heart is heavy for them. What are we doing to our country, our planet?

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Jo Dodds, Bega Valley Shire Councillor

Jo Dodds

Bega Valley Shire Councillor
Bega, NSW

My home was impacted by a bushfire on March 18 2018. The fire was due to unprecedented weather conditions for this time of year which fanned sparks from powerlines. Phenomenal hot, dry winds hurled the fire towards our forest home and also towards the small township of Tathra on the NSW far south coast.

My partner had time to set up sprinklers around our home then we stood on the riverbank 2 kilometres downstream and watched over 4 hours as the fire approached and grew into a towering, terrifying inferno. We saw the forest burn and the plumes of black smoke rising from the homes of friends and neighbours as we waited for the fire to reach our home. We heard gas cylinders exploding in town, saw traumatised people being evacuated in over-crowded cars and even in boats being towed behind vehicles. I had taken nothing from home and thought of the many precious things I stood to lose - my mother’s last letter to me, my grandfather’s clock, my great grandmother’s jewellery and ALL of the writing I have created over 40 years of work!

We were incredibly lucky that the wind stopped just as the fire reached our property and all we physically lost was some building timber. But we also lost our sense of safety, our peace of mind, our beautiful forest drive into town, and our friends and neighbours whose homes burned to the ground now live elsewhere while they struggle with the myriad traumas, tasks, and griefs they must now face.

Even those with ‘gold-plated’ insurance are finding that it won’t cover the full cost of replacing homes and contents. And nothing will restore our lost photographs and artworks, our forests, or our peace of mind.

I have seen for myself that climate change is not a future threat, or something happening only in Antarctica or Kiribati. It is happening NOW, to my communities and others who face similar threats now, not just in the traditional fire seasons, but all year round. Even when our Bega Valley is lush and green, even in winter, our fire chiefs have warned us we are only ever three days of hot, dry wind away from the same conditions that caused our fire to be so devastating.

I decided to seek a leadership role in my community because I realised that we needed more diverse voices speaking up about issues of concern. But it wasn’t until after the March 18 fire that I realised the biggest and most critical issue I could address as a human and as a community representative, was climate destruction.

Any government that knows what we have been through and continues to suggest that there’s no need for urgent action should be held directly responsible for the next fire. It is their job to ensure the safety of our communities, their job to represent OUR interests against those of the fossil fuel industries that are driving the majority of the climate destruction. Any government which does not prioritise the people, our homes and livelihoods, our food production and livestock, any government that ignores our security from the biggest threat our communities will ever face, should be held accountable.

Mr Morrison, Mr Shorten - there is one issue which must rise above all others in your work in office. It requires that you be courageous in the face of denialists and fossil fuel industry representatives, within and outside your own parties. It requires that you step up and speak out like the smart, brave Schools Strikers for Climate Change. It requires that you acknowledge what communities like mine have already lost. You have the technology, the economy and the will of the vast majority of the population - act on climate change NOW. Move to renewables, cease fossil fuel mining and production. Transition our economies NOW so that we may sleep safer and know that there’s a future for our children.

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Jan Harris, Bushfire Survivor

Jan Harris

Bushfire Survivor
Reedy Swamp, NSW

Our son Evan came into the house saying he could smell smoke. My husband John and Evan went to check outside and they could see a tiny wisp of smoke coming from the direction of Bega. John suggested that Evan put some belongings in his car as we might need to leave in a couple of hours. Within the space of about two minutes we both went outside to look and a wall of smoke was pluming towards us. John said we are going now, I started to argue, but he was adamant. I went into the house to get Evan’s insulin, mine and John’s phone, my handbag and ipad. We left in our car and Evan in his car, I rang neighbours to alert them of the danger. We evacuated towards Tathra via a back road. We now know our home and all we owned was gone shortly after we left. In a day of catastrophic weather our completely off grid home was turned to rubble by the grid and weather conditions.

I would appreciate it if Mr Morrison our current Prime Minister could explain why his government is doing so little to stop this from happening to other families.

