Review Blog

Feb 10 2019

47 degrees by Justin D'Ath

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Puffin, 2019. ISBN: 9780143789079.
(Age: 10+) Highly recommended. Themes: Bushfire, Victoria, Survival, Disaster. Justin D'Ath lost his house and possessions in the fatal bushfire now known as Black Saturday which tore through Victoria in January 2009.
He has recreated this appalling event with incredible clarity and tells the story through the eyes of Zeelie, a twelve year old working with her father to try and save their house and land. Stay and Defend is his catch cry and he has many things in place to help him do that but when the wind changes direction and the temperature climbs to 47, the fire comes without warning forcing them to leave.
All morning we see Dan attaching pipes, setting up the generator, cleaning gutters and clearing the area around the house. Zeelie helps but is concerned for her horse and dogs as well as her mother and brother, gone to Melbourne to the emergency hospital after he fell and hurt his arm. Leaving her mobile at home they cannot talk to her, and when the networks fall over all contact is gone. Power outages means Dan and Zeelie must rely on the few people they meet on the road for information.
The absolute chaos of the day is well told, bringing the readers into the fear, flames and smell of the day, the smoke making their view of the surrounds impossible, police blocking their way as the roads are now impassable, and not knowing where mum and her brother are. The fear is palpable.
Leaving their home and Zeelie's horse, they end up at Yea with loads of other people they do not know, refugees in their own community. They are surprised at the generosity of the people of Yea, and when the army turns up to erect a tent city, they find their family.
D'Ath enfolds us all in the gravity of the day; we yearn with Zeelie the need for news of her mother and brother, hoping they did not leave the city to try and get home, we ache for her horse left behind, scan the faces of those milling on the Yea oval, hoping for news of their homes. A map at the beginning of the book shows the reader just how close to Melbourne the fires raged, and an afterword gives us more information about what happened. Dan's fire plan, like D'Ath's, prepared for a fire event, but nothing prepared anyone for that day, with those temperatures and winds.
In this the tenth anniversary of Black Saturday this cautionary tale, will impel readers look at their own fire plans, making sure there is an escape route wherever they are.
Fran Knight

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