earth wind & fire

Help Somebody

'Help somebody!' It's the thought that kept rising to the fore in my mind as I begun to hear breaking news, urgent reports revealing what our fellows faced. Fanned by furious winds, fires roared and ripped through bush and building, burning across paddocks of dry, dead grass, exploding through forests, engulfing all in its path. It rained embers, spreading the hellish inferno so quickly, so far and so wide. Smoke blinded and choked, smothered and suffocated. Flames, vast walls of flames, fast moving columns of fire ... please forgive me for not continuing to describe in detail how they wreaked havoc. We need not dwell on the horrors they inflicted upon hundreds of human beings and thousands of animals.

I listened, alarmed. I felt impelled to help. I felt frustrated. As the fires burned, I could not help somebody by being on the frontlines . I was not in a position to do so. I could not help somebody in the way a person with the skill of a fire-fighter would, trying to tame a firestorm or the way a medic would, tending to the injured; I am not one of those so skilled.

Yet I drew comfort in the knowledge I have developed different skills, and I could, indeed I would use these skills to help somebody soon enough. I would help lift somebody up, up, up.

If we all stand together
We'll all stand tall, tall, tall
We wouldn't let each other
Tumble and fall, fall, fall
Now let's reach down together
And lift somebody up, up, up
Give a little love and kindness
It won't take much, much, much

Moment of Truth

After the fire, scorched earth. Shelters now cinder, all around ash. Scarred landscapes, shattered lives. So much work to do to together to recover and rebuild.

I can join with others to do this work for as well as having developed the necessary skills, I am lucky. I did not live in the path the destructive powers took that first day, nor where it turned and twisted, threatening, and indeed tearing through townships in the days that followed.

I make my home on land by the salty sea water, within a place known to the Yalukit-willam clan as koort-boork-boork, which means 'clump of She-oaks', literally: Many-She-oak-She-oak. This place, a safe base where I've made a home for my family was -- many, many moons ago -- the place where people would be invited to join in ceremony, to partake in a peace festival, where there would be an exchange of water and the leaves of a gum tree, as well as feasts of fish, shellfish and the meat of birds, possum, kangaroo.

This was a place where connections between community members were made and re-made. I feel connected to this place and its ancient purpose as common ground, and I feel compelled to act in ways congruent with the spirit of this place.

A call came in the week that followed the blackest days and nights. I responded to the call and was swiftly recruited into the ranks of those skilled at bringing relief to those affected by disaster, skilled in the second wave of response after the initial emergency response, skilled at assisting communities to stay connected, to maintain resilience, to recover and rebuild. Now I can reach out and help somebody.

For thankfully something great has happened. People have been brought together, all to do our part and lend a hand to those affected by the bushfires. An organisation has been built, a virtual organisation, an alliance of many organisations. Three tiers of government and non-government organisations working together, focused on a clear and important mission, serving these people from our broad community. Lending a hand, helping them get back on their feet.

We all got to do our part
Lend a hand and open up your heart
It's all up to me and you
We gotta get ready for the moment of truth.

Love Is Life

It does not serve the people to discharge duties now as if its just another day in the office, acting in a manner that is detached, officious, bureacratic. To the fore now must come the flexibility that is born of empathy and compassion. We have to care, to create solutions, to overcome obstacles. To help people through this setback in life, we have to draw upon our capacity for love, for imagination, for achievement.

February's firestorms, which burned out 4,500 km² and destroyed thousands of structures, have made an estimated 7,500 people homeless (at least for in the short-term). Our best work by way of recovery will be informed by an understanding of what it is like to have been through a traumatic event, to have escaped with your life and little else, and to face a great need to regain some, if not all of the utility of most of the material things lost.

Have you ever seen a flower
Tryin' to bloom in a dry barren land
But then comes a sweet spring shower
Just to lend a helpin' hand
Like the love of you and I
All at once it came alive
You brought love
And your love is life

Fan the Fire

There is a folk wisdom: Fight fire with fire. It conveys two meanings. One is its first, literal meaning. We can starve a fire of material to burn, and make it easier to put out, by burning material in a controlled way. The other is a figurative meaning. If you 'fight fire with fire' in a conflict or a contest, you use the same methods or 'weapons' as your opponent.

What made the firestorm on 7 February so very destructive was the combination of various forces. In combination, extraordinary climatic conditions, a persistent drought, and an exceptional heat wave affecting south-eastern Australia, created high fuel loads that were tinder-dry. On that day various fires were (probably) sparked by lightning, arson, discarded cigarette butts. In combination with these, the intense heat wave and high winds -- a howling hot northerly -- fanned the flames into firestorms of terrible ferocity. It incinerated all in its path.

Dare we now fan flames? And in which direction? We have many decisions to make.

Do we decide to turn upon those whose 'tree-change' lifestyles may have been the better, more sustainable in different circumstances or a different place, but are now clearly revealed to be maladaptive and unsustainable in contemporary circumstances in that bush on those hills? I think not. I think we discuss the lessons learnt and apply them, but let's not over-react. Greens did not cause these fires. People living 'greener' did not cause these fires.

Do we decide to fan flames of discontent, of dissatisfaction with wasteful and wrong ways of living in spite of - rather than within - the natural limitations of our land and environment? Yes, but it would seem the time for heading off catastrophe is past. We need to ensure we stop doing more damage, repair and remediate what can be, but most importantly, for our safety and survival we must learn to to adapt. We need to adapt to a climate that has changed, to an environment that is damaged, to a worsening situation.

