The devastating bushfire image that said it all


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It was the smallest creature who offered the greatest perspective.

As fires rage across the Gold Coast Hinterland - with containment lines breached, families evacuated, homes destroyed and historic businesses burned to the ground - it's difficult to grasp the enormity of this disaster.

There are so many stories, from the perspective of the firies, the families, the community and the volunteers, that our attention is distracted. We know it's bad. Awfully bad. But unless it's your home under threat from the flames, it's hard to understand the pain of our rural brothers and sisters.

But, for me, the image of one little koala said it all.

The mother koala was found clinging to a fallen tree in the midst of the bushfires at Canungra - and cradling her baby beneath her.

The image that said it all.
The image that said it all.

The brave mum had suffered burns, but her joey was completely unharmed.

"Everything was burnt to the ground around them," said Senior-Sergeant Peter Waugh.

"The mum had burns to her back - it was singed - and she had obvious burns to her ears but the bub didn't seem to be injured."

It's the vulnerability, the purity of maternal instinct, the sense of sacrifice and the complete devastation of her world that resonates.

It's a lot for one koala.

But animals have a way of unlocking our emotions, giving us access to pure feelings that, when it comes to humans, are too often compromised by our complicated relationships.

Or, perhaps when it comes to people, it's simply the enormity of the sentiment that overwhelms our ability to process it.

The grief I felt when my childhood dog Ralph died was probably the purest outpouring I've experienced. I was inconsolable for days.

And yet, when my own father died when I was still an adolescent, it took years for the real tears to come. It was too big, too much to understand. The dog I could do, my dad I could not.

I longed for that cathartic release I felt with Ralph. Eventually it came, but it wasn't easy.

The innocence of animals is a gift that reminds us to treat human creatures with the same tender care.

Thinking of that hurt and homeless koala mum protecting her baby, it becomes easier to magnify that loss as felt by the families in the Hinterland.

Total valley devastation at Sarabah on Monday, September 9, 2019 in the destructive southeast Queensland bush fires. Picture: Kirstin Payne
Total valley devastation at Sarabah on Monday, September 9, 2019 in the destructive southeast Queensland bush fires. Picture: Kirstin Payne

Even without losing your home, simply leaving it for the sake of safety would be a frightening experience for any adult, let alone child.

I can only imagine the mums and dads camped out at the Canungra Showgrounds, trying to turn this extreme evacuation into an exciting excursion, for the sake of the children.

While their minds must inevitably turn to the real threat of losing everything, these parents put on a brave face in one of the beautiful acts of an everyday hero.

The tender treatment of our animals is a reminder too of how caring our community really is.

We adore those firefighters who rescued that koala mother.

We applaud the crew of the rescue helicopter that had to dodge high-voltage powerlines, other aircraft, thick smoke and turbulence to rescue three people - and their animals - from their burning property.

Despite the literal deadline to get the two men and woman off their burning property in Sarabah, the Rescue 500 crew allowed extra time to ensure two dogs could come aboard.

The trio were running to their dam as flames bore down on their Tabletop Road home.

"Those people lost their house," said Rescue 500 aircrew officer Daren Parsons.

"The fire was all around them but they weren't going to leave without their dogs."

While the two dogs were thrown in the aircraft, Mr Parsons didn't realise the crew had also rescued two marine reptiles.

"When we landed they thanked us for saving them, the dogs and two turtles," he said.

"They must have been in the bag … we didn't know."

It's those incredible acts of kindness and care towards the smallest of creatures that remind us of just how great our community is.

For all the loss and devastation that continues in the Hinterland, I hope our residents take heart that we will look after each other.

Just like the mother koala and her baby.