Tag: Photo Gus Goswell

I have never before experienced the helplessness I felt on the Mallacoota foreshore

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Gus Goswell has travelled to Mallacoota for holidays for years.

He is trapped in the town with thousands of holidaymakers by a huge bushfire which burned through the town on New Year’s Eve. This is his account of his terrifying ordeal.

We had been so anxious for the dawn to arrive, but when it finally did arrive, the dawn brought us no comfort, only new fear and danger.

The long, mostly sleepless, night huddled together on the ground next to the Mallacoota foreshore had been uncomfortable, but what the dawn brought to the thousands of us trapped by fire was terrifying.


Gus Goswell and his family, including daughter Gilly, found themselves trapped by the fires on New Year’s Eve. (Supplied: Gus Goswell)

The dawn itself was only temporary. Almost as soon as the sky began to lighten the light was extinguished.

The new day disappeared in darkness and we knew then we were in danger.

As the bush to the south-west of us exploded in flame and the fire picked up speed as it raced towards us, the smoke turned day into night in minutes.

Burnt leaves had been falling on Mallacoota through the night, now live embers were falling.

Masks and shirts tied across faces brought little relief from the choking smoke and ash.

Our eyes were full of it, our clothes smothered in it.


The lush countryside around Mallacoota was turned to ash by the raging fires. (Supplied: Gus Goswell)

The water was no longer our comfort — suddenly it seemed like our only hope of survival.

My family — including our two-year-old daughter — and hundreds of other families, moved to the water’s edge.

We turned our backs to shield ourselves from the terrible wind whipping the fire towards us.

Many with boats were already in them.

The sense of helplessness as we waited for the fire to hit us was unlike anything I have experienced.


A car burnt by the bushfires in the charred landscape around Mallacoota. (Supplied: Gus Goswell)

The agonizing wait for the fire to arrive

I never lost faith in the incredible firefighters out defending us and whatever else they could of Mallacoota, but we were hearing that the fire was a freight train and it was heading straight for us.

And then we saw the sky turn from black to a terrifying red, and we felt heat on our backs and our faces when we turned and we heard the fire was in the town, and for the first time I really struggled to stay optimistic.

As calmly as possible, we talked as a family about our plan for getting in the water, who would hold our daughter, who would have the dog, the shallowest paths across the water that would take us as far from the fire as possible, the importance of only getting into the water when we really had to.

And we waited for that moment.


Clothing tied across faces provided little relief from the choking smoke, he said. (Supplied: Gus Goswell)

But somehow — for us at least — that moment which must be a moment of pure terror never arrived.

Thanks to the skill and bravery of the firefighters and what I have since read was a minor wind change, the flames never reached us.

Later in the day, thousands of us watched, horrified, as the fire destroyed houses on the other side of the lake, as flames crowned and trees exploded as the fire raced on.

Today we can still see it burning to the north and east of the town.

Today we have no power, no road out, no water from the tap that is safe to drink without boiling.

But we are safe. And so lucky.

The fire did not touch us, but it did hit so much of Mallacoota and the landscape that we love.

Streets have been devastated, dozens of houses destroyed.

Others wait for the terrifying moment, as we did

Today many Mallacoota locals are now residents in name only.

They have nowhere to reside.

The fire took their houses, their gardens, their vehicles, perhaps their pets and livestock.

I can’t imagine the feeling.


The fire in Mallacoota destroyed everything in its path. (Twitter: Luke McCrone)

Today there are still people in East Gippsland in danger, people waiting for that terrible moment, just as we waited.

I can’t bear to think about the native animals these fires have killed, the ecosystems savaged.

We love this place, but can never know it like the locals do.

We all endured something terrible at the Mallacoota waterfront, but many others here will endure so much more in the coming days and weeks and months.

It’s they who face the task of rebuilding homes.

It’s they who face the task of revitalising the community we are lucky enough to visit each year. Please listen to them.

Gus Goswell is a former ABC journalist.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

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