Beloved author Jackie French says the world needs to prepare for worse fires

Araluen author Jackie French has fled the home she shares with her husband, Bryan Sullivan, several times during the emergency fire evacuations in the area this summer. Picture: Karleen Minney
Araluen author Jackie French has fled the home she shares with her husband, Bryan Sullivan, several times during the emergency fire evacuations in the area this summer. Picture: Karleen Minney

For Jackie French, it's time we all started thinking about the unthinkable.

Because the impossible and unthinkable future we've all been dreading has finally arrived.

The beloved children's book author has already been evacuated twice from the bush retreat she shares with her husband, Bryan Sullivan, half an hour out of Braidwood.

The first time was back in November, when fires raged around New South Wales and the country was already reeling from the early onset of the fire season.

Back then, French was at a book launch in Canberra when she heard the fires were near.

She spent a horrifying two hours while she waited for news of her house and her husband, fearing both had been lost.

Since then, the pair have been busy preparing their Araluen house, and packing up their belongings to store in Canberra.

"For the past two months, we've packed up the car and moved down the hill like snails with the cars full," she said.

This week, having stayed with friends in Braidwood while the fires raged on Saturday, they returned home, shaken, to find their house intact, and the atmosphere still and watchful.

We need to start thinking about the impossible, because the impossible is here.

Author Jackie French

Her rambling garden - the one she writes about every week in The Canberra Times - while dry and muted, had been unaffected by embers.

But there were still fires smouldering on the escarpment above the house, and the worst was not yet over.

They had heard of neighbours losing their homes, and many people suffering from trauma and the inevitable business downtown during what is usually peak season in the bustling town of Braidwood.

But in the meantime, French has been watching the wombats around her house - the ones she has made famous through her many children's books, including Diary of a Wombat - start preparing for their own version of Armageddon.

"It's been fascinating to watch - around six weeks ago, they moved into their deepest burrows, some of which are 100 metres long," she said. "They've been sharing these burrows with each other, because they know."

She said the burrows were deep and well-ventilated enough, with interlocking tunnels, that the wombats would be protected from fire - an evolutionary quirk it has been a privilege to watch in action.

"The wombats have also been sheltering in culvert pipes, and this year even birds building their nests in them," she said.

It was amazing to think that the animals knew better than humans how to prepare for fires in the bush, although French said she and her community have long known this time was coming.

"We've known that the fire was coming, and that's why I'm not crying now - I cried for my country in November," she said.

"That's been the hard thing for so many people, knowing it was coming, and knowing this is not even the end of the beginning."

But she said the most amazing thing had been watching the country rear up against the platitudes of senior government figures.

"In the last few weeks, this has been extraordinary," she said.

"I hope people are telling their children, don't forget these months and weeks, it has been incredible."

She said disasters like this brought out the best in people, and these were the stories that would stand out.

But she said Australians already had the knowledge and expertise to fight the effects of climate change, and the events of the last few weeks, and the knowledge of what was to come, would hopefully bring about change.

"But we need to start thinking about the impossible, because the impossible is here," she said.

This story 'Start thinking about the impossible, because the impossible is here' first appeared on The Canberra Times.