Three years ago this week, Australia was burning. On 7 February 2009 — now known as Black Saturday — a massive firestorm consumed more than 400,000 hectares in southern Australia. At least 173 people died trying to outrun the fires, defend their homes or seek shelter.
That blaze was unusually fierce, but fires are a constant source of anxiety for Australia. The continent is extremely fire-prone, with a distinctive signature of oscillating fire activity that begins in the north during the winter, then moves south during the summer. Lately, the fires have been more intense and widespread, perhaps as a result of climate change — last year, around 5 per cent of the continent was burnt.
If only fires were Australia’s sole environmental concern. The continent is also overrun by invasive species. They fill holes created by a mass extinction event that occurred around 50,000 years ago during the Pleistocene, when the arrival of the first Australians coincided with a collapse in the continent’s megafauna, namely giant marsupials (some as large as hippopotamuses), reptiles and birds.
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Our flag flutters from letterboxes, fenceposts and trees along our roads – an enduring and binding tribute to the resilience of our communities in the 12 months since that fateful February day we now call Black Saturday.
Their resilience was tested like never before on February 7, 2009. And it has been severely challenged many times since as they struggle to slowly rebuild lives, homes and entire towns.
The progress has been slow, painfully so, for many communities. A year on Kinglake is still without a petrol station, Marysville still waits for a school and new shops. And people in each community have had to battle ever increasing bureaucracy and building permits based on new building standards that still can’t deliver the required roofing and window materials.
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