Bushfire by Sally Murphy
My Australian Story. Scholastic, 2019. ISBN: 9781742994307.
(Age: 10+) Recommended. Themes: Bushfires, Black Saturday, Victoria, Dandenong Ranges, Emergency Services, Climate change, Disasters. Mid to upper primary readers will absorb this story about the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria in 2009, told within a loving family unit, the details of their lives making a strong backdrop to the action. And what action! These bushfires, the worst in Australia's history, took 173 lives, burnt out whole towns, ravaged huge swathes of the Dandenong Ranges surrounding Melbourne, threatening the city itself, and made people rethink strategies when dealing with fire on this scale.
Shortly after Christmas in 2009, Amy waves farewell to her climate science mother, going off to a conference in Brussels and is taken back to her grandmother's house at Marysville in the Dandenong Ranges, north of Melbourne. She and her dad talk about the trees and the undergrowth, the recent rain and the greening of the bush, the eucalypts that can be used as compost, while making Gran's home more bushfire ready.
Amy loves reading of disasters around the world and the story is placed firmly in its time with the plane landing on the Hudson River in New York while references are made to disasters which happened years before at Christmas: Cyclone Tracey and the Canberra bushfires. Readers will enjoy reading about these and doing some research for more information. Letters between Amy and her brother, Aaron, now in Paris, give a different perspective to Amy's life with Grandma.
But the air becomes more oppressive, warnings are given, some people move to the city for safety, others clear their yards, fill cleared out gutters with water, put their fire plans into action.
Finding their way to the local oval, they spend agonising days trying to contact friends and relatives, and Sally Murphy is able to make the readers feel that they are part of the action, fretful, worrying and afraid.
This book joins a group of novels and picture books recently published which enable readers to empathise with those caught in such events and work out and understand how they could survive, all the while presenting the amazing work done by mainly volunteer emergency services, ambulance officers, fire fighters and police.