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Wednesday, 11 February 2009
Page: 1024

Mr MURPHY (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Trade) (10:26 AM) —This has been a week quite like no other—a week of contrasts, a week of destruction. While we watch the people of North Queensland wading through the waist-high water, raging bushfires have ravaged the southern part of the continent in Victoria. Dorothea MacKellar indeed got it right in her iconic poem My Country when she described Australia as:

… A land of sweeping plains,

Of ragged mountain ranges,

Of droughts and flooding rains

The week has proven, better than any other in my lifetime, how mother nature can wreak the same havoc in such contradictory ways. Queenslanders have battled with one metre of rain in seven days; Victorians with prolonged drought and horrific firestorms. The colour of the horizon may vary between blue, grey and orange, but its capacity to indiscriminately destroy life and property remains the same. Three thousand homes have been affected by the northern floods. At last count, 750 homes and 181 lives had been lost to the southern firestorms. Only in wartime has the toll of dead and wounded been greater.

Death and loss of property are obvious effects in these circumstances. However, rains carry a menace long after the clouds have passed, as do flames long after their burning embers have finally been extinguished. Once these rains and flames pass North Queensland and Victoria, we will be left with the vulnerability of communities—the fragility of those without homes, families, possessions or jobs. I cannot imagine the stress of living with an image of a burnt-out car containing a body—presumably of a friend, a loved one, a neighbour or a colleague. Nor can I imagine the stress to a community of returning home to confront ruins, retrieving what little remains and starting from scratch—like beautiful Marysville, a town I have stayed in, where so few buildings escaped the wrath of a raging fire. Every public building was destroyed there, from the police station, post office and telephone exchange to the lovely guest houses.

This example would make it difficult for many to comprehend why Australians have such love and affection for their sunburnt country or why Dorothea Mackellar would exclaim, all those years ago:

Her beauty and her terror

The wide brown land for me!

Only yesterday media descriptions of a sunburnt land included ‘scorched earth’, ‘hell’s fury’ and ‘hell on earth’. This apocalyptic and biblical imagery underscores how shocking an occasion this has been for our country. Yet it will do nothing to weaken our love of the land. Dorothea Mackellar echoed the sentiment of Australians then, as she does now, when she wrote:

Core of my heart, my country!

Land of the rainbow gold,

For flood and fire and famine

She pays us back threefold.

As with all things in our country, good will come out of bad. The ‘ordered woods and gardens’ and ‘green tangle of the brushes’ will rise from the ashes.

The mateship that embodies the Australian spirit is again proudly on display. Our firefighters, police and emergency services have fought valiantly and gone beyond the call of duty to contain the fires and attend to those who have survived. People are working together and volunteering together to protect others, sometimes at their own expense. Every act of stupidity by an arsonist attracts far greater numbers of courageous and heroic deeds.

Once again we have seen adversity bringing out the best in all Australians. The people of Sydney’s inner west, whom I represent in this place, are an extremely charitable people. I have no doubt they will be doing all they can to assist their fellow Australians, be it through donating blood, money, clothing or food. On behalf of the citizens I represent in my electorate of Lowe, I offer my heartfelt condolences to the families of those who have lost their loved ones and I also offer my deep sympathy to those whose lives have been devastated by the bushfires. Our thoughts and prayers go out to each and every one of them. They have lost so much—and in many cases everything. I commend the motion to the House.