AUSTRALIAN FIRES – AN UPDATE
By Kathy Morrison
Photos By Rylan Edmistone
N3 friend and occasional contributor Kathy Morrison recently posted an opportunity for local folks to help with the ravages resulting from the disastrous fires down under.
Here she delivers a bit of a progress report on what's being done thus far with the money raised to assist the efforts of the Edmistone family, long time friends of their world wandering son, Max Morrison.
About 75 miles southwest of Sydney, nestled in “the bush” of New South Wales, lies Budgong, an area of once extreme beauty, dotted with small communities and farms, lush wooded landscapes, rolling hills which give way to mountainous areas and steep escarpments and to amazing views of the surrounding area. Home to more kangaroos, wombats, and wallabies than people, it is one of the numerous wildlife areas that was recently ravaged by the enormous wildfires that have grown and damaged so much of the Australian East coast landscape since September. Budgong is also home to Rylan Edmistone and his parents, Anne and Greg, friends of our son, Max, where he has visited and stayed numerous times. It is a place and landscape that Max loves dearly. Asking Max to describe the flora and fauna of that place, he reports, “The area is surrounded by Eucalyptus, Gum, and Iron Bark trees. In my experience: Everyday on a walkabout, it's almost certain or a good chance you'll see several wallabies spitting a trail of dust as they bounce away, lyrebirds gracefully tiptoeing through the underbrush, kookaburra with their tittering turning to a boisterous cachinnate, cockatoos squawking, willie wagtails out and about wagging their willies, goanas on the prowl for slurpy eggs, a snake or two - keep an eye out for red-bellies or browns, a family of pygmy possums if you're looking in the crannies, an occasional rambling echidna and of course those gentle beasts, the wombats, emerge at dusk. And I can't forget 'Old Swampy,' an old granny of a kangaroo that loves to pilfer from the fresh shoots of vines. Crafty as ever, even in her old age.” It has been hard to get my head around Max’s description and photos of Budgong against the photos I have been viewing recently. It is hard to imagine it was recently so idyllic until just a few short weeks ago when fire swept through– the woodlands now covered in ash with little cover or vegetation for the wildlife and the thought that so many of its animals have been lost. It pains me to think of area people, who have been through a living hell, as fire raged through their community, destroying so much in its path.
As we read stories and hear news reports about these colossal fires raging in Australia, we have all, most likely, become a bit more familiar with the country geographically. About the same land size as the U.S., minus Alaska and Hawaii, Australia is made up of six states: five on the mainland and one, the island state of Tasmania, lies some 150 miles from its southeastern coast. The Northwest Territory, Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland round out the six states. Each and every state has been hit by fires at some point over their 2019-2020 “fire season”, which varies regionally depending on where you are at any given time and place in that vast country. Bush fires have always been a part of life in all of Australia. However, December 2019 was officially the hottest, driest year on record in “the Land Down-under”, with numerous days reaching well above 100 degrees F. Officially the hottest place on Earth, on January 4th, Penrith, a town west of Sydney saw 120 degrees F. By late December, NSW was less than halfway through its traditional six month “fire season” which usually runs from October through March. This year, it began a month earlier and is proving to be one of the area’s worse on record dues in part to the dry, hot conditions. Australia has been overly dry and experiencing drought in many locations for unusually long stretches. Weather conditions have, without question, increased the potential for and size of these infernos. However, another issue is at play in many of these fires which lies with land/fire management. Rylan Edmistone believes that a respect, knowledge, and use of some of these currently undervalued ways of the Aboriginal Australians need to make a comeback to help reduce the size and destructive force of the fires. Rylan describes what happened in his area and how fires of this magnitude might be reduced in the future. “After progressing north through the Ettrema Gorge Wilderness area of Morton National park, the ‘Currowan Bushfire’ burnt through the Budgong rural township area on the 4th of January. This particular fire has currently impacted 312000 hectares of country. The unprecedented heat and intensity of these fires is a direct result of negligent vegetation, biodiversity and land management practices post-the year 1788. We have ignored the deep-knowledge base of the first Australians. It is time to change. Three books that promote a way forward are: The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australiaby Bill Gammage, Call of the Reed Warbler- Charles Massy and Dark Emu byBruce Pascoe.” Indeed, perhaps some of the older ways of managing the bushlands need to be brought back into practice. An interesting piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, told the story of a New South Wales resident who had hired someone practiced in this ancient technique, to conduct cultural burns on his land three years ago. These traditional fires are slow, low, and cooler than standard controlled burns. They take into consideration the landscapes, the flora and fauna and leave the canopy intact, having less impact on the animals of the area. The landowner credits the recent survival of his home through the fires to these Aboriginal Australian’s techniques.