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Lies Paijmans, Bushfire Survivor

Lies Paijmans

Bushfire Survivor
Tathra, NSW

Sunday the 18th of March 2018 in Tathra started as a typical beautiful autumn day, clear, calm and cool. I admired my beautiful garden before heading to Bermagui with a friend. While there, a ferocious, hot Westerly suddenly blew in, and I remember saying it would be a bad day for a bush fire. Then a phone call from Melbourne to say there was a fire near Tathra. By the time we got back the fire was well and truly raging, bearing down on Tathra, and I just had time to get my car and my laptop - I did not believe that I would lose my house. Tathra has never had a bushfire, and certainly not so long after Summer. But the weather has become warmer and windier due to higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, and fires are burning more intensely and spreading faster. Three hours after the fire started, my house had caught fire and burned to the ground, taking with it all that I owned and the garden I had nurtured for 14 years.

These climactic events are not just traumatic for those most directly affected, but also for those who are close to them and for all those who witness and experience the reverberations of that trauma through the community.

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Chris Mills, Bushfire Survivor

Chris Mills

Bushfire Survivor
Victoria

On January 18th 2003, a massive firestorm invaded the north-west suburbs of Canberra killing 4 and injuring over 400 people. Some 470 homes and 2,000 businesses were also destroyed. Three of the four people who died were killed in Burrendong Street, Duffy - my street.

I took the precaution of setting my mobile phone, wallet and the cat-box near the back door so they could be collected if an evacuation became necessary. My greatest regret was not including a backup drive including irreplaceable pictures of eight-month old Alex.

The garden was tinder-dry, so I decided to dampen it to reduce the risk from ember attack. I was foolishly wearing thongs, long pants and a T-shirt – all cotton. I’m a pilot, so I know the hideous effects when synthetic fabrics are melted into skin by fire. The sky became darker and the wind-speed picked up. Firestorms make their own fierce winds. Suddenly, a huge gust snapped off a ten-metre tree and blazing embers rained from the sky. Small fires started in the shrubbery. I looked into the oily smoke and saw flames rising close-by and up at an angle of forty degrees. ‘Time to leave’ I thought and returned inside as the light failed completely - I was literally unable to see my hand close to my face. I knew I had a torch in the car, so felt my way to the glovebox, retrieved the torch and returned to the house. Wife, baby Alex and cat Stella and I rushed to the other car.

Traffic was bumper-to-bumper with anxious and frightened people hoping they could escape before the firestorm overwhelmed the suburb. We managed to squeeze into the stream, and followed the flow out of Duffy, past burning trees and a blazing petrol station. We found refuge at my Mother’s house in Fisher. Others were not so lucky; recounts emerged of cars with tyres on fire, and people having to resort to locking the doors on their over-full cars as people desperately seeking escape, banged on windows. Old people with mobility problems were not rescued by the authorities and many pets died in the flames. Tragically, three people were killed in their houses in Burrendong Street.

My house and all my family’s possessions were reduced to ash and rubble.

My car in the carport was burnt to the ground, the fire so hot it melted the aluminium head.

Photo of a melted car

Notwithstanding the hot-dry summer and the ever-attendant firestorm risk, it is time to put on our ‘think Local – act Global’ thinking caps. What brings the risk of firestorms to lethal levels? High temperatures, dry forests and failure to recognise and respond to existential threats. Put another way, that is ‘threats to the existence of humanity’; as so chillingly described by Sir David Attenborough when alerting the world of the grave and imminent risks associated with Climate Change.

We expect our Government and the Prime Minister to respond when Australians are confronted with an existential threat. And how has Prime Minister Morrison responded? By waving coal around Parliament.

I’m not afraid Prime Minister; I’m a brave man, but I’m terrified. And so should you be.

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Robert Gardiner , Volunteer Firefighter

Robert Gardiner

Volunteer Firefighter
Limestone, Victoria

In 2009, the Black Saturday bushfires erupted over the entire district in which I live.

The local fire brigades could not hope to manage any of the fires, which came during record high temperatures and prolonged drought and in some cases with deliberately lit fires that caused mayhem across the region.

At the time of the fires, 173 people died in the immediate aftermath of the fires, many more succumbed later to their acquired injuries, others committed suicide in the following years and many people simply moved away from the district.

In the weeks and months following the Black Saturday fires, I helped many of my community members clean up their destroyed farms, fences and bury their animals. The permeating ash in my skin, the smell of charred and burnt flesh and the silence of the incinerated forests were forever present every time I walked through the Toolangi Forests (where the Lead beaters Possum struggles to survive).

