Demonic Wildfires and Weather Extremes of NYE 2019 – and lessons learned

The last time I remember being scared of dying:

Bega Valley Fires, Early 2020: Bega District News($)

The beginning and the end

At the end of December TV weather maps revealed a brick red Australia with a big purple patch signalling violent wind driven heat over lands beyond the black stump. That prophetic image dulled our psyches, a purple wet blanket, a quencher of summer solstice festivities.  Mindlessly ignored by some, TV meteorologists warned of impending ferocious incendiary destruction of droughted landscapes; this time Australia’s maligned BoM got it right, alas ‘twas a Pyrrhic victory.

Fluorescent greens replace seas of bone–dry crunchy silver–grey grassed pasture. The welcome arousal of kikuyu root hidden in ancient black peat soils fertilised by orange bushfire smoke’s potash and nitrogen, this green emergence was triggered by a magic ingredient. Rain! 

What happened

Intense heat and pitch–black clouds of bushfire smoke dominate fear–dumbed senses as our eyes seek reassurance from red and blue flashing fire trucks and ears strain to detect sirens wailing in the pea-soup smogs choking a smoke engulfed highway. That’s the ten AM blackness of 2019’s New Year’s Eve.

Forests neglected for decades are now stricken by drought and bereft of Indigenous cool burns for 200 years. Predicted 40 knot 400C westerlies, 30% turbocharged by anthropogenic warming, are harbingers of possible ruination. Blasting ember storms effortlessly across colonies of proud eucalyptus, stinging our unmasked cheeks and ears as this monstrousness incinerates all before it.

Choking chemical smelling grey smoke rises thousands of metres into orange-black skies as huge anvil shaped pyro-cumulus clouds portend despair. Thunderous booms and electric blue zaps of moisture–deprived storms bring no salvation, only fire and fear. Can we do this, what if it turns to catastrophe, will we live? Death by fire must be excruciating.

We stand and fight

Sprinklers festoon rooftops, corrugated iron and gaffer tape bulwark windows and firefighting pump hoses slurp from water tank and swimming pool. Desiccated drought denuded paddocks are ploughed, feeble refuges for 500 cows and calves—big bore firearms and extra ammunition are locked in the gun safe, awaiting a grim task.

The farmer reads my mind, or maybe face; a harsh ‘if you want to go, go now’, cranky Scorpio males, an Aquarian, I stay. The two–metre deep channel draining the Infinity Pool’s® eastern edge is deemed refuge of last resort. The fireproof steel chairs and woollen blankets give me hope.

The team

Hope for all—two grandsons tall, skinny and capable, two grandsons big, broad and physically powerful; a noble and righteous granddaughter and her artistically inked lover du jour; a long–time family friend who came to holiday with us trapped by closed roads; the farmer and his wife who rebuilt this property from tumbled down to 500 milkers; three children; and me, resident grandfather—while we sprinklered, swept, raked, hammered, blocked, dug, sawed and screwed, fireproofing the farm on that last scary day of 2019.

Fear and apprehension wracked faces as the 100 year–old fulsomely girthed Cyprus tree that flanks the farmhouse was dropped. That 40–metre high Ent was habitat for many diverse beasties and shade for hot day beery relaxations. Doomed by location and flammability its demise was accompanied by howls of chainsaws sawing and thumping of sledgehammers driving orange nylon wedges; the crescendo, a massive ground shaking thud and the thrum of a tractor dragging shattered timbers to the forest edge to burn with its fellows.

Tension, a sprinkler pump died in a cloud of steam. The frantic shout, ‘sprinkler’s just shit itself’, racing, stumbling and bumbling to fix it. In the blackness, ‘fuck this PPE’, peeling off goggles to drain the fuel tank, refill … first pull and it crackles and pops into life, woohoo!

With dumb faces and empty eyes, cotton clad and fireproofed with PPE— unbreakable red framed googles clamped under head-lighted hardhats wearing once white now grey N95 masks to block deadly nanoparticles—we lamented this terrifying day.

A bushfire’s journey

 BoM’s big purple spot on the red map moved into millions of hectares of parched eucalypt forest west of us. Dry–lightning starts embryonic spot fires, sometimes extinguished by challenged RFS volunteers manning mist-sprayed fire engines. Over 450 homes and nine lives succumbed to this unprecedented and uncontrollable fiery maelstrom.

Badja Creek fire, our nemesis, was started by dry lightning strike. Its destructive power disguised by vapid wisps of blue smoke coiling up from a valley floor. Impossible to access are those steep rocky landscapes, 30–metre high forest canopies arch over dead Gondwana tree ferns in dried–out understories. Unchallenged, the fire invaded and overcame all before it.

