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Australian Wildfires Reminiscent of Nevil Shute’s ‘On the Beach’?

James Gray

Owner/Editor at Busara Ltd
I am a published writer, journalist and photo-journalist. I have an MA in Creative Writing and Journalism from the University of Wales and my journalism has been published in a number of UK national newspapers including 'the Observer'. My photo-journalism has been represented by Agence France-Presse.
James Gray

What has happened in Mallacoota is reminiscent of Nevil Shute’s ‘On the Beach’?

Mallacoota residents fled to the beach or took up shelter in fortified homes when they heard the warning siren go off at 08:00 local time on Tuesday.

“It should have been daylight but it was black like midnight and we could hear the fire roaring,” said David Jeffrey, a local business owner. “We were all terrified for our lives.”

The fire was kept back from the shore, where firefighters had gathered for a last line of defence, by the change in wind.

Victoria’s state emergency commissioner Andrew Crisp told reporters there were “4,000 people on the beach”.

Many of those trapped on the beach could be forced to spend the night there.

Fire chief Warrington said there had been “significant property losses” across the entire East Gippsland region in the past days.

Authorities said bushfire had destroyed 43 properties in Gippsland, where more than 400,000 hectares have been burned.

Hundreds of massive blazes have destroyed millions of hectares in the eastern states of Australia since September.

Locals said they had “bunkered in” as the front approached, raining ash on the beaches.

“It was bloody scary. The sky went red, and ash was flying everywhere,” said Zoe Simmons in Batemans Bay.

Here in Merimbula, on the New South Wales coast, the sun has been blotted out, casting a deep orange haze in the sky. People on the street are describing it as apocalyptic.

The smoke is now so thick it’s almost impossible to drive. The ground is blanketed in ash and supermarkets are packed with people stocking up with supplies. 

Holidaymakers should be swimming and hiking today, but they’re checking into evacuation centres or planning escape routes.

As we head into the third decade of this millennium, all of this reminds me of the devastation and bleakness of Nevil Shute’s post-apocalyptic novel, On The Beach.

In that novel, the sheer stupidity and ignorance of man has lead to the destruction of the planet and mankind itself, symbolised by the ever encroaching radiation as it spreads south, day by day.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the wildfires that Australia is enduring, can be the reverse of this and the wakeup call that we have to heed. Australia is an economically developed democracy and as a country is a steward of its unique and fragile flora and fauna. We all need to come to our senses and perhaps, on the beach is a fitting start to a re-awakening and not the end after all?