If a tree burns in a forest does anyone care?
1,000,000 hectares of land was burnt in the Central Queensland bushfires in November and December 2018.
To put that in the Qld Labor Party’s preferred unit of measurement – that’s 2 million Suncorp stadiums.
The majority of the area burnt was national park or in what is classified as “remnant” vegetation. “Remnant” vegetation is basically State-sanctioned national park on privately held land.
105 individual fires burnt from Mackay in the north through to Bundaberg in the south. That’s 600km of bush fires.
One fire burnt so intensely that it destroyed the Eungella National Park – a wet tropical rainforest. Scientists say it will take hundreds of years to regenerate. 1000’s of years of biodiversity – gone in a large, black, hot, plume of smoke.
The Premier of Queensland and her sycophant followers claimed that the fires were caused by climate change and had nothing to do with their ideologically driven vegetation and national park policies.
Our Premier also callously said “where were the so called critics during these fires?”
Well I am just one critic of the Government and their handling of vegetation, fire and national park management in Queensland. Where was I during those fires? I was on a hastily formed fire break surrounded by 30 meter high trees and 40 metre high flames trying to protect my home and 50,000 hectares of land that surrounds it.
I was with 25 volunteer rural fire fighters from my local Kolonga Fire brigade who donated 10 days fighting just one of the fires that ravaged the state and consumed 50,000 hectares in our little district called Gaeta, north of Gin Gin. We were helped by 100’s of volunteer rural fire fighters from as far away as Newcastle.
I feel that my family and my community have earned the right to comment.
In 1996 my family bought a 4,000 acre state forest lease that adjoins our freehold property called “Mt Wallaby”. We bought it so we could manage the noxious weeds and feral animals that over-flowed onto our home property. “Our lease” was converted to a national park in 2006 through a grubby preference deal struck by Peter Beattie and the rainforest society for cheap green preferences in inner city Brisbane most of whom wouldn’t know the difference between an iron bark and a spotted gum or a lantana bush and black wattle suckers.
“Our Lease” is one of 72 leases across the state to be impacted – a total of 1,000,000 acres. That’s 72 rural families locked out of land they have managed for generations on the ideologically driven notion that by removing humans from the environment it will simply return to the Garden of Eden. I’m not sure the lantana, feral pigs and bushfires will comply with the eviction notice.
We once ran 600 cows on our lease – we now manage just 250. Some who know little of what they are talking about might blame drought and climate change or suggest cows shouldn’t be run in “national parks”.
Those that actually live, try to make a living and protect our environmental estate know that the encroachment of noxious weeds such as lantana and cats claw and the encroachment of wattle and apple mahogany suckers in once open woodlands is the real cause.
In 1890, our forefathers dropped 3000 Hereford – Shorthorn cross cows off on the sand bar at the mouth of the Kolan River. They walked them up the river into the prime open blue gum flat grazing country. That same system is now so over-grown and choked with weeds and woody vegetation that black snakes have to come out backwards.
Now, because “our lease” is a national park – each year we must apply for a permit to undertake fuel load reduction back-burns. We applied for a permit in December 2017, followed up in June 2018 and visited Parks and Wildlife offices three times in October 2018. We are still waiting for a permit or even a phone call. In a cruel irony, after the fires decimated our land and business, we received an application form in the mail to apply for next year’s permit.
At the start of October 2018 we received 4 inches of rain and through a permit issued by our local fire warden, safely back-burned our freehold country. This area was spared during the November fires. As we didn’t have a permit, it was illegal to take the same preventative measures in “our” lease.
I call it “our” lease because that’s how we treat it – like it’s ours. We think of it and would like to manage it like our freehold country that’s been in my family for 150 years (5 generations). We have real skin in the game. We don’t talk about conservation – we live it. We don’t think the environment is some far off wonderland, it’s our home. And we put our livelihood and our lives on the line to protect it. I’d like to hand it down to my children so they can do the same, and their kids after them.
On the 26th of November 2018 – in 40 degree heat and 80km winds a runaway fire jumped the 30 metre wide Kalpowar road and entered our lease.