Do we decide enough is enough, and no longer set ourselves divided into diametrically opposed camps? Do we do something altogether different, avoid the trap of a never-ending blame game, and focus on adapting to what we face now and in future, remediating what can be, setting upon a sustainable course to curb the frequency of future emergencies?

Yes, yes ... playing histrionic blame games is pointless. Playing blame games gets us nowhere, turns us inside-out, sends us running in vicious cycles. It discourages us from gaining the understanding needed to solve a highly complex and poorly understood problem. Let's not play blame games. It is far better to be focused on the future than dwelling on, and getting stuck back in the past.

Instead of pointing fingers, do we look to creating an extraordinary combination of positive forces? Say we invest our energies and set about intensifying feelings of community connectedness, can we create stronger, more resilient communities, and thereby assist people to both head off and cope well with events that threaten them harm?

To me the answer to this last question is certain: Yes, we can. And the work I now do in concert with so many others will certainly test the hypothesis. Besides, what harm could be done by building stronger interconnectedness and interdependence between us whatever future we face? None, as far as I can see.

ohh it's a shame
I'ts a shame, it's a shame
The flame of love is about to die
Somebody fan the fire
The flame of love is about to die
Somebody fan the fire
Love is dyin' today
Somebody fan the fire
The flame of love is dyin' i say
We gonna fan the fire, come on along
Little children starving in a foreign land,
Talk about it brother
Man afraid to shake his brother's hand (fan the fire, fan the fire)
Woman in trouble callin' but nobody cares (fan the fire, fan the fire)
People denied the rights that are truly theirs (it's a shame).

C'mon Children

It is a myth that all the Australian bush has completely adapted to regular fires. The ecological effects of fire vary according to the season, frequency, intensity, scale and patchiness of burning in a landscape. Bushfire in Australia has both negative and positive effects on the ecosystems in this land. Ecosystems become severely affected when fires are too hot and large. Regenerative fires generally are of a less intense nature than that we have just witnessed.

The February fires have been devastating to a number of wildlife populations. It is feared endangered populations of gliders, owls and lizards are among the dead. For those that have survived, the recovery process will be long and slow. The homes of much of the fauna of our land are lost and they are not going to be readily rebuilt. We cannot rapidly reconstruct a native forest.

Yet people will see our native bushland mostly healing itself after after these fires, regenerating and bouncing back to teem with life once more. Some Australian flora requires a combination of heat and smoke to release seeds. The heat, smoke and ash of the February fires will provide triggers for germination of many, if not all plant species. Many fauna populations will rebound. People will see this and think all is right. It will not be all right. Not all species will come back strongly. It is likely that some will not come back at all.

The explorer, Thomas Livingstone Mitchell, in his 'Journal of an Expedition into the Interior of Australia' (published in 1848) observed the interrelation of the land and the people indigenous to it: "Fire, grass, kangaroos and human inhabitants seem all dependent on each other for existence in Australia, for any one of these being wanting, the others could no longer continue."

Whilst not suggesting that we all should now start to live exactly as the indigenous people did in the 1800s, I am a firm believer in the need to recognise, and then act in accord with the fact, that sustainable co-existence in this country must be founded on a harmnious interdependence between elements: earth, wind, fire, water, mineral, vegetable, animal, etc.

I find seeds of hope within the resources now being applied to promote and progress the recovery and reconstruction of individual homes and whole towns. I see that what is being done now, and what we will come to do in the weeks, months, and years ahead, may bring about a positive change with lasting effect. As we recover and prepare to rebuild in this environment, we've the opportunity to learn about and better understand the nature of it. With better knowledge of the land and its ecosystems we can make this opportunity one in which we shape and adopt new ways of living within the limits of these lands. We can seize the opportunity to better promote what is balanced, sensible and sustainable.

Come on down and lend a hand
Need your love, to save the land

This World Today

It is in our hands, this world today. We must answer this: In what state will we leave it as legacy to our children, and their children, and theirs, and so on?

In this new world
Of suffering
Love, peace of mind
Should be our thing
Let man join hands
The old and the young
And let every heart
Now beat as one
In this world today.


  1. some people (a lot!) won't listen ...

      .. and then there are the vested interests ...

        .. but whatever, fire (in Aus) can be truly awesome


    G'day orana gelar,

    I had some experience with the big Canberra fire; 1st hand from my vantage-point on the southern city/bush interface, 2nd hand from another witness a few kilometres from the western interface, then from sundry others with more or less distance from 'the problems.'

    Vested interests (emergency services, local government, forestry) mostly denied any irresponsibility - although the prime cause of the biggest problems was - Oh, so obviously - the humungous pine forest abutting the city at the most damaged spots. One only needs to walk through such a forest to appreciate the fire-bomb it became; the dense planting, the dense branches from the earth to the sky, the everywhere oozing resin... then all going bone-dry in the drought, and then the high winds - same-old same-old, and nobody noticed. Until it was far too late, that is.

    What is needed - always and of course IMHO - is a sufficiently wide grass margin (1000+ meters better than 100s, and 10s are foolishly too few); then (ugly!) high metal fences and guttering empty of leaves.

    It's not (so much) a matter of apportioning blame after the fact, but smart planning beforehand - marked in the main by its absence - as demonstrated in Vic recently, 2003 in Canberra - and Sydders almost every year. On and on, more same-old same-old - but as good as nobody listens.

  2. An excellent blog set up by a "Black Saturday" survivor: Flowerdale - Survivor Spirit