OPINION

The view from Mallacoota - six months after the bushfires

Driving home to Mallacoota, it hit me yet again.

After nearly six months, the bush is still black. Stark and sorry.

Hundreds of kilometres of burnt vegetation with nowhere for a living creature to survive.

Most of us still cannot talk about the wildlife that was lost.

We look for signs of return, but it seems the only creatures around us are domestic birds and a few town kangaroos.

Conditions were some of the driest we've ever seen, and there was so much fuel for the fires.

There are so many lessons we can take with us as we face worsening climate change.

We are busy burning off and mulching some of those excessive fuel loads now, in the shortening winter season.

We're paying attention to the land and watching to see what regrows.

The bush knows how to look after itself, and we need to be apprentices.

Recovery means listening to our indigenous people, and learning the proper ways of caring for the land.

After all, Aboriginal people have managed the land sustainably for 120,000 years - but in only two centuries since colonisation so much has been undone.

Burnt houses are getting cleared away, with mixed feelings from owners who re-traumatise whenever they see their destroyed property, but cannot identify with a cleared flat block that erases even the memory of their destroyed home.

In conversations, they will mention some items that they no longer have.

We are only just beginning to come to terms with the grief and the loss.

Our new Mallacoota and District Recovery Association has just been elected.

Twelve members who will speak for this community, to say what we want, rather than what has been imposed on us in the past.

We live here, we know what our caretaker duties are, and no longer will we hand it over to the same authorities who fiddled while Rome burned.

My partner Phil and I are getting on with our self-sufficiency plans.

We all need to contribute what we can, bracing ourselves for further climate catastrophes.

Even during the fires here we were anxious about what DIDN'T burn; it means that next year there is still more left to potentially burn.

We need a secure water supply and off-the-grid power now in preparation.

Our home was a sanctuary during the fires because we had these precious commodities.

My garden is recovering from the bushfire trauma, but has produced out-of-season food that was held in shocked suspension during the fires.

I need to keep planting, saving seed, and observing what survives.

One upside is that we certainly have plenty of ash, carbon, leaf litter and mulch to help the garden regrow.

Because we are a small community, our recovery is supported by each other; possibly more effectively than all the professional services on offer.

Every small rural town has its own culture.

Ours has been shattered and invaded by all the well-meaning "outside" help.

Left alone now, ironically thanks to coronavirus isolation, we have a chance for private grief, for recovery and connection to what we have.

The shock of the virus is nothing like the shock of the fires.

Our comfort zone has already been disturbed.

Having lived two months in isolation after the fires, further isolation was not difficult.

I was feeling sorry for people cooped up in small urban units, when we still had our magnificent bush beaches to walk along, albeit with charred foreshores.

We already have our community support, our networks of care. Country people are good at that.

My personal wish is for the government to pay attention to the land.

We need to learn Indigenous ways of land management, as caretakers of the sadly charred but still beautiful Croajingalong National Park and Howell Ranges.

The fires have shown clearly that we need more funding for national parks, which currently survive on a wing and a prayer.

When we, like many other isolated rural communities, had our power cut off by the fires, we became acutely aware that we need more funding for solar and wind off-grid systems for all homes.

The cost of fitting every home with water tanks and solar is affordable and would save our governments in future crisis management.

Having the navy deliver diesel generators into Mallacoota was ridiculous and inefficient.

I call on our governments to future proof communities now. Climate change is here.

When the state government plans for the pandemic recovery, they must address the climate and ecological crisis we are in right now.

Kate Jackson is a retired teacher living in Mallacoota