20 December 2019

The thoughts and prayers of a Vimy Ridge bushfire virago

| Ian Campbell
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Jan Harris at the Festival of Open Minds in 2018. Photo: Chris Sheedy.

Jan Harris at the Festival of Open Minds in 2018. Photo: Chris Sheedy.

Jan Harris and her family lost their proud Vimy Ridge home in the Tathra and District Bushfire of March 18, 2018.

Just a few months later at the 2018 Festival of Open Minds, Jan spoke of her loss, “I am adrift without the anchors of my life” she told the 35o people gathered before a standing ovation. Click play on the AudioBoom link below to hear her full three-minute reflection.

This week with bushfire consuming more homes, treasures and lives Jan has stepped up to speak again. This time addressing Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Jan echoing the cries of many who despaired at the symbolism of a Prime Minister holidaying overseas while communities he leads burn.

But more than that Jan’s words acknowledge the underlying stress and anxiety many feel now and their fears for the future…

Mr Morrison,

I understand you and your family are holidaying overseas and that your thoughts and prayers are with the victims of bushfires.

I’m making an assumption that my family is included as our home burnt down prior to you becoming PM, anyway thought you might like some more information so you get your thoughts and prayers providing the maximum benefit.

We are facing our second Christmas not at home, I struggle to find the words to describe the sorrow we feel, if only we had the money to get away from the smoke that is now part of our daily lives and is continually adding to our distress.

Christmas is a time for most of family and family traditions, each year we would bring out our box of Christmas decorations some made by our children and the last Christmas we had at home we added decorations made by our grandchildren. Treasures lost forever.

How can I put into words what we have lost, our place filled with things we loved, our place that we filled with the people we loved.

We hope to be able to rebuild, we hope that our grandchildren can grow up in an Australia that is filled with our wonderful native wildlife and bush, that summer is not a time to be feared, we hope that we have a government that acts on climate change.

Perhaps while your overseas on holiday you could let me know what your thoughts and prayers are.

While not responding directly to Jan’s letter, the Prime Minister says, “These fires and heat conditions are horrendous, and there are still difficult days ahead, with Saturday predicted to be the most severe day, with extreme temperatures and wind making conditions very difficult for fire crews.”

“We wish all of those putting themselves in harm’s way for all of us, all the best. Stay safe, stay together.

“Know that Australians are deeply grateful. To Australians living in fire-ravaged regions, please heed the warnings of the authorities, and stay safe.”

With two RFS volunteers killed overnight on the fire ground they were working on Mr Morrsion says, “Given these most recent tragic events, I will be returning to Sydney from leave as soon as can be arranged.”

“The Federal Government stands ready to deploy whatever further assistance State and Territory authorities request to manage this disaster.”

The Prime Minister says he “deeply regrets” any offence caused by his decision to take leave at this time.

Click play to hear Jan Harris speak at the Festival of Open Minds in 2018…

Sound recording by Gerry Corcoran at the Bega Valley Commemorative Civic Centre.

A virago is a woman who demonstrates exemplary and heroic qualities. The word is of Latin origin meaning heroic maiden, a female warrior, heroine.

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Jan continues to speak for so many people suffering the terrible cost of our failure to act on climate change.

While our government embarrasses us on international stages, Australian families lose their homes, children lose their fathers, and STILL there’s no leadership on the urgent need for more fire fighting resources, let alone the climate emergency.

This must be beyond politics. This must be bi-partisan. This must be driven by us, community.

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