Fire!  Quick, mate!

Dear Beagle Editor Reading the papers today plunged me into a flashback. Years ago, well before the Canberra bushfires, Jesse and I went out to Casuarina Sands, a pleasant swimming spot on the Murrumbidgee, west of Canberra, a bit below its junction with the Cotter river. It was a hot and horrible day. We swam and cooled down, and were just climbing into the car to return to Canberra, when Jesse said "is that smoke?". I went to the edge of the car park, looked down towards the river and saw a tall, dead bush well alight.

In the hot and windy conditions, it took a fraction of a second to register "this could get serious". I'd been vaguely aware of another couple putting stuff in their car, presumably also about to make their way home. Without consideration, expectation or hesitation, I yelled out "Fire! Quick, mate!". Now, pause there. In retrospect, wasn't that at least a bit strange. Here's me yelling instructions to a chap I'd never even really looked at, let alone met. Here's me, using the vernacular "mate", not my normal mode of speech. Here's him, not pausing to argue, to say, "sorry mate, I've gotta go" or "excuse me, fellow, I'm not your mate!" Here's both of us, not pausing to think what we are going to do when we get there, running down the long and winding path leading down toward the river and the burning bush. With the benefit of being a bit closer, I get there first. With the benefit of prior experience in the bush, I know exactly what to do. What we've done for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. I rip a branch off a nearby tree and start beating out the fire. I'm already making good progress when your man arrives. I yell to him: "grab a branch and help". For at least the second time today he takes instruction from a perfect stranger, and, between us, with our crude improvised tools, we soon have the bush extinguished. We stand around for a few minutes, catching our breath and making sure no embers have made it to other bushes. When we are confident the incident is over, we shake hands and make our way back up to the car park. So, why am I telling you this? Simple. Our world is on fire, because of climate change. Fires in England. In Finland. In Sweden. In Siberia. In Greece. In California. In Canada. In Indonesia. In Tasmania. In Victoria. Just in the year past. Big fires. Fires the likes of which we have not previously seen. Unstoppable fires. Getting worse every year. But fires we can do something about if we want to. We don't have to actually put ourselves at risk fighting the fires, although many of us must. We can do better. We can demand our political leaders get serious about action on climate change now. And, in the elections to come, we can make sure to only vote for candidates with an established record on climate change awareness and intention. Or we can turn our backs and ignore the call. "I don't care if people die. I don't care if animals die, and whole ecosystems are wiped out. I don't care if people become homeless. It's somebody else's problem, not mine." What are you going to do, when someone yells: "Fire! Quick, mate!"? Terry McGee, Malua Bay.



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