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Gripping Images Show Mourning Koala Beside Dead Companion In Australia Bushfires

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

Devastating images have captured the moment a singed koala appears to mourn the death of its companion after a wildfire decimated their Kangaroo Island habitat.

The island, off the coast of South Australia, is a biodiverse haven for wildlife. It’s sometimes described as the Galapagos of Australia. Fires destroyed as much as half of the rich habitat there when they tore through two weeks ago, leaving scores of dead animals in their wake.

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In the image, taken Wednesday, the injured koala sits with its face buried in its chest near a deceased smaller koala. 

An injured Koala sits beside a dead koala on Kangaroo Island before being rescued on Wednesday. The charred forest floor on Kangaroo Island is littered with corpses of animals that died when fires swept through two weeks ago.

Subsequent images show rescuers from the Humane Society International Crisis Response team capturing the surviving marsupial with a towel. Humane Society Australia CEO Erica Martin said in a statement that the group was working to deliver emergency truckloads of water and supplementary feed to keep koalas, kangaroos, wombats and flying foxes alive. 

It has been estimated that more than half of the island’s 50,000 koalas ― the only chlamydia-free population in the country ― may have died in the blazes. Hundreds of thousands of other animals have perished, and endangered and critically endangered species native to the island, such as the glossy black cockatoo and Kangaroo Island dunnart, face real threats of extinction in their range.

Humane Society International Crisis Response specialist Kelly Donithan approaches the injured koala on Kangaroo Island.The Humane Society International Crisis Response team rescues the injured koala.

The rescuer pictured, global disaster response expert Kelly Donithan, told One Green Planet that these were some of the toughest scenes she’d witnessed as an animal rescuer, saying there were “bodies of charred animals as far as the eye can see.”

“But as we set out each day on search and rescue, we’re still finding animals alive, injured, dazed or traumatized, and it’s such a relief to be able to give them immediate lifesaving assistance.

“We’ve seen kangaroos with devastating burn injuries and dehydrated koalas gasping for water. Amidst all this death, every time we find an animal alive it feels like a miracle.”

Kelly Donithan holds a baby koala she just rescued on Kangaroo Island. She said she'd witnessed some of the Kelly Donithan checks an injured koala rescued on Kangaroo Island.

Australia’s federal government has pledged $50 million to a wildlife recovery fund, with $25 million going toward wildlife rescues, hospitals and conservation groups, and the other half set aside for an emergency intervention fund advised by a panel of experts.

This week, rain and cooler weather brought a reprieve for firefighters battling other blazes still burning across Australia, especially in the hardest-hit state of New South Wales. However, the NSW Rural Fire Service said, it wasn’t the end of the crisis.

“Although this rain won’t extinguish all fires, it will certainly go a long way towards containment,” it tweeted.

Nationwide, 29 people have died and more than 2,000 homes have been lost this fire season.

Indigenous Australians’ Grief Over Bushfires Deepens The Trauma Felt Since Colonisation

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

Australia’s catastrophic bushfires have has not only burnt over 10 million hectares of land, but they have also deepened the trauma Aboriginal people feel over the British colonisation of the country in 1788.

Yorta Yorta First Nations man Neil Morris said Indigenous Australians’ connection with the land is central to their spiritual and cultural identity, and seeing the fires destroy nature in front of their eyes is a reminder that that land was stolen from them 232 years ago.

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“We are in a time where people are feeling lost in this country,” he told HuffPost Australia. “And it’s not everyone and it’s not the majority, but there are a lot of people who are feeling lost, and a large part of that is to do with the unjust ways that Australia was developed and has continued to be upheld.”

Yorta Yorta First Nations man Neil Morris said Indigenous Australians’ connection with the land is central to their spiritual and cultural identity.

When the British colonised Australia, Indigenous people were victims of violence, forcibly removed from homes, separated from family and placed in missions and reserves. As a result, many were unable to continue cultural traditions and protect the land, a spiritual duty. The displacement continues to traumatise Aboriginal people, and today’s bushfires reinforce that.

