I have the privilege since 1976 of teachings in the Forest Retreat Centre on the ridge of a sub-tropical rainforest near The Channon, northern NSW, Australia.
As I write, the Forest Retreat Centre remains vulnerable to a raging fire sweeping through the area.
Further down the ridge on side exists Dhammananda Community and on the other side of the ridge exists Bodhi Farm.
Established in the 1970s, both communities have made an immense contribution to personal, social and community life in their area. Members of the community commit themselves to a sustainable lifestyle, service to others and environmental protection.
Currently, these two communities and thousands of local communities, farms and towns live under threat of numerous fires. The fire authorities report today (Wednesday 13 November 2019) around 78 major fires rage in NSW. There are several ‘catastrophic’ fires with daily temperatures reaching into the mid and high 30s along with winds up to 80 kilometres per hour. These winds can change direction in minutes, triggering immense danger for firefighters, families and homes.
Fires continue to breach containment lines as they continue to burn in various districts and national parks.
People in various remote locations have called for help. The Fire Service said that “due to the size and speed of the fires we couldn’t get to everyone, even by road or helicopter.” The NSW Fire Service told some residents: ”It is too late to leave.”
Fire areas include locations not far from Coffs Harbour and Macksville. We held retreats in the forest in Yarrahapinni Centre, several kilometres from Macksville, but have no reports of fire in or very close to the centre.
Two deaths have been reported in NSW and seven people are missing. 16 firemen have suffered injuries. More than 100 homes have been lost.
As elsewhere, residents in Bodhi Farm and Dhammananda have had to evacuate. Wallace Road, the name of a track, runs for several kilometres through the middle of the forest towards Bodh Farm and other communities.
Nimbin Fireman and volunteer firemen had to abandon Wallace Road on Tuesday after immense efforts trying to contain the fire engulfing ancient and new trees.
Concerns for Future
Various fires in the region reached emergency level this week.
There is still no rainfall on the horizon. The drought conditions for months have made the rainforests and farms tinderbox dry. Water bombing from the air and the brave work of fire crews have had an impact on these fires but the fires grow in size as fires meet up.
Without heavy rainfalls, environmentalists and the fire authorities have expressed concern that the conflagration could rage for weeks or longer.
I received yesterday an email from Jen, a resident of Dhammananda Community and the organiser for our retreat due to start in the Forest Retreat Centre on Friday 23 November for six days (See teaching schedule for Queensland and NSW in next blog)
I also received emails from Radha, the Dharma teacher, whose children were born on Bodhi Farm. She is in touch with family and friends.
From Jen of Dhammananda
Jen, who just flew home three days ago, wrote:
“The Police came on the weekend and told everyone in the valley (including Dharmananda), on Wallace Road (including Bodhi Farm), the Tuntable Falls community, etc to evacuate.
Police have blocked the road (Terania) but this afternoon let me through as I’d been away and wanted to do some fire prevention stuff, such as get leaves off the roof, and also collect a few things. While I was there for 2 hours or so, the smoke increased. It has also increased in Lismore. The fire was only 5 kms north of Bodhi Farm up Wallace Road this morning and could be closer now.
The fire threatens Tuntable Falls Community School and Hall. If it continues down Wallace Road, it could well threaten the Forest Meditation Centre. Given that we aren’t allowed up Wallace Road, or on Terania Creek Road – both access points for people attending the retreat, then at this stage there is no retreat in its present location and that we will try to find an alternative location.
Things could well improve, settle down and return to normal and the retreat can go ahead………..but at present we couldn’t have people in there. I am watching the changing weather conditions, intently. I will also talk with the Fire Brigade, who are in touch with the Police to see about the retreat.
Thank you for your reply and especially for “being with us”, so to speak, on this unprecedented journey. We were all worried before these fires – everything was so dry. The dry matter built up on the forest floor
You will recall I started a “Save the Kitchen” campaign for a new kitchen equipment in the forest centre. We have had wonderful monetary donations. What is more wonderful is the physical help from many people, including a one-week work bee just recently. As well as a new fuel stove, the kitchen has new stainless-steel benches, new sinks, taps, tea station, worktable and more. It looks stunning! It can’t burn down.
You ask about Sangsurya: It is not vulnerable to the Terania fire, but of course, any area that has surrounding trees is vulnerable to a certain extent, but it is right in the middle of Byron – a different situation to the Nightcap National Park.
“I am mid-air on my way home. I decided that I needed to be home to support my family and friends. I need to prepare my house at Bangalow to try to safeguard it if the fire reaches our area.
My sons, and Summer and Jai, and volunteers, have been fighting on the front line of the fierce fire. The hillside above Chris and Summer’s house is alight. Their house may or may not survive. They have saved so many other houses this week. It would be very painful to lose that one.
My son, Chris is exhausted but continues with very little sleep. Disappointingly containment lines were breached by the fire last night which means many more houses are at risk.
The fire is burning along the ridge to the meditation centre and Bodhi Farm. The situation is dire. All unknown.
That’s all I can report. Sorry that it is so bleak.”
Our heart reaches out to people, animals and the precious environment. As elsewhere in the world, NSW and Queensland face a major emergency due to widespread fires. Brazil, California, Russia and some Mediterranean countries have experienced unprecedented levels of fire. Every country has to examine causes and conditions for such outbreaks of major fires and act to safeguard vulnerable regions.
Governments, national and local, need to acknowledge the impact of the climate emergency, increase resources, financial and human, and provide everything to tackle fire (and floods).
Authorities need to investigate the original trigger for a fire (glass, lightning, wilful destruction to create land for livestock or livestock feed and acts of arson etc.).
Networks of local communities can develop support for each other to make homes, farm buildings and local factories as fireproof as possible. Local communities need to develop knowledge and skills to protect their homes, properties and buildings to try, if possible, to establish firebreaks.
The name of the second discourse of the Buddha is The Fire Discourse. The Buddha described the world as burning up with greed, anger and delusion (including fear, projections and indecision). We now witness parts of the world on fire as a fact, not just as a metaphor.
Due to behaviour of governments, corporations and lifestyle, the Earth gets hotter in various locations. Fires, floods and famines will not go away but only increase unless we put policies and action in place.
Governments, businesses and local communities have to act.
Times have changed.
We have to wake up to the new reality.
May all beings live in peace and harmony
May all creatures live in safety
May we engage in wise action.
[…] Titmuss, a writer for this site described the Australian bushfires earlier this month as threatening thousands of communities with farms and towns living under threat […]
Hi Christopher…….this is a heartbreaking post. My heart goes out to the people and wildlife who are suffering in Australia. On the news today there were pictures of the worst flooding for fifty years in Venice and also the flooding in the north of England. We do indeed have to wake up to the new reality and it is up to each one of us to engage in ‘wise action’ in terms of our daily life and habits and I cannot see the justificiation in flying to the other side of the world to hold a retreat. That now seems to me a luxury the world cannot afford.
Thanks for your message. I do not hold to the view that those who engage in service to others in various parts of the world should stop such service. It is not a luxury the world can afford for servants of people, animals and the environment to turn our back on others and cut ourselves off.