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the regeneration of communities: the aftermath of the Tasmania bushfires

How many times have you considered the question, `If your house was burning down, what one thing would you save?’ Sadly, the piles of ash and ruins in towns like Dunalley in Tasmania’s South tell us that more than 100 households were likely faced with that very question recently.

How heart-wrenching it has been to watch grown men weep, to see couples staring numbly at where their house once stood, footage of livestock limping in blackened wool and livelihoods reduced to embers. I think we’re all grieving somewhat for the pretty little towns we remember. Our hearts are breaking with the people who now possess nothing more than the clothes on their bodies and the loose change in their pockets. It’s a sobering time. A time for reflection.

The fires that have wreaked havoc across Tasmania and parts of the big island have done more than burn valuables. These fires have refined spirits – call it the regeneration of community, if you like.

Just like the lush new buds and shoots that appear shortly after a bushfire has slaked its fury on a landscape, we are witnessing some exquisite beauty in the outpouring of generosity, hospitality, compassion, kindness… I could go on.

Every day I hear new stories of how people are helping one another. The oyster farmer who put a plea out on Facebook when his generator died and he risked losing his mainstay. A team of electricians arrived and offered their services, gratis of course. Donations of clothing, furniture, accommodation, money, services. The farming community has rallied to provide free feed for the livestock that have survived the fires. The ferries and private boat owners who transported people trapped on the Tasman Peninsula.

Beauty from ashes.

I am believing that, while this is an inconceivably difficult time for those affected by the fires, there will be a silver lining. Or fifty! Praise God there have been no deaths. In a way, they are in an enviable position; their lives have been refined to what truly matters: each other.

But I wonder if some, as embers and ash fell around them and the fire roared, choking with its billowing mane of smoke, I wonder if they asked `What next?’ Did they panic at the bleak thought of life ending like a full stop. No more. Nothingness.

One survivor whose house no longer exists was able to say in the days afterwards, `God has never let us down’. This woman’s five children sheltered under a jetty with their grandparents. She didn’t know what she would come home to. There was no home to speak of, but all her children were saved. And despite incredible loss, her faith sustained her.

Whether we were there, feeling the heat on our faces, or watching it on the box, this fire season has the ability to refine our character, our spirit. Ask the deeper questions; Why do I do what I do? What motivates me? What would I do if all my possessions were dust? Are those prayers in the heat of hardship heard? Do I need to make some changes?

At the very least, we should be acting on the heart-wrench. Join those showing hospitality, generosity, kindness and compassion to complete strangers with whatever they have. And not just when a fire looms.

Regeneration in the community, as in the bush, is sweet relief.

By Claire van Ryn

Claire van Ryn has worked as a journalist at The Examiner newspaper in Tasmania for about four years, has been writing a weekly column in the same paper since 2008, and has written for a handful of magazines. She also has a blog, faithlikeamushroom.wordpress.com.

Image Credit : Richard Jupe

One thought on “the regeneration of communities: the aftermath of the Tasmania bushfires

  1. Pingback: Giving a bit of LIP « Faith like a mushroom

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