I won’t lie – the conditions were horrific. Its hard to describe the feeling of standing on a 10 meter wide fire break with 30 meter high eucalypts engulfed in flames. The heat. The smoke. The deafening roar. The fear.
The fire burnt the entire 4,000 acres of our lease along with the majority of the Bulburin National Park. Some would blame climate change. I blame incompetence. If we had been allowed to safely back-burn as we did with our freehold country there would have been no need for the carnage.
The fire burnt with such intensity, fueled by extremely high fuel loads, that 300 year old river blue gums burnt at the stump. These trees were probably saplings when Captain Cook arrived and have survived 300 years of European settlement.
Fires in this area aren’t new, the only thing “unprecedented” about them is the compounding effect of years of Government blind ineptitude.
All that is left is their charred remains. An area once abundant with birds, koalas, possums, sugar gliders is now eerily quiet. They might come back but from what. The earliest signs of regeneration is the lantana bushes and feral pigs feasting on the carcasses.
In 2023 we will be excluded from running cattle in “our lease”. For the first time since our area was settled in 1890 cattle will no longer be able to graze our land.
The extreme fuel loads associated with overgrown vegetation and noxious weeds will be further exacerbated as the native grasses that proliferate in our high rain fall schlerophyl forests will not be able to be reduced by safe cattle grazing. Back burning and fire breaks are important but reducing fuel loads through safe low-intensity cattle grazing is probably just as important.
Further, we will be excluded from “our lease”. No one to pay for and maintain the firebreaks, no one to manage the weeds and feral pests and no one to do the back burns when the conditions are right.
Some may say the government can just employ more park rangers to do the job for us. My 70 year old father didn’t sleep for 5 days trying to fight this fire. I can tell you a 9 to 5 public servant won’t have the same commitment as a family and community trying to protect their livelihoods or their homes. Moreover they will not learn from a text book the experience of a life lived on the land.
The new “national park” boundary is also 200 meters from our home – that home has been there since 1891. We’ve managed these lands for generations. We love our land and respect it.
When we are excluded from “our lease” in 2023 it will still be our neighbour. I hold little hope of the Premier, her bureaucrats or employees coming to our assistance when the next bush fire happens. They’ll be in air conditioned offices in Williams street looking at the thermostat waiting for the climate to change.
In some ways I’m glad we never received a permit from Parks and Wildlife and couldn’t back burn when we wanted to in our lease. By good fortune, no one died – other than thousands of birds, lizards, possums and koalas that were consumed by the flames.
I’m devastated that after years of drought we now needlessly have 250 cows to hand feed – many of them with full udders and no calves. Their calves – along with the thousands of native wildlife that perished – will never be found.
I’m glad because despite all the heart ache and waste I might get to tell the Premier this story and hopefully she reads it. I might get to show her some photos of what destruction her policies have caused. The Premier might claim this is not her her direct doing but she presides over a throne of poor Labor/Green policy 30 years in the making.
Hopefully people in the city will also read this and give us a hand. Hopefully we might stop this happening again – because we can.
Farmers don’t sit around waiting for the climate to change. We hope for the best and prepare for the worst. We are here for the long haul – we’ll see ignorant Premiers and governments come and go. We think in generations not election terms.
We’ll hold on because we love our land and what we do. No sane person would put up with the rot that we do unless you are all consumed and passionate about your cause. We’ll fight for as long as it takes. It’s a battle we can’t and won’t lose.
It brings to mind the old adage – if a tree falls in a forest does it make a noise? I hope to Christ that if a 300 year old blue gum burns in a National Park from a fire that could have been prevented, someone is listening because no one seems to want to listen to a farmer who loves and respects their own land.
Not yet any way.
This email letter arrived anonymously and needs to be widely circulated. It confirms what Saltbush has been saying about bushfire mis-management. We salute the brave person who wrote the letter.
PDF version: https://saltbushclub.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/eden-destroyed.pdf [PDF, 212 KB]