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Words by    Jake Mckeown   , Photos by    Jake Mckeown    and    Andrew Kaineder

Words by Jake Mckeown, Photos by Jake Mckeown and Andrew Kaineder


The word on all Australians lips as the land down under perishes.

Already the summer of 2019/20 has gone down in history as the most significantly aggressive natural disaster that Australia has ever endured. Never has our country experienced a tragedy as violent and heart wrenching as this. Over 5.5 million hectares burnt, 1400 homes lost and so far 24 people killed. Australia is at war and these apocalyptic scenes will continue until rain quenches the thirst of our sunburnt country. 


Many coastal communities are trapped due to the vast ferocity of the fires forcing emergency services to close highways and access roads. Those who are not under immediate threat of the fires are left feeling helpless as friends and family fight for their lives and to protect homes and property. Communications have been down and villages have been left without access to basic necessities such as food, water, fuel and electricity.

The stereotypical carefree Australian in board shorts and thongs holding a beer while turning sausages by the sea has been replaced by the white masked heroes that have come together in unity to survive as our drought stricken country goes up in smoke. Everyday people have had to unite and take action as the RFS (rural fire service) and other emergency services have been bent beyond breaking point working around the clock battling the beast that engulfs our nation. 


I was one of those feeling helpless as I was unable to contact friends from neighbouring villages and stories filtered through of the horror taking place only a stone throw away from my home. I managed to get in contact with a few local community members, many close friends of mine, that were organising a relief effort transporting everyday supplies such as fuel, water, medicine and food to a nearby village and bringing evacuees from the frontline to the safety of our town. A team of 10 or more boats, 2 jet skis and two inflatable boats worked from sun up to sundown offloading goods on the shorelines between Lake Conjola and Bendalong. The only access was via the sea as all roads and highways had been cut off by the blaze. Families, the elderly, pets and the fear stricken were evacuated via jet ski and taken to boats that waited outside to take the stranded back to the main harbour in Ulladulla. Here evacuation centres provided support and all the general necessities for the desperate people that were able to escape.

4×4 vehicles brought evacuees to the shoreline and returned to villages loaded with supplies to divide amongst the desperate people who had been effected by the fires or prepared for the onslaught that the coming weather was predicated to cause.

After a long day of zooming between supply boats and the shoreline the affected areas were sufficiently stocked and I joined the community members as they frantically prepared for the weather that was to bring chaos to the fire surrounded area. 300+ cars waited at the entrance of the only exit road and the terror spread across the faces of those waiting. The ominous energy was enough to make your skin crawl as families waited, not knowing if they were able to escape, before the hellish weather set upon the quiet village. Due to the heroic efforts of emergency services all citizens desperate to escape were evacuated under escort and only the bold were left to defend their livelihoods.


Saturday 4th of January came and as the sun rose soaring temperatures sent the locals into panic. Strong NW winds sent the blaze in the north hurtling towards the humble community of Manyana. 000 calls sent fire personnel scattering in all directions and suddenly it became evident that there would never be enough emergency service men and women to respond to all the calls of desperation. Myself and many other community members watched as the blaze hurtled towards the homes of friends and family. Together in teams we took up arms and joined RFS personnel in the desperate attempt to protect properties that were already engulfed in the blaze. This was truly a war zone with three bomber planes, two helicopters and over 15 men (locals and fireman combined) on the ground trying frantically to protect the houses of close friends. The heroism displayed in those couple of hours of true chaos is extravagant and the images in my mind of the true commitment shown of those around me are memories I will never forget in my lifetime.


Flames had taken hold of caravans, boats and property alike in the backyards facing the bushland. Flames licked the sides of houses as together we desperately fought to save the homes of loved ones. Water planes and helicopters flew blindly into the smoke in an effort to extinguish the blaze and due to the turbulence given off by the twisting mass of heat, the aircrafts were tossed around like rag dolls as they aimed for their target. The commitment of these pilots is beyond comprehendible as they put their lives on the line each time they lapped around and deposited water over the monster. Those on foot would take cover as thousands of litres of water fell from the sky and landed atop the fire. The sounds especially will be stamped in my mind forever. the thumping of the helicopter propellers, the groan of the aeroplane engines, the yelling of personnel and desperate locals on the ground, the wail of the sirens and the roar of the fire itself. It was enough to make even the strong-minded tremble like a leaf.

After an hour of desperate scrambling the RFS members and locals alike felt the southerly front tear over the hill and in one last desperate heave we pushed the blaze away from the houses. But the fight was not over although the south wind made this area controllable many scrambled to their vehicles as another blaze now threatened the southern flank of the village. With winds up to 80km/h the situation seemed diabolical and people frantically scrambled gathering belongings and taking refuge as the streets were engulfed in smoke. As the fire loomed no more than 100m from homes the wind swung slightly to the east pushing the fire away from homes and back on to bushland that was already scorched. Miraculously and due to the effort and heroism of the RFS and men alike no primary homes were lost in this front. But throughout the country many stories have and will end in tragedy.


This story is one of many that will arise from the Australian summer of 2019/20. Many alike and worse will rise from these horrific times and heroes will be born as well as loved ones will be lost. Although this already seems unbelievable this is far from over, we are only half way through our fire season and the end is nowhere in sight.

As the threat passes from area to area people are left with nothing and try desperately to rebuild what they have lost. Due to the generosity of the human race this will be possible but it will take time and will be a slow process.

Already relief efforts are in place as we come together in comradery and fight to rebuild our golden lands. With over 500 million animals lost, locals have been working hard to support the wildlife that was lucky to escape. Food and water stations have been dispersed throughout bushland for desperately hungry and thirsty wildlife. 


Donations are flowing as funds are sucked dry rebuilding and replenishing what has been stolen from us. Australia will never fully recover from this disaster and we cry out for help nationally and internationally. We are an independent nation but in this time of tragedy, we are desperate. We will not be defeated and through humanitarian assistance, Australia will rise again. If you wish to contribute please feel free. God bless and pray for rain!!!!!

Donations will be greatly appreciated. Google is your friend and many avenues for donations can be found on the internet or social media platforms. I have listed a handful below:

  • Red Cross

  • Tread Lightly


Account Name:         Treading Lightly Inc.

BSB:                          633 000

Account Number:      170066377

Swift Code:                BENDAU3B

Address:                    83 Princes Highway, Milton NSW Australia 2538

  • CFA (country fire authority)


  • Wildlife rescue South Coast

  • Salvation Army

  • Rural Fire Service


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