“I don’t want to reduce anyone’s experience,” Morris said of Australians who have lost their homes or lives in the bushfires that began in September.

“What I do want to express is the fact that all Indigenous communities are living in trauma on a day-to-day basis at the hands of living in a colonialised society. Our people are already in a deep state of trauma. In many communities, we are in a state of recovery, and that’s a big process, obviously, with the severe disadvantage that our people have been at.”

A mock coffin with 'Colonisation' written on it surrounded by placards out the front of Victorian Parliament house during a protest by Aboriginal rights activist on Australia Day in Melbourne, Australia 26 January 2018. Australia Day is named by some as Invasion Day due to the dispossession of Indigenous land and the arrival of the First Fleet's at Port Jackson, Sydney, in 1788. 

Indigenous fire practitioner Oliver Costello agreed. He said seeing “all our plants and animals decimated” as a result of the bushfires has been beyond devastating.  

“They’re our ancestors; they’re our kin,” he explained. “Our cultural knowledge systems mean we’re a part of the land. We’ve been burnt. Our skin is the skin of the earth. We’re in trauma.”

Many Indigenous communities have fled their homes and been evacuated to refuge centres this bushfire season, and Morris said the displacement of communities and burnt land means “you cannot carry out your obligations as First Nations peoples”.

“We are a very spiritual people, and that’s something that’s important to the conversation,” he said.

“When you consider the fact that our custodianship is a real key element… taking that from us is very painful.” 

Australia's worst ever bushfire season began in September last year. 

Aboriginal people losing their homes in the bushfires is also loss of land that belongs to its traditional custodians, he explained.

“When I found out that an Indigenous family had lost their home, which had been their home for multiple generations, for me that really hit home, because it wasn’t just someone who bought a house in a nice, pretty part of the world,” he said. “It’s custodians living on their country for a very long period of time, going back to however long people had been on that part of country.” 

Morris has launched a fire relief fund supporting First Nations communities.

The money raised will be used to cover critical costs for Indigenous communities, including temporary relocation (hotel expenses, fuel, rent, medical needs), refurbishment of damaged property, resettling expenses, and replacement of vital items such as clothing and toiletries. 

US woman sentenced to 40 years in prison for murder of former school teacher

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

A US woman has been sentenced to 40 years in prison after pleading guilty to the murder of her former high school teacher.

Pair arrested over suspected drug lab after explosion at Adelaide unit

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

Two people are in hospital under police guard following an explosion at a suspected clandestine drug lab in Adelaide’s south-west.

Australian Parliament Rejects ‘Lewis The Koala’ Statue Commemorating Fire Victim

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

The bronze tribute to Lewis the Koala.

Artists Gillie and Marc Schattner have expressed their “shock and disbelief” after Australia’s Parliament rejected their donation of a bronze sculpture memorial of Lewis the Koala.

Lewis was the terribly scorched koala that went viral after Toni Doherty, a grandmother in New South Wales, was filmed entering a bushfire in and around the town of Ellenborough to save him with the shirt off her own back.  Lewis died from his burns, one of an estimated 1 billion or more animals in the worst bushfire crisis in Australian history. 

The artists, who are married, said the sculpture was meant to be a gift to the government in order to “showcase what happened during this devastating time in Australia.”

Gillie and Marc explained on their official Facebook page that their gesture was rejected with a “cold email” saying, “We decline as it does not meet our policy.”

After public backlash and overwhelming support online, Gillie and Marc said they have reached out to several ministers in Canberra to negotiate a solution, and they are hoping for a positive outcome.  

“We are now waiting for a response but in our hearts we know public opinion is on the side of Lewis and Parliament House must recognise this,” Gillie and Marc wrote on Facebook.

Parliament House told HuffPost, while greatly appreciating the gesture from the artists, the Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) did initially decline the offer and explained the appropriate processes for accepting artwork into APH.

“DPS would be very pleased to consider an application from Mr and Ms Schattner for the work to be exhibited within Parliament House in line with the conditions of the Parliament’s Temporary Exhibition Policy,” DPS said on Friday. 