Low black skies almost touched hard-hatted heads in the pitch darkness of ten o’clock that January morning. Towers and poles burned, communications dead, electricity failed, and roads closed by irritable masked coppers fronting black–striped yellow barriers. Half of evacuated Cobargo had suddenly immolated at three AM belying a predicted four PM blaze. People died, shops, machinery, farm fences and wooden bridges burned, pets, livestock and wildlife cooked, homes exploded, and roads melted.

New Years Eve but joyousness emerges

New Year’s Eve, a time of Harbour Bridge fireworks, of revelry and Auld Lang Syne, of love and festive substance abuse? A New Year’s Eve torn by angst; we were reluctant players in a live landscaped performance of the Hundred Year Fire Storm.

The Badja fire burned to within a kilometre of Misty Glen farm– then a stroke of fortune, a strong cold–front arrived to blow it back onto itself. We were subjected to, and survived, another two threatening fire events, then flooding rains came. Do I have survivor syndrome? Not yet!

Farm Fire Risk Mitigation Strategies

After a year or so, there’s no corrugated iron or gaffer tape left on now sparkling windows, pastures are lush and green again, decorated with stacks of big green plastic covered hay bales and happily grazing jersey cows that remember none of it. Those unfortunate 100 year-old Cyprus trees of the farmhouse’s garden, we subsequently felled both of them, are replaced with less flammable species and mowed lawns. Farm magpies had to find another meeting place for their warbling operas. They did, in trees beside my home, I hear their beautiful caroling choruses every day.

Soon, insecure grid-energy is to be replaced by swathes of shiny north facing solar panels in the sheep paddock. Linked inverters with twinkling LEDs will be hooked up to old-fashioned, but dependable, lead-acid storage batteries. This will be supported by clattering diesel generators topping up drained storage batteries during cloudy periods common to this area in a storm season.

An industrial off-grid system designed to power the farm’s built-environments. Refrigeration, milking machines, high energy bull-proof electric fences and mysterious digital agricultural technologies, as well as habitation.

During the firestorm there was no mobile phone or Internet, towers failed when their batteries drained or exploded, power poles supporting electricity transmission lines were piles of charred wood. There were no situation updates broadcast from melted and buckled dish-towers, our only source of the local TV and wireless services.

It came down to sitting in a vehicle listening to scratchy ABC AM disaster reports from Wollongong drifting in and out of the ether on a car radio. The listener then shared the doom and gloom with the mob, sometimes over a libation. We are considering a smart phone satellite sleeve to access emergency reports in times of disaster.

After a couple of days of wildfire, fuel was unobtainable. Approved containers were hard to find, and keep, and roads to town-centres with fuel supplies were impassable.

Global heating ensures decades, if not centuries, of intermittent unstoppable wildfires raging through drought affected villages, agricultural landscapes and thousands of hectares of adjoining eucalyptus forests. In South East NSW highly flammable eucalyptus populate vast national parks. These are considered, by many, to be poorly wildfire-managed; due to lack of trafficable fire-trails and limited hazard reduction burns.

Petrol driven fire fighting pumps will be replaced by electric powered models connected to roofs festooned with sprinklers spraying water pumped from storages. One key purpose of the off-grid electrical energy ensures reliable firefighting and twice daily cow-milking.

This is not enough, we were lucky two years ago. I thought I was going to die in that worst of ways, immolation, I suspect others were similarly fearful. It has been decided to protect the boundaries, pastures and livestock with barriers of low-flammability tree and shrub species, not necessarily all Australian natives. A mammoth task, still in planning stages.

More to come on how we intend to mitigate failed infrastructure impacts and other challenges at times of fire and flood.

How Eating the Rainbow can Help you to Live Longer While Maintaining Health and Wellbeing

How I Had a Heart Attack and Found Life

A True Story of Resurrecting a Life with Exercise and Diet

Arthur Gatley 31/10/2021

The Journey begins—by Ambulance and Helicopter to an ICU

Rose had turned 69, this feisty Maltese-Cockney put her anxious energy into a kaleidoscope of shape and colour. Her beautiful and complex garden beds surrounded our converted milking shed. A diversity of blossoms, spikey yuccas, fat bellied Queensland bottle trees and a lady-finger banana patch framed our Plaza del BBQ.

It was a modest birthday celebration with few guests, Rose was assertive, so we ate her favourites; barbecued T-bones sizzled beside salty garlic buttered vegetables and a sunburned potato bake, enriched with double cream and a sprinkle of oregano, this was washed down with Coopers beer and Coonawarra ‘Cab Sav’ the meal was rounded-off with a rich Black Forest cake with shiny red cherries on top.

Our visitors left at dusk:

The guests were gone

So Rose and Arty partied on

To disastrous end.

