The Mackay Mayor and fellow Councillors met the hood burgers of Bloomsbury and Midge Point (Whitsundays mainland) last year, In that community discussion I provided photographs of the Laguna Quays Resort overgrown areas and asked about back-burning which has been in past years a normal part of prevention of bush fires.
The Mayor acknowledged this had been likewise raised in other similar community meetings and took it under advisement. In November bush fires struck and gained national news of the Finchhatton and Eungella (Dalrymple Heights) which were utterly destroyed by raging bush fires. Likewise Bloomsbury farming lands which I was getting on Facebook feeds.
Usually, an annual "burn-off" takes place during the later part of Winter and early Spring, throughout every bushfire-prone part of Australia. Planned and controlled burns take place, to remove the tinder-dry fallen material and undergrowth so it doesn't pose so much danger when the hot winds of summer come along.
The tonnage of this tinder dry material is calculated and then volunteers submit recommendations to councils so that the 'red tape' can be dealt with satisfactorily. Every State has its own (volunteer) Rural Bush Fire Brigade; for example, information about the NSW Rural Fire Service can be found at: www.rfs.nsw.gov.au
These tinder dry materials consist of broken off branches, dead timber, and the masses of undergrowth that feeds bush fires. The danger is when the material builds up to dangerous levels, dries off as the weather warms up, and nothing is done about it. Then suddenly a match or cigarette is dropped; or a summer thunderstorm brings lightning, and ‘kaboom’ – a bushfire.
Approval is absolutely necessary. With inexpert or willy-nilly burning off, the results may be unexpected and not at all beneficial. The fire might get out of hand and destroy houses, fences, property or even endanger lives; or too much native vegetation might be burnt or killed; or the fire may be lit in a place that is of no consequence and leave the worst scrub elsewhere, to still be a danger in the summer. The planning and execution is as much a technical issues as it is a practical one.
The burn-off has become a tradition across the nation and although much is done and so much more needs to be done, the continent is so vast, that only a certain amount can be achieved in any given year. This is why therefore burn-offs are carefully planned. The current theories of sustainability for our natural bushland indicates that 'patchwork' burning, where some areas are burnt one year and other areas in another year, giving the plants time to regenerate.
Some plants actually need fire in order for their seeds to grow, but then they need a few years without fire to establish the new plants.
As the Footplate Padre, I can recall many times during his 10 years (60s and 70s) as a locomotive engineman on the NSW Government Railways where "burning-off" was taking place beside the railway line.
Night time was the most interesting as one could see the red flames of the burning-off fires for a long way ahead, and often quite near the railway line. Timber sleepers were prone to catch fire relatively easily when a fire struck, partly because over many years, sleepers were not only dry timber but often were coated with a film of fuel and oil. This can be a bit scary, as the fuel tanks of the huge diesel locomotives are very low to the ground.
I am able to recall one occasion near Waterfall on the Illawarra line running south of Sydney, where the speed restriction was reduced to 20 kilometres an hour past such a burn-off where the fire was right next to the railway line. The men responsible for the burn-off were right there to supervise the passing of the train and were ready for any emergency.
More than forty years later, today, at the Laguna Quays Respite facility on the Whitsundays mainland where the acreage nearby was undergoing a major "burn-off". This Midge Point Laguna Quays area suffered huge bush fires several years ago and local bush fire offices estimated 2 ton per acre of undergrowth and waste lying ready for another disaster.
The burn began at the southern end of the properties on Marine Parade and began working their way back to an area which included a small single-engine plane air strip. Every night the smoke would pall around but everyone knew it is critical that it's done.
One of the side benefits of this burn-off is that the view across Repulse Bay for those missionaries visiting the Laguna Quays Respite facility has just become so much clearer and obviously greatly appreciated.
I find burn-offs rather ironic, as twice I had previously made requests to have the empty block cleaned up or burnt off due to its danger and its unsightliness, because the planned Laguna Quays Resort has not yet been developed to its full potential.
Before the winter had set in, he had made a request to the head office of the Laguna Quays Resort in Melbourne, but their response was that their policy was to protect the environmental flora and fauna.
However, this is a block full of weeds and tinder-dry weeds and fallen branches at the end of a suburban street. So I then approached the Shire Council with maps and statistics, but they also declined due to the zoning of this specific allotment.
In the event, it seems the burn-off was part of a greater plan by the Queensland Rural Fire Service, and we and our mission guests at the respite centre were pleased with the result and they felt much safer that summer.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html