Perhaps there will be a renewed interest in this type of practice now that it is apparent that more effective management techniques need to be considered and used once again.
The immediate threat of fire is over in the Budgong area, though many fires remain out of control in Australia. The job of recovering has begun in many areas, including near the Edmistone’s farm. We wanted to try to help the people of Australia in their recovery efforts, but after realizing that large fundraisers sometimes do not get money to places as swiftly as we would hope, we decided to send money directly to the Edmistones to allow them to use it for wildlife feeding and to help locals whose homes may have been damaged or lost in the fires. Knowing others in our community who wanted to give to Australia, we decided to extend the invitation to friends, family and our Newaygo County/Muskegon county area neighbors to give directly this way. As of January 16th, we have collected over $3200. An enormous thank you to all who have so generously given and a hearty thank you to those of you who plan to. We hope to collect all donations by the end of January, so there is still time to give. Any and all amounts are greatly appreciated. There are no overhead costs or salaries being taken from this money and all proceeds are being directly used to help the animals and people in the community near Budgong, NSW.
Already funds are being put to good use. The kangaroos, wombats, wallabies and possum as well as other critters who survived the fire are now able to find food and water at the stations that Rylan Edmistone and others have been setting up in the ash filled woodlands around their area. Between private lands that he can access and government lands, he has set feed/water stations over a 250 acre area. Obviously, animals outside that range would also be entering to seek food. He has reached out to others in his community who also want to help in this feeding effort for the animals who have so little left at present on which to survive. As owners of a family Bed and Breakfast, the Edmistones have extra space where they have kindly housed neighbors whose well and septic were ruined by fire and will continue to extend housing and food to those in need of accommodations due to their losses. Rylan and his mother, Anne, are also conferring with community leaders as how to best help other area residents who are in need. Donations may be mailed or dropped off to Kathy and John Morrison 6128 S Maple Island Road, Fremont, MI 49412.
1/23/2020 06:47:47 am
Thank you for updating us about how funds are being utilized. What are they feeding the critters? What is on the tree?
1/24/2020 04:44:34 pm
Hello, Dawn, and thanks for asking. The animals are being given feed pellets approved for wildlife by an Aussie wildlife rescue organization called WIRES. The pellets feed mainly the kangaroos, wallabies, and wombats. On the trees, "fruit kabobs" are put up for birds, possums, and gliders (a type of small"flying" possum). Rylan is now partnering with a larger group of locals who are doing the same sort of feed/water efforts in an attempt to cover larger areas and have more coordination between volunteers. The loss of habitat and food is enormous and cannot be understated. The need for putting food out will remain for quite some time. Volunteers have to monitor stations with caution because large trees are still burning from within and though often not visible outwardly, are a real danger when they collapse. Temperatures have soared again since my writing, well past 100 degrees with high winds. Recent rains have helped somewhat but the area has experienced several years of drought,so though a relief, it is not a cure-all. Areas that have not had fire, are always at risk of igniting and spreading.
1/28/2020 04:14:16 am
Thanks so much for your efforts, Kathy. I plan to drop off funds today. Will you give us a follow-up article again?
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