Victorian Bushfires stir compassion and conflict

The grim toll of the Victorian bushfires now has 201 confirmed deaths, including a volunteer firefighter, and 1834 homes destroyed. There have been moving, controversial, bizarre and even innovative responses in the blogosphere to the tragedy.

Kevin Rudd, the Australian Prime Minister, reflected popular reaction to news that some of the fires were deliberately lit by talking of “mass murder”. Following the charging of one man with arson causing death, Facebook groups emerged that published his address and other details that had been suppressed by court order. These have apparently now been removed by Facebook. One group has this message:

Brendan Sokaluk, you will pay. you will be found out. and you will suffer. and when that day comes, Australia will have another Public Holiday to celebrate.


These pages have stimulated an intense debate about issues such as the right to a fair trial. Some even fear that the lynch mob mentality and surrounding publicity may hinder the chances of a conviction. A warning: much of the comment on these sites is very disturbing for a whole range of reasons.

On a much more positive note Club Troppo highlighted the power of new online emergency communications:

If at least one agency in the Victorian Government wasn’t too flash at helping Victorians when the fire was raging, some true believers in there are making amends, using an embeddable panel, complete with a Google Map to notify the public of Bushfire Events as per below. The original page on which the map appears is here.

Googling the Victorian fire response

They include the code which you can use to put it on your own blog.

Dave Bath at Balneus tried to make a concrete suggestion for dealing with one aspect of firebug behaviour:

Rather than clamor for the arrested arsonist to be lynched, (especially before any conviction), shouldn’t such people as the Facebook vigilantes push for funding of psychological assessments of firefighters, both volunteers and permanents, so the “hero-firefighter” types are rejected?

Better than a lynching

Banning illegal material from social networking sites was one form of censorship. Your New Reality, “Weapons of Mass Information”, Daryl Mason was embarrassed by the self-censorship by radio stations.

Australian radio stations are now engaged in an exercise in moribund stupidity. Because nearly 300 people died in the Victoria holocaust last weekend, radio stations across the country are banning songs with the words “Fire” and “Burning” in the title and chorus from their playlists.
Examples: U2 – Fire (obviously) Bruce Springsteen – I'm On Fire, Midnight Oil – Beds Are Burning

Do Fire Survivors Really Tremble In Terror When They Hear Songs About Fire On The Radio?

Finally a uplifting post from one person caught up the horror of 7 February. Shayne Hood shared his father’s story, A weekend of hell, but humanity prevails, on Facebook and created a group to spread the word:

As you may or may not know my dad lost his house and best friend in the recent bush fires… It has been a very sad time for both my family and I. I honestly don't know if I am still in shock, but either way I just can't gather my thoughts together, so I am just going to wing it.

His father’s reaction to the vigilante mood:

On Sunday my brother in law and I were discussing ways to punish some of the arsonists that ignited some of the fires, all my dad could say (whilst weeping) was ‘Even murders have mothers Shayne, there is good in everyone, people are just products of their environment’. Even after all the pain that has been inflicted on him, he refuses to see the evil in people. I always thought my dads big heart made him a weak person at times. But at that point I realized that he is the most courageous person I know. If I become even half the man he is, I will die happy.

Shayne’s tribute:

Even though my dad has experienced such devastation, he still insists that sympathy and financial assistance must go to the less fortunate… people who have lost children, parents, grandparents or family of some sort.

Today I stand proud of my father…

Sunday 22 February is a National Day of Mourning. There is a lot of healing to be done. Shayne’s request:

Please dig deep and donate to the people that have experienced loss in Australia's worst natural disaster. I hope my story will encourage your generosity as every dollar counts.

Victoria Bushfires – My Story (please read and spread the word)

Over $A100 million dollars has been donated to the Red Cross appeal so far.

Thumbnail image used is from the Flickr page of Drew


  • […] Victorian Bushfires stir compassion and conflict Posted on February 20, 2009 by renniek Cross post for Global Voices: Victorian Bushfires stir compassion and conflict […]

  • alex

    Their trees may be scorched,
    And they’ve lost a few lives.
    Their houses, turned black,
    By mother natures knives.

    But where’s that Aussie spirit
    Don’t go down with out a fight
    Lets turn those peoples houses,
    Back to peaceful white.

    I may not have much money,
    But they have my support,
    So brave and courageous,
    for there town they fought.

    Alex Little
    12 yrs


  • Skyler

    Wow, that’s really bad.. Do you know if the fires have been stopped?

  • Matt

    So i am not sure about this, but it does not sound like there is much eveidence to incriminate this “mass murderer,” and not only is there a lack of evidence, but it just seems weird that a guy would just light a forest on fire. So untill I see a some hard evidence or a confession i am still a skeptic.

    Also, I feel that the government, of not just Australia, but of all countries, really need to step it up in the forest fire department. Wether it’s a mass murder or a run-away spark that causes the fire, these fires are causing immense damage to our forests, and these forests are critical to our survival as a population. Without these forests, more CO2 will build up in our solar system, therefore leading to a green-house effect, and causing our earth to warm up even faster than it is already. Even the animals that live in the forests are being killed and stripped from their homes. Some of these animals are endangered and not yet discovered.

    The government either needs to develop a new chemical that can help protect forests from fires and ditribute to all the endangered forests(I do know how outrageous that sounds), or they need to step up the amount of attention a fire gets in terms of water.

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