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New Year's Eve in an incinerated NSW South Coast apocalypse

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The Moorings Resort, Tomakin, NSW, 31 December 2019 (Image by Anthony Guido)

We were lucky. Pure and simple. A confluence of events allowed us to avoid the otherworldly fire front shown above by approximately 50 minutes.

On Boxing Day, I travelled with my partner to a favourite holiday spot in the stunning NSW South Coast for a nine-day break. We drove there from Melbourne via Canberra, where we were greeted with the worst air quality ever experienced in this country – worse even than Delhi and Beijing – courtesy of bushfires raging near Kosciuszko National Park and along the coast.

We spent a few relaxing days soaking up the natural beauty of Broulee, Batehaven and the many spots dotted between Tomakin and Bateman’s Bay, and tried to ignore the escalating smoke haze that also coloured the coastline.

On New Year’s Eve, we woke to a red sunrise and the smell of acrid smoke filling our lungs. A trip to the lookout at Tomakin Beach revealed an ominous red glow in the not too distant horizon, as hot gusty winds shot ash and blackened matter into our faces. Along with most other onlookers, we hurried back to our accommodation (a unit in the middle of the building shown on left in the above image) to pack our belongings, tune in to the ABC bushfire updates and decide where we should go.

At the Moruya Showgrounds where we sheltered with hundreds of other displaced locals and holidaymakers, we attended the Emergency Services update at 7.30 pm in the basketball stadium. This facility was now housing families with young children, the elderly and the infirm, and volunteers were issuing meagre supplies to evacuees; there was no power. Darkness had already fallen a couple of hours earlier, despite daylight saving. No moon or stars could break through the thick blanket of smoke. Though the exhausted emergency services liaison officer was happy to answer questions as he laboured with a torch to read his notes, most had already been answered during his sombre presentation.

There was nothing to do but wait. And hope.

We huddled in our car to try for sleep as the night air, surprisingly cold after the suffocating heat of the day, descended over the deathly silent camp. Only the occasional footfalls of people travelling to the overused toilet block or a random dog bark could be heard. At some point, we were awakened by the cacophonous sound of a flock of birds in distress. Though it was impossible to gauge, this seemed close by and it was eerie and unsettling.

The new year came and went without mention or thought.

Though there was mainly no power, ATMs, mobile phone signals or supplies, we were somehow able to access sufficient petrol, water and food with just enough cash in our pockets. We slept in our car for two nights. And we waited. For news. For information. For the roadblocks to be lifted. So we could leave.

We were lucky. And we are so grateful.

Many have not been lucky. The bushfire death toll in NSW has risen to 16 (eight since Monday), 1,365 properties have been destroyed and wildlife losses are estimated in the millions. Our firefighters are exhausted. And there is worse to come. Thousands remain stranded.  Some with loved ones. Some without. Others had no cash with which to get petrol, in order to heed the advice of authorities and leave the area. What of those on the Cashless Debit Card? How could they access cash? What of those who did not have enough money to pay for fuel, with or without access to cash? And we have not even covered fires raging in other states.

It’s hard to know whether to be more disgusted with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s continued ignorant and arrogant dismissal of the advice from scientists and emergency services authorities leading up to this apocalypse, or, with his callous disregard for this country’s cataclysmic bushfire crisis now unfolding before all our eyes and the gaze of the world.

At no time in my living memory has a leader of this nation – regardless of political affiliation – displayed such lack of compassion and general disinterest in the fate of their country. I have written about this before but I continue to be gobsmacked with the extent of Morrison's contempt for our welfare.

As this bushfire emergency has continued to escalate, several things have become crystal clear:

  • we are not being led and there is no plan to lead us;
  • Morrison and his band of climate-deniers are, through their ignorance, or negligence, assisting us to our doom; and
  • now, more than ever, we need to wake up and take charge of our own future.

The only positive thing that has come out of this emergency, in my mind, is the response from so many who have taken to social media to voice their disgust and the trending hashtags of #DismissThePrimeMinister and #NotMyPM. Not only because this Prime Minister is incompetent – though there is no doubt that he is – but because this may be a sign that the tide is turning against this inept and indifferent Morrison Government.

The PM – spurred into tokenistic action after many days of less than the usual mainstream media praise – chose the fire-ravaged town of Cobargo to make a PR appearance. He was not met by "quiet Australians" but with raw hostility. A sign outside the Cobargo bookshop reads: 'Post-Apocalyptic Fiction has been moved to Current Affairs.'

I feel despondent. I am furious, like the people of Cobargo — and no, Mayor of Eurobodalla Liz Innes, it is not only because "emotions are high", I do mean it. It is because our Federal Government has the power to mitigate this disaster and the ones that will no doubt follow but is deaf and blind and unwilling to heed expert advice, to show leadership, to act.

You can follow executive editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @vmp9

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