Still delivering crates of chilled dairy products at almost 70 years I took time off work for Rose’s party. One upshot was getting to work at dawn next morning to clean the refrigerated delivery van, beautifully-painted with cows, readying it for Thursday’s local farmer’s market.

After half an hour of toil: ‘Whoa, my indigestion’s painful today, I’m wobbly—serendipitously I took my pulse, 50 BPM and it should’ve been 100—my heart is shutting down!’ I anxiously tapped the orange emergency phone app; that got me a 000 operator, a helicopter ride to Canberra hospital and stents in two severely blocked cardiac arteries. My indestructible life had suddenly changed. Those who’ve survived cardiac infarction, a heart attack, know all about the powerful physiological and psychological impacts.

Refusing to die at 69 years and three quarters, and now being forbidden to drive a truck until authorised, I realised I was knocking on ‘Heavens Door’; facing two options; 1) slowly dwindling into death-after-medication, or 2) taking charge of my cholesterol-ridden body and getting fit enough to die in bed, peacefully, at 90. What to do next? Life had to be stress-free, intellectually satisfying and economically feasible. Becoming an aged pensioner and enrolling in an online degree through OUA satisfied those requirements.

I was now sleeping in my own room, prescribed beta-blockers caused full-coloured and finely detailed audio-visual dreams making me impossible to sleep with.

After around a week of dozing, physical weakness and diverse heart-calming pharmaceuticals I took first steps. Initially I walked maybe 75 metres, the second day 120 metres then, over time, stretched this to four kilometres a day. Four kilometres of testing cross-country trek following an exotic, lushly vegetated trail that snaked through the ancient geology and ecosystems of Gulaga National Park’s ancient rainforest. A confession, my eyes rarely left the Fitbit during those treks.

Being forbidden to drive Rose chauffeured me, instead of I her. I was still eating potato bakes and steaks, but I now had no interest in sex or sharing a bed. This was too much strain on our relationship.

After a year of tension, I moved to Erica and Nic’s farm where I was loved and made very welcome. My hard-working daughter and her similarly afflicted husband had built a successful business; a 300 Ha dairy property with 500 Jersey cows, a cheese factory and a product distribution network. Erica was a cosmic child, prone to wearing odd socks, she changed radically after adolescence and time at University of New England.

Fixing What’s Broken—How I Repaired the Temple of My Body

Being an undergraduate student meant deadlines, which meant I was motivated to find cognitive salvation. Eventually, on moving from an old caravan into a self-contained cabin on the farm, a Phoenix-like resurrection followed a Rogerian ‘unconditional positive regard’. Life was improving, I am now the farm’s chicken wrangler too. Hey, no laughing, it’s a duty of care and there are 50 of them.

Regular check-ups at a nearby clinic meant confessing health sins to a cohort of ‘ anonymous’ physicians. Eventually a bloke wearing a red and white check cowboy shirt, jeans, elastic side boots and a generous beard became my doctor. Paul is a PhD GP, a strategic thinker who told me I was a ‘plaquer’. This pertained to artery-blocking plaque production that had compromised all my blood plumbing; an affliction that killed my father, blamed on high cholesterol levels.

After asking Paul how long a stent might last, I told him I wanted to stay alive longer to see what happens next, he prescribed a major blood analysis. On reading the report he looked up at me and sombrely said; ‘despite your best efforts your liver is … he paused, looked serious then suddenly laughed and said … perfect, hahaha!’. You can’t help liking him, he had me going there.

My cholesterol was a high five millimoles per litre, happily all the other arcanely labelled stuff was normal. As well as walking and not eating killer food anymore I’d started to practice qigong, pronounced chi-gung. A gentle and ancient Chinese martial art using stretching, posture and calm meditation, except when energetically practising the ‘back-fist with angry face’ form. Cholesterol was still higher than the cardiac specialist wanted.

The Wholefood Bandwagon—A non-Technical Explanation

On asking Paul how to de-plaque my blood pipes he told me about eating plant-sourced medicines, phytonutrients. He told me of the health benefits of ingesting chemicals plants use to protect themselves from solar and cosmic radiation, viruses and being eaten by predators. Phyto is Greek for ‘plant’ and nutrient means ‘nourishing’.

Erica was weeding our amazingly colourful vegetable garden when I excitedly told her about phytonutrients. She looked at me as if my cognitive capacity had taken a sudden downward turn. Saying ‘eat the rainbow, Art’ she pointed to multicoloured capsicums, tomatoes, kale, about five different lettuce varieties, red cabbage, silver beet, beetroot, sweet potatoes … and much more.

Why didn’t I know, no one told me, why are older people invisible? A question for another time perhaps.

