COUNTRYSIDE ALIGHT: Satellite images of the fires. You can help struggling farmers in this bushfire crisis by donating to Burrumbuttock Hay Runners
COUNTRYSIDE ALIGHT: Satellite images of the fires. You can help struggling farmers in this bushfire crisis by donating to Burrumbuttock Hay Runners

Fire impacts ‘impossible to comprehend’

UNTIL this year, Victoria’s Upper Murray was the envy of Australia and one of the few areas with grass, good grass.

Hay had been trucked out of the district to Queensland for months.

But that grass became a blessing turned nightmare when the Jingellic fire sent embers flying across Mount Mittamatite onto the farmland below.

I can’t begin to comprehend the ferocity of the fires that left 160,000ha blackened, with thousands of cattle dead, more than 20 homes lost and 1000 people crowded into Corryong’s school hall with no power.

Emergency services threw everything they had at protecting Corryong on New Year’s Eve.

The township largely survived but everything around it is gone, in a district almost completely reliant on its farming economy.

For most people, it’s too early to contemplate what comes next.

I moved home to Corryong in November after eight years in Rockhampton.

I lived through and reported on Cyclone Oswald, Cyclone Marcia, the floods that followed Cyclone Debbie and the firestorm that saw 12,000 people evacuated from Gracemere.

UP IN FLAMES: Corryong just before the fire jumped Mt Mittamatite in the early hours of New Year’s Eve.
UP IN FLAMES: Corryong just before the fire jumped Mt Mittamatite in the early hours of New Year’s Eve.

It’s a highly disaster resilient region but I learned, particularly after Cyclone Marcia, that once the danger has passed, what comes next is just as devastating.

Rockhampton is still recovering nearly five years later.

On Monday this week, I got back into Corryong and stayed for two nights.

The sight is beyond confronting, the smoke almost intolerable, and the devastation on people’s faces is heartbreaking.

There are some who will never recover.

Many farmers had their first sleep on Sunday night, after five days fighting spot fires and protecting their properties.

There is no relief shift coming for the farmers, and there’s little help.

Now the biggest word on everyone’s mind is hay – it’s the blood keeping hope and life itself alive.

I know of one dairy farmer who shot 90 cows and another who shot 300 head.

Others are doing everything they can to muster and try to get at least some of their stock out to the saleyards.

Earlier this week, Burrumbuttock Hay Runners brought 53 truckloads of hay into town and I’ve heard we need 20,000 bales a day, just in our district.

And it’s the same across fire affected areas in Victoria and NSW where communities are desperate.

There are people who have lost it all, grown men breaking down in the street, ordinary people doing extraordinary things under unimaginable circumstances.

And then the thin threads of hope rising out of the ashes.

The impact on these communities is impossible to comprehend.

A lot of people have asked me how they can help.

It will take years to recover, but right now the thread keeping things alive is hay.

Yesterday, Burrumbuttock Hayrunners founder Brendan Farrell told me he didn’t need more volunteers, they just need money in the bank for fuel.

On top of the bushfire emergency, Mr Farrell has 530 farmers in the Armidale area “screaming for hay” because the drought hasn’t gone away.

Christine McKee, News Corp journalist.
Christine McKee, News Corp journalist.

On Thursday he took 151 phone calls – from Armidale to Albury – and says he’s being pulled from pillar to post.

The hay is donated by other farmers around Australia who give what they can to their mates in need. All money raised is used for fuel to get the hay where it’s needed – and a truckload can cost $2500 to deliver.

If you have $2, $20, $200 or more please consider donating – go to hayrunners.com

If not, your thoughts and prayers are being felt across the isolation.

Christine McKee is a News Corp journalist and editor who lives in Corryong, Victoria.


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