‘We were told our town was undefendable!’
On 2 January 2020, the township of Batlow (population 1313) was declared ‘undefendable’, and its citizens were advised to flee while they could. This was during the devastating Black Summer Bushfires of 2019-2020. I remember it well. Much of south-eastern Australia was on fire or under threat. My personal focus was on Adaminaby (161 kms from Batlow via the Snowy Mountains Highway) and on the fires south-west of Sydney near Tahmoor, and then on fires creeping close to Canberra. There were many fires burning across New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia.
Here are some of the statistics:
34 lives lost.
18.6 million hectares of land and forests destroyed.
3 billion mammals, birds, and reptiles lost.
Horrific fires, horrific damage.
So, how did Batlow manage to survive the fires? While many evacuated, others stayed to fight for their community. This book is a collection of stories, poems and photographs from the people of Batlow. Volunteers saved the town: fighting fires, manning communications, preparing, and distributing food and water, looking out for each other and (where possible) for pets and livestock.
These are some of the stories from those who were there. The editors, Sulari Gentill and Sarah Kynaston, tell us a little about each of the people who have contributed and their connections to the community. Not every property could be saved but given the intensity of the megablaze threatening Batlow, it is astonishing that so much was saved.
And who were the volunteers? From farmers to tradesmen and teachers, from retirees to those who had just finished school. Everyday people fighting for their community and their livelihoods. Each one of them a hero.
This book is important. This is not a media presentation or a political interpretation of events. This book is a collection of memories by those directly affected, by those who fought to save Batlow, those who evacuated and includes a focus on the future.
Book 2 in my 2023 Nonfiction Reader Challenge. I’ve entered as a ‘Nonfiction Grazer’ and this book should be included under the heading of ‘Memoir’.