Erica became a consummate diet wizard, we eat organic-ish farm reared mammal meat and vegies for half the week, the second half’s fare is fish, our own chickens, roasted or in curries, and exotic plant-based dishes of chickpeas, lentils and beans. Vegetable stews and spaghetti with vegetable Bolognese sauce are delicious. These are wholefoods. Admittedly we grate Italian parmesan cheese over ‘vegie spag bol’. Alas, our chicken schnitzel always seemed ‘deep’ fried. We don’t eat deep-fried chicken ‘schnittie’ any more.

Wholefoods are defined in Australia’s Macquarie dictionary as ‘food eaten in as near as possible to the natural state, with the minimum of processing or cooking’. That definition embraces mammal, fowl and fish tissue. These, if organic, have a place in the US/UK’s Wholefood Market (WFM) franchises’ organic-food products mix.

WFMs have health information, prominently displayed, promoting points of difference to supermarket chains by cleverly stimulating good vibes shoppers feel when thinking they’re supporting local farmers. This ‘local farmer’ trope is reinforced by placing anti-GM food pamphlets at points of sale. Alas the WFM franchises don’t yet exist in Australia’s malls. However, some Australian online wholefood sites are quite sophisticated making buying unprocessed food easier.

The Phytonutrient and Wholefood Industry—Positives, Pitfalls and Scams

 The phytonutrient fad is growing. Colleen Traver’s article, What are these Phytonutrients Everyone is Talking About, tells readers ‘what you need to know about why phytonutrients matter and what eating them is doing to protect the only *one* body you’ve got’. Phytonutrient eaters end up with reduced weight, improved cardiovascular function, and boosted happiness, according to Optimal Healing Remedies’ article 6 Powerful Phytonutrients: What Are Phytonutrients And Their Health Benefits? The article describes six important phytonutrient groups, where they’re found, and their benefits and contraindications. I highly recommend readers link to these, they’re concise and easily understood phytonutrient primers.

US food academic Zoe Krey alerts consumers to some wholefood  traders’ practice of printing inaccurate ingredient labelling to drive sales. Fortunately, Australia’s stringent labelling rules and enforcement practices are stronger than US regulations, which are subject to pressures from Big Food. This is particularly evil; as Krey says ‘consumers believe organic products to be associated with environmentally[sic] practices, they engage in the behavioral pattern referred to as “green consumerism,” a trend in which consumers seek to buy products that are environmentally friendly and sustainable.’ However, as not all Australian manufacturers follow the rules, I recommend taking your reading glasses with you when shopping for ‘health food’, label print can be tiny.


This article is the first of a series aiming to help Australians live longer. My heart attack and relationship breakdown were demoralising but fortunately I am still exercising and studying, unfortunately I’m still a hermit. Changing from a hard-working party animal with little regard to the consequences of my indulgences to a worshipper at the temple of my body was essential for me due to my newfound respect for luck. A heart attack had failed to kill me.

I don’t recommend this extreme path to anybody; it is only because of a wise GP I am writing this today. Dr Paul is very trim, skinny as a rake to be exact. A 60 hour a week GP who, with his partner, preps a week’s plant-based meals at weekends. He practices what he preaches.

Health outcomes for me are; getting told how well I look, almost instant loss of 4 kg, finding vegetable gardening a joy, a heart and liver that work perfectly, increased fitness, I can easily walk two kilometres at five km/h without puffing, qigong has become both a spiritual and musculoskeletal practice and I fit into my 32” waist RM jeans again.

Thanks Rose darlin’, we meant well, we thought it was all nutritious and healthy.


Australian Government Department of Health, 2013. Food Labelling.

Clemons, R., 2021. Plant-based eating. CHOICE.

Food Frontier.

Gupta, C.& Prakash, D., 2014. Phytonutrients as therapeutic agents. Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine 11(3), pp. 151-169. DOI: 10.1515/jcim-2013-0021

Johnston, J., 2008. The Citizen-Consumer Hybrid: Ideological Tensions and the Case of Whole Foods Market. Theory and Society, 37(3), pp. 229-270.

Krey, Z., 2016. Shopping for Sustainability: Foods Market and the Contradictions of Corporate Organics. DePaul University Honors Program.,%20Zoe%20Senior%20Thesis%20WQ15-16.pdf

Machado et al., 2020.Ultra-processed food consumption and obesity in the Australian Adult Population. Nutrition and Diabetes 10(39).

Macquarie Dictionary.

Optimal Healing Remedies, 2021.6 Powerful Phytonutrients: What Are Phytonutrients And Their Health Benefits?

Pastor, N., Collado, M., Manzoni, P., 2021. Phytonutrient and Nutraceutical Action against COVID-19:

Current Review of Characteristics and Benefits, Nutrients, 13(464).

McLeod, S., 2014. Carl Rogers Theory. Simply Psychology.

Travers, C., 2021. What are these phytonutrients everyone keeps talking about. Shape.

Arthur Gatley,, +61428978434