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Out of the ashes of the  WTC rose the phoenix of US national pride and
solidarity, and out of the ashes of tens of thousands of hectares of
bushland and the ruins of over 150 homes rises the sense of community that
hasn't really been seen here since the Olympic Games.

The fires continue to rage and wage war on anything in their paths - some
have a front that is more than 25 kilometres long - and as we brace
ourselves for the worst fire weather conditions yet, we are treated by news
crews to an insight into those who literally left the Christmas dinner table
to lend a hand.

There are firefighters - men and women - from all over the state, as well as
Victoria, Queensland and South Australia who have put all their holiday
plans, their work and businesses and their families aside so they can help
during this time.

For like so many of those friendly faces at the Olympics, these people are
volunteers. They do it because it needs to be done.  And alongside the
firies are the SES (State Emergency Services) workers who come in to do all
the necessaries like door-knocking every house in the line of the fire so
that each is made aware of the danger, has a copy of the latest information
about how they can prepare themselves and their property for the onslaught;
the police who have to keep the roads clear for the emergency services
vehicles, and the evacuees and at the same time keep the thoughtless
sightseers out; the ambulance crews who have had to evacuate a number of
retirement homes and hostels and then the thousands who keep everyone fed.
Apparently there was a shortage at one of the SES HQ and so the guys at the
local supermarket arrived with 70 cooked chooks!  And yesterday, there was
footage of some having bacon and egg rolls for brekkie which was the first
hot meal they had had since Christmas Day.

Other footage showed neighbours who have banded together to make sure all
their homes are as protected as they can be, including cutting down large
trees like turpentines that do not need a lot of heat to explode, and hoses
linked and running across properties so that they can not be too short when
the time comes.

And there are those who care for all the native animals that were never
designed to be able to outrun an inferno but who have managed to survive.
One of the worst areas of devastation is the Royal National Park (second
oldest in the world - Yellowstone is the oldest) with 80% gone and the other
20% likely to go today when the blustery NW winds hit.  Because it has been
burnt three times in a decade, the experts are saying that it could be 20
years before the wildlife is 'normal' and some of the vulnerable and
endangered species may now be extinct!

2001 has been the International Year of the Volunteer and if ever we needed
an in-your-face demonstration about the role they play in our lives, behind
the scenes and often unacknowledged, this has been it.  So, if you are a
volunteer, thank you; if you know a volunteer, thank them; and let's all
take our hats off to all those who  put community before self.

I love the sign that neighbours have erected outside one of the ruined
homes - "don't just gawk, give something" and the donations bucket is
filling up as 'stickybeakers' realise that their entertainment is someone
else's misery!

Kia ora

Barbara Braxton
Teacher Librarian
Palmerston District Primary School

T. 02 6205 7241
F. 02 6205 7242
E. barbara@austarmetro.com.au
W. http://www.palmdps.act.edu.au

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