Black Saturday


Black Saturday five days on

Before I was called out, we had been watching the conflagration
for several days, ears glued to the News Radio for further stories
in the dark. Ours was no Black Saturday which had engulfed
the mountains of my adolescent heartland, but a mere 9000 ha
of forest in Redmond over here in the West. 'Bornholm Fast Attack 1
to Bornholm Fast Attack 2, stick to the right down Hennings Road,

too many widow makers falling out of that forest, over.' The tall
jarrah forest was roaring at itself as we hovered and patrolled
in the thinly grassed paddock and the blanket of smoke, as the
back burn met the fire head and two towering walls of flame stood
high and face to face, whilst red tongues of fire burst out around us.
Near a derelict house a farmer stood on his round bales, bucket in
hand, etched out against the evening sun now red above the horizon,
whilst our pump motors on the trucks stood by, growling quietly
in the wait. It was a fire we could eventually leave to the next shift,
one that responded to the rules in the training manual. Back at home
the next morning, my lungs still stiff with smoke, my dirty uniform
hanging on the back veranda airing, hanging limply like a dead man,
I looked at my library, and the house fire breaks in need of a shave.
Should I do the fire plan, take a photograph of every shelf, or start
up the tractor? Victorian survivors had spoken of the guilt of living,
I felt the guilt of distance. Pioneer Oval at Marysville, where many
had gathered for security and safety, was where I had kicked a goal
against the stout mountain men in my youth, shared a beer afterwards
with the vanquished. How now the feeling of defeat? I kicked my
tractor into life and set the slasher to work, giving whole paddocks
a crew-cut, trying to keep busy to flatten the roaring images that
crashed into my mind, with the cutting blades and the seeming anger
of the motor. 'It sounded like ten Jumbo Jets taking off through the
forest above us.' This searing that killed simply by stealing the light
and burning up the air they needed. 'This here is where the windscreen
melted.' 'It was like they had been cremated in embrace.' From my
tractor I can see the nearby ocean clear and blue, but I could not see it.

You can't go back

Yesterday it was Woori-Yallock and Millgrove
and Warburton and Silvan. Driving through newly
established housing and increased civic pride. We
cruised past muddy football ovals where once I had
played for my life, the water oozing into my dry boots,
the ball coming at different angles past awkward angular
bodies. Goals I stopped quite a few, kicked far fewer
and some thought me totally uncompromising on my
day. But now I have disappeared from the local newspapers,
the team sheet in Howden's Newsagent window, along with
all of the others who have crossed back over the boundary.
Memory is a powerful thing, selecting the great spoil and the
run down field, forgetting the full forward from North Melbourne
with speed and flair who responded to fists and sledging
with a couple more well kicked goals. One day in a hurry,
on the approach to Monbulk township,
Robbie Jack flattened a dog with his Simca, it groaned in
the gutter whilst we knew we should already be lacing up
our boots. We both started badly that day and we went on
to win, but not before the coach gave us a piece of his mind
and then took out his teeth. Nowadays those places are
extended suburbia and clubs forage and seek far and wide
for players for next season's stars instead of simply
digging deeper into their own tribe.

Tony LondonTony London is a retired teacher and school principal who now divides his time between his writing and an olive grove on the south coast of Western Australia. He is involved in the local volunteer fire brigade acts as an educational consultant with some interests in India.

Topic tags: black saturday, Pioneer Oval, marysville, monbulk, Redmond, 'Bornholm Fast Attack, Woori-Yallock, Millgrove



submit a comment

Existing comments

Most touching.

Sigríður Ólafsdóttir | 18 March 2009  

I guess Tony is writing about the Victorian Bushfires, as I did not recognise familar place names. As a science teacher I am disappointed that so little discussion has been seen regards the level of material (quoted at 30 + tonnes/hectare) was allowed to build up compared to the 2003 legislation of 8 tonnes/hectare. 4 times the foliage gives 16 times the fire intensity. This is regular Year 10 science / geography. This horrid human suffering was avoidable. Glass does not melt in low intensity fires and people can drive away to safety.

Greg Quinn | 20 March 2009  

Similar Articles

Gangsters are people too

  • Tim Kroenert
  • 26 March 2009

Let's face it, caricature is easy. Rhetoric that links bikies with terrorism and organised crime makes for sensational news, but good journalism demands more than that. So does compelling storytelling.


On orphans in Catholic care

  • Philip Mendes
  • 27 March 2009

Some enjoyed supportive placements and moved successfully into mainstream society. Others were disempowered and even traumatised by their time in care, and left with serious health and emotional deficits.



Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up