“The Guilt”

Last weekend I went back into “our lease”.

“Our lease” is an old state forest converted into a national park in 2006. It’s only ours until 2023 when we and our cattle are to be removed.

I hadn’t been out there since the fires in November – there had’nt been the need. We’d moved all of our cattle out as there was nothing left to eat.

We’d applied for a permit to burn with NPWS 12 months before – we are still waiting for a response. We had received rain in October and safely back burned in our neighbouring freehold country. It was saved from the flames.

On the 26th of November in 40 degree heat and 80km winds a fire entered “our lease”. The result was nothing less than catastrophic.

We’d recently received 2 inches of rain and I was interested to see what was coming back.

On the rough track into “our lease” there is an old swamp. It’s a place I’d been many times before. It’s a place our cattle like to graze for the sweet grass that grows there. It’s a place you’ll see wallabies and goannas and thousands of bird life.

It was a place once towered over and shaded by old blue gums, old enough to tell stories that no one else is left to remember.

We’d put a fire break around the edge of it during the peak of the fire. We thought it would be a good refuge for our cows and calves and any wildlife that wanted to escape the flames. Even after a long drought, the ground was soft underfoot and grass lush. No fire would burn it.

To my shock, I found several old blue gums burnt at the stump. They joined their mates along the river banks that had been incinerated. These old blokes – I thought – would live to fight another day. I was wrong.

It was a strange feeling to see these towering giants lying tangled on the ground – smashed limbs and leaves shewn ingloriously across the flat.

Their surviving few mates still standing – now only lonely surviving beacons.

I felt an instant pang of guilt.

Although I fought for 10 days straight on the fire that didn’t want to stop – I hadn’t saved them. Although I’d walked miles with a drip torch back burning until 4am in the morning – it wasn’t enough.

For these old centinals – 300 years old or maybe more – this fire was their last.

I felt guilty because I hadn’t done enough to save them – not from this fire but long before.

I knew in 2006 when they were converted “our lease” into a “national park” that it wasn’t right.

I knew since then that while they were now “owned” by the Government, the Government wouldn’t turn up to help them.

They would care little about the lantana that grew up all around them or the feral pigs that dig at their feet. Or the millions of wattle and mahogany suckers that turned once open woodland and blue gum flats into a choked monoculture of woody weeds.

No one could have envisaged the fires that consumed them in that hot horrific day. But strangely I felt like I did.

I should have spoken out sooner. I should have did more. I should have rattled more cages on George St. I should have yelled louder.

All I have now is the charred corpses of old gum trees in a swamp that should never have burnt to remind me.

Some blame climate change.

Some blame the Greens.

I actually blame myself.

Abraham Lincoln once said “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

In the face of obvious incompetence and mismanagement, I did nothing. The old blue gums fate I feel lies in my hands.

It would be easy to blame some ignorant Government for their demise. But what do they know? Why would they care?

Some far off blue gum, in some far off electorate isn’t worth many votes.

They swapped cheap and easy green preferences for cheap and easy “national parks”. Who cares of the consequence?

I knew they were wrong but said nothing. I felt I could do nothing.

The same Government that let them burn gets an easy out – blame climate change.

I don’t get such an easy absolution. Every time I go back into “our lease” – I’ll feel the guilt and I’ll see the carnage.

I’ll see the old relic lying on the floor and remember – I didn’t do enough.

I failed.

But failure isn’t a destination unless you let it be. Losing isn’t the end unless you stop trying.

I’ve made a silent oath to my old friend and his mates – next time I’ll do better. Next time I’ll make sure you are heard.

I won’t let them trade you for inner city warm and fuzzies. I won’t let them blame climate change. I’ll speak up. I’ll knock on as many doors as I have to.

It might be nice for people in the city living in concrete jungles to lock up another “national park”.

But they don’t have to see the encroachment of noxious weeds through once open blue gum flats.

They don’t have to deal with the pigs and feral pests.

They won’t be there when the next fire hits – with 40 meter flames raging above their heads.

They don’t have to see the carnage of old blue gums – sacrificed for their “environmental convenience”.

So I’ll attach this picture and hopefully some of them will see it.

Bushfire victim

I’d like our Premier and anyone from the Greens to come and stand with me at “our swamp”.

You won’t see much lantana but it’s coming back. You’ll see a lot of wattle suckers and emergents and think that it’s “green”.

But you will see 300 year old blue gum lieing lifeless on their backs – torn and shattered on the flat. Their great stumps – charred and ruined.

They might see it once but that might be enough.