17 Aug 2021
Angelica Snowden | The Australian
More than 18 months after the Black Summer bushfires of late 2019 and early 2020, burnt tree trunks can still be spotted between green regrowth across Australia’s eastern seaboard.
Recovery from the fires, which killed 33 people and destroyed more than 3000 homes, has been documented in a new book, Fighting Spirit.
The photographic tribute to survivors and volunteers who helped in the aftermath of the fires that burned nearly one quarter of temperate forests in NSW, Victoria and the ACT is a joint production by News Corp Australia and the National Resilience and Recovery Agency. Royalties from the book will be donated to BlazeAid, an organisation dedicated to helping communities recover from natural disasters.
BlazeAid president and co-founder Kevin Butler said volunteers were still helping farmers install fencing in parts of NSW that were flattened by the fires in Cobargo, Adelong and Casino.
“We don’t put out the fires, we don’t feed people or provide blankets at the shelters. BlazeAid arrives into that community … and that’s after the firefighters are gone,” Mr Butler said.
“Often we come after the Red Cross and Salvation Army have gone.”
Small groups from about 30,000 volunteers establish base camps in communities where infrastructure has been demolished – largely by bushfires – to repair bridges, install hot water systems and even patch up chicken sheds. “We respond to the farmer’s needs. We have even planned a wedding,” Mr Butler said.
The Black Summer bushfires were “10 times” worse than a regular fire season and BlazeAid had helped about 3000 farmers restore fences.
“Farmers are continually fencing their farm to make sure their stock don’t get out,” he said.
“When the BlazeAid volunteers come along and give them a hand to do their fencing it turns their life around. They come from the precipice of suicide, mental depression, family break-up and accidents through sheer exhaustion.”
News Corp Australia’s community ambassador, Penny Fowler, said the book, with a foreword by Scott Morrison and an introduction from award-winning novelist Trent Dalton, demonstrated the resilience of Australian communities.
“Fighting Spirit recounts extraordinary stories told through remarkable images and carefully crafted words, including beautiful poetry from children and teens,” Ms Fowler said.
“The book demonstrates the human spirit at its noble best and humanity’s infinite capacity to generate hope from helplessness, forging community bonds stronger for having been built on kindness.”
News Corp Australia will donate 5000 copies of Fighting Spirit to bushfire-affected schools after it is published next month.