The recent massive bushfires in The Hillville Rd Area, South Taree through to Old Bar and throughout the mid north coast region brought a great deal of sorrow and mourning of loss of life and property.

As tragic as it is we need to regroup and create a strategy to avoid this situation repeating itself. Regardless of the cause, it will likely occur again with increasing drought and warmer temperatures.

A search of history of bushfires reveals that they reoccur on a regular basis. See -https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bushfires_in_Australia From the site tallies the loss of life and property along with the area of land burned amounted to  approximately 17,000 homes and 15 Million hectares burnt according to records, plus countless sheds, and kilometres of fences and 135,000 plus livestock numbers lost, and approx. 680 human fatalities. 

Bushfires are a natural part of our ecology the bush requires hot burns to regenerate. Yet we ignore the consequences. Once property is lost the community and government raise millions of dollars in aid and rebuild in the same area, in the same town, on the same site. It only takes three years for regeneration of bushland trees and understorey. So potentially the same area could burn every three years. Catastrophic events have occurred several times in the past 50 years. 

On a positive note we can look at the recent fires as an opportunity for renewal. A renewed way of living a reorder of what we value, how we live and how we interact with nature. Do we keep trying to control nature impose our will fight against natural orders or do we live in harmony with nature? 

A viable approach to planning settlements and managing land is clearly noted in Professor Ian McHarg (1969) Design with Nature, University Press, https://www.citylab.com/perspective/2019/06/landscape-architecture-design-with-nature-ian-mcharg-books/590029/

Even back then, Professor McHarg, advocates a planning and development approach that respects human values and environmental sustainability. He advocated for a thorough analysis of existing natural, ecological conditions, hazard areas, impacts and triggers to determine areas that are suitable for development and eliminate areas that are prone to flooding, bushfires, land slip as well as requirements for managing activities and development. 

We can choose, repeat the same things we have done or change. 

We can build villages and clusters of housing and work environments, schools aged care centres shops and all that is necessary to support a community in areas away from bushland on sites not prone to bushfires, not prone to flooding and not rebuild on existing land. We can contribute our assets to a community owned village scheme where everyone has a share in ownership and building and maintenance costs. Land ownership and buy back schemes would need to be legally structured for win win situations and to ensure that the major beneficiary is the prolonged life of all. People can still travel short distances to local rural and productive land which serves community needs and perhaps co-operatively sells to external cities or exchanged for goods. 

Land ownership is a man-made concept, Mother Nature doesn’t deal in money or titles. The earth deals in territorial imperatives based on biological and geomorphic characteristics to determine what will grow and what animal life populates an area. She balances how populations live in harmony with each other each having a symbiotic relationship. Mother Nature balances supply and demand, she fosters life in a complex web of interactions. We have disrupted this natural order of things for our own advantage and sometimes to our own detriment. We need to restore this balance and live in harmony with nature. The alternative is an increasing hostile, dystopian world that one sees in Sci-Fi movies. Increased heat, dust storms, salt intrusion, fires, flooding and generally further reliance on air-conditioning, water purification, and artificially grown food and living in a charred, violent, ugly, desolate and hostile world.

In many ways, we need to return to a simpler more humble lifestyle of our forefathers who due to not having access to huge machinery and endless power, worked with their hands and the limitations imposed by the environment they couldn’t control. They realised that they had to work with the seasons, rotate crops to prevent soil degradation, they didn’t need to harvest huge quantities to make more and more money and pander to the marketing needs of fickle business that discards blemished fruit and crooked split carrots or straight bananas.

We have lived in harmony in the past, we all survived with less, The American Indians, our own Aboriginal Communities and European, Asian and North American Communities all lived in harmony with nature and each other. We all did it back then, we can do it again, we simply need to change our structure and what we value. I am sure that we value family, life, health and happiness over material possessions and money and ownership of goods. We can’t take them with us and they are easily taken from us in a blink of an eye. 

We need to invest in what makes communities and all people secure and healthy rather than investing in material possessions that are worthless when destroyed by fire and easily taken from us. No one can remove our resolve to live happy, healthy, free lives. But we need rules, rules that respect the might of nature and all members of our society. 

Let’s organise ourselves to assess and analyse where we should live and how. Ask our Government to provide resources to engage people versed in Ian McHarg’s approach to create new settlements that will work now and in the future. Let’s start building in a correct way on an appropriate site. 

We have the knowhow and tools at our disposal all we need is a will to do the right thing!

Jordan Pregelj

Former MidCoast Council Resident

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