The Blue Mountains in the Australian state of New South Wales have faced some of the worst ravages of the devastating wildfires. Trevor has sold The Big Issue Australia since 2005 and lives in the area with his wife Ellen – who he met while selling the magazine. In a special piece, he describes the fear and uncertainty of living in the path of the flames.
I live in Mount Victoria, in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales. There is a place here called Mount York Road, which is only 800 metres away from our house. We had bushfires there, say, six years ago, and it’s hit the same area again, closed the highway and impacted on places like Katoomba and Blackheath – some people were evacuated. We had everything ready, just in case we were told to evacuate straight away – photos, our personal papers and a small bag of clothes. And my wife took them to a friend’s place for safekeeping, so she looked after them for a number of days.
I felt apprehensive, we didn’t know what to expect. Especially the Saturday before Christmas – the winds were so fierce and towards the end of the day the whole daylight situation changed and it became very, very dark. We were inside the house watching all these embers, the smoke was just so dark. And I thought, “Oh no, don’t tell me we’re going to cop it, too.” It was very, very hot, it was easily 40C-plus. We are on the southern side of Mount Victoria and the fires were coming from the north. The fire was like a complete wall, I can’t describe it any other way, right across the northern side of Mount Victoria. We were terrified. I just couldn’t believe the column of grey smoke right across the sky.
We were on tenterhooks for about three or four days. We listened to the radio, and looked at the TV and internet for information, like the Rural Fire Service, that tells us what sort of area the fire’s in at the moment. We’re always at the ready in case we have to take off.
Our vendors buy every copy of the magazine from us for £1.50 and sell it on to you for £3. Which is why we ask you to ALWAYS take your copy of the magazine. We believe in trade not aid.
We’ve been putting up with this for the last month. We had the house closed up, but everything got inside the house, smoke was able to creep in. There was smoke for weeks. In the last couple of days we have had a bit of a reprieve from the smoke, but it’s started coming back because the weather’s coming back again. We’re still apprehensive – the fires are still going. We had a lightning storm last night – it can start new fires. We won’t be settled until the fires are gone.
Over the last week, I’ve noticed the birds a bit more, which is wonderful. The black cockatoos, which we haven’t seen for ages. My wife saw a lyrebird in the neighbour’s veranda the other day. They’re coming back in, away from the fire zones.
In the community here, everyone’s concerned. Where I sell The Big Issue in Katoomba, everyone’s waiting for a wet couple of weeks to come along. The bushfires have impacted on tourism, there’s hardly anyone around. The smoke was getting in your eyes and your lungs. We’re concerned about the water levels here in New South Wales, and the drought, it’s really affecting us. The price of food is starting to go up again.
This is by far the worst bushfire season we’ve ever had. I’ve been on this earth 63 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it. My sister lives in Omeo, about six hours away in Victoria, and they were surrounded by fire there as well.
And we’ve still got another month of summer to get through.
Photo: Peter Holcroft