For a considerable time after the fires, I became intolerant of listening to the stories of the many who had directly suffered in the fires.

I no longer wanted to hear anything about the fires or to talk about the endless impacts of the catastrophic inferno.

I simply wanted to get on with my own life and deal with my own concerns.

Continuing to live the in same community, I am subtly aware that the legacy of those fires remained as a tangible and chronic illness that permeated the community's collective spirit and ethos. Every time I drive to Melbourne, I have to cross the Great Dividing Range; I see the forests trying to recover. I see how slow the process is, with lingering droughts and increasing temperatures, the dew point is slowly lifting and with that subtle increase in air temperature and lowering of humidity, the life giving and cool rain that allows the forests to renew and grow back is becoming rarer and almost imperceptibly finer with each season.

I am tired and sick of being conscious of my personal anxiety of yet another seasonal threat of fire. Each year that I have lived in Murrindindi that feeling has increased and now permeates discussions of summer holidays. Gone is the idle chat of BBQs and Christmas fun or holidays away from home, now the talk is of fire preparations and 'what if' and 'maybe if', 'should we not travel away' and in some cases 'why bother at all….let’s run away.

It seems to me that many people (and in particular our elected representatives) have conveniently taken on a convenient facade of the accepting and never complaining (too much) silent type that simply takes what comes and does nothing more. Australian's need positive and definitive leadership that is all encompassing and inspiring. I fear that many Australians are waiting to be told what to do, what to think and how to act when it comes to tackling the universal threat of climate change.

All Australian Commonwealth politicians and appointed senior public servants must show their mettle and ‘leadership’ and take bold and immediate steps to reduce Australia's reliance on fossil fuels and coal, in particular by cancelling and permanently stopping the proposed development of the Adani Mine Project.

I believe that Australia’s politicians and our senior public servants must realize that they and the populace of Australia has become myopic to the reality of human induced Climate Change and it's effects on our collective safety with increased occurrences of prolonged droughts, increased temperatures across all of Australia and hence the increased impacts of bush fire hazards on our collective safety and prosperity.

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Janet Meade, Bushfire Survivor

Janet Meade

Bushfire Survivor
Christmas Hills, Victoria

My name is Janet Meade and I live in Christmas Hills.

We were fortunate in some ways on Black Saturday – our house burnt, but did not burn down. Unlike many others we got to decide whether things were too damaged to keep. An item of sentimental value retains that value, even when it is blackened by soot.

It is the impact on the community that lingers after the fires. Although spared the trauma faced by others I still, ten years later, find myself thinking, “What’s the point, it’s all just going to burn again.”

The fires brought out the best and the worst in the community. The best was the way that people worked together to help each other. Within 24 hours people in the community had found us temporary accommodation, while others emptied their linen cupboards to help us. The worst was the tension and passionate disagreement among the community in the months that followed. As in any situation, the most fragile members of a community are the ones who struggle the most to recover.

The human suffering caused by the fires is hard to quantify. In the weeks after Black Saturday our community was on edge, obsessively seeking weather reports to know which way the wind was blowing and whether they were in danger from the fires that continued to flare up. The stress and anxiety of repeated evacuations and the sound of sirens affected every-one – those who lost loved ones or property were not the only ones who suffered. I can no longer see news reports of distant natural disasters without a pang in my heart as I feel for those poor people, knowing what I now do about the trauma they are going through.

What I learned from the experience overall, however, is that when people choose to work together they can achieve amazing things. This gives me hope for the future.

Severe fires are only one of the natural events which are becoming more frequent and devastating. Around the world we are seeing more and more extreme weather events. These are only the most visible effects of climate change. The impact on agriculture is already evident – if it continues we are in real trouble.

Many politicians continue to deny the man-made disaster that has been recognised by science for over thirty years. We have to hope that we have not yet reached the “tipping point”, beyond which any efforts to heal our world will not be effective.

Our politicians must act now if they wish to save the future for our children and grandchildren. Corporations who have profited from destroying the environment that balances our climate, must be held to account. Money is not as important as a viable ecosystem.

Politicians fear asking people to make the changes that will save us – I ask them not to under-estimate the intelligence of their constituents. Many will complain, but most will understand. And when people work together to fight a threat they are powerful.

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