“However, once the immediate bushfire emergency is over, DPS will work with the Parliament to consider an appropriate way to ensure fairness for all artists wishing to display artwork in APH which recognises the bushfire tragedy.’

The effort by Toni Doherty to save Lewis the Koala went viral at the beginning of the fire season that has devastated vast swathes of Australia.

“We didn’t for a second think that it would be an issue, we thought that they’d be honoured to have it there,” Gillie told HuffPost Australia. “We are devastated given everything Australia has been through.”

The renowned sculpture artists made four memorials that cost tens of thousands of dollars, and three have found locations ― one will go to Port Macquarie Koala Hospital (the facility that cared for Lewis), one to London and one to New York City. 

“We wanted to find four incredible locations to showcase what happened during this devastating time in Australia,” the pair said. 

Gillie and Marc asked the public in a Facebook post where they thought would be the best locations for the statues. 

“More than 70% of the suggestions was Canberra, outside Parliament House,” Gillie said. “All we wanted was for somewhere people could see it and pay their respects.”  

She added, “People of Australia want a memory of what happened. And for the government to acknowledge that this is something incredibly tragic that’s affected the core of our country.”

Gillie and Marc started work on the sculptures after hearing about Lewis’ ordeal and treatment but said they became more passionate when they heard Lewis had passed away from his injuries in November.  

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You can read Gillie and Marc’s Facebook post below: 

This report has been updated to include an official statement from the Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS). 

‘His deep, loud laugh was truly infectious’

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

Volunteer firie Samuel McPaul, who died in a freak “fire tornado” on the NSW-Victoria border, has been remembered as a kind and hard-working family man.

Residents without water, street access after burst pipe floods Melbourne street

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

A number of homes have been flooded after a water main burst on a south-east Melbourne street.

Death row inmate spared just hours before execution

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

Georgia’s parole board on Thursday spared the life of a prisoner just hours ahead of his scheduled execution, commuting his sentence to life without the possibility of parole.

Celeste Barber Blasts Trolls Who Have Criticised Her $51 Million Bushfire Appeal

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

Celeste blasts trolls.

Australian comedian Celeste Barber has told trolls to “bugger off” after she received criticism for her Facebook Fundraiser for bushfire victims.  

Many Tweets and Instagram comments have voiced concern over how the $51 million will be distributed, even though Celeste has repeatedly told followers on her Instagram Story that she is working hard to make sure the money “gets where it needs to go”. 

“This is just to those, what are they called? Dickheads online. Bugger off.  Not interested,” she told her followers on Friday.  

“Walk away Renee don’t troll a fundraiser page, it’s embarrassing for you.  Just stop it OK. Look, the last time I raised $51 mill was, that’s right! I have never done it before.” 

Celeste urged anyone that had, in fact, raised $51 million to “feel free to get in touch”.

The longer the Celeste Barber fundraiser continues to take donations for a NSW government department it takes $$$ away from charities that will help #bushfire victims right now.#AUSTRALIANBUSHFIRES#auspol#libspill#BushFireCrisisAustralia

— 💧KORKI 🐯🏆🐯 (@CKorki) January 16, 2020

Why Celeste Barber’s bushfire fundraiser is more complicated than it seems –
Well this is disappointing to say the least.
I was under the impression that the money I donated would go to SA and Kangaroo Island.
The majority will be heading to the RFS https://t.co/L5V5cYanQH

— KJ (@utegirl70) January 15, 2020

You’re all seeing celebrity funds. But most lack guidelines for how the money should be spent and end up in bureaucratic black holes with huge administrative costs.

— Peter Logue (@pjlogue) January 15, 2020

“So, to the people who are trolling a fundraiser page, maybe rein it in. Maybe go outside and scream at some kids who look like they’re having too much fun on a swing set, that might be kind of more your jam. I am just not here for it. 

“We did a really crazy thing. We did!” Celeste said, referring to her fans that have donated to the bushfire appeal she started over the New Year period. 

“Are you kidding?  I’m on a bloody mural in Melbourne thank you very much.  I’m hosting a gig with Queen and Farnsie. We’ve done such good things.”  

Celeste went on to say her partner, known to fans as “Hot Husband”, is heading to Eden, New South Wales next week to see their family that was evacuated at New Years. 

 

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Last month Celeste, who won fame for her parody photographs mimicking “real-life” reenactments of high-end fashion shoots and celebrity moments, launched a Facebook campaign for the NSW Rural Fire Service.  It hit nearly $50m in two weeks. 

The 37-year-old was honoured for her bushfire efforts last week with a mural in one of the country’s most iconic graffiti laneways.

Hosier Lane in Melbourne’s CBD now features a street art piece of Celeste with the message “Thank You” painted on the creation. 

Seven killed in bizarre Panama cult exorcism rituals

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

Seven people have been killed in a bizarre religious ritual in a jungle community in Panama.

‘More exciting than Xmas’: Dramatic weather U-turn celebrated

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

People are welcoming the deluge of rain across the country, as Australia’s weather went from one extreme to another.

Indigenous Fire Practitioner: ‘There’s Never Been A More Important Time’ To Adopt Traditional Burning Methods

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

Since it began in September, Australia’s unprecedented catastrophic bushfire crisis has led to over 10 million hectares of land being burned, millions of animals dying, thousands evacuating from their homes and almost 30 people losing their lives.

Though local fire services’ hazard reduction tools and back-burning continue to be discussed as strategies, traditional fire practices used by Aboriginal people before Australia was colonised by the British in 1788 have been gaining more attention.

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Indigenous fire practitioner Oliver Costello told HuffPost Australia that “there has never been a more important time than now to support us practising our knowledge and practice”.

The founder of Firesticks Alliance – an organisation that specialises in Aboriginal cultural burning – said the practice that dates back more than 80,000 years involves an examination and understanding of the entire ecosystem, which he said modern practices don’t necessarily consider.

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A post shared by Firesticks (@firesticks.alliance.network) on Jan 7, 2020 at 11:20pm PST

What Is Cultural Burning 

Cultural burning involves burning “trickling fires” in circles or mosaics across patches of land during cooler periods that typically start in March and April but can vary depending on the landscape. Its aim is to reduce fuel while also protecting plants and animals. 

Costello said the cultural knowledge and skills used before lighting the fire are what make the practice unique and successful.  

“When we apply the fire, we read the country and we look at the values,” he said. “So all of the plants and animals have their own identity and relationships to each other. Some of them have quite positive relationships with fire, some have quite negative relationships with fire.

“If you burn the wrong way, it destroys a lot of the kinship and culture.”

Aboriginal rangers conduct a controlled burn to protect the black-footed rock-wallaby at Ernabella in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in South Australia on August 12, 2014.

Cultural Burning In Practice 

Australian National University Professor Bill Gammage has extensively researched traditional fire practices and said he’s “absolutely sure” these methods would help minimise the risk of bushfire crises like the one Australia is experiencing now. 

“Where white fellas are in charge, we have terrible fires, and where black fellas are in charge, we don’t,” the author of “The Biggest Estate: How Aborigines Managed The Land” told HuffPost Australia. 

“We can see up in northern Australia where Aboriginal people are still in charge, they start burning when the ground is still damp and the grass is a little bit green,” he said. “You only get little patches. That way they become mini fire breaks, and then as the country grows out, they burn more and more, and the burnt area just spreads. The result is they don’t have the big fires that we do.” 

The Yugul Mangi Rangers are Indigenous land management experts who work alongside traditional owners living in Numbulwar, Bulman, Ramingining and Maningrida in the Northern Territory to undertake cultural burning.

The Wagiman Rangers work closely with the Northern Council and undertake land management activities throughout the Wagiman Aboriginal Land Trust, which covers 130,000 hectares across the Northern Territory.

“We haven’t learnt that skill yet,” said Gammage. “Very early on, white settlers in southern Australia tried to copy Aboriginal burning. They could see it was an advantage, but they just didn’t have the skill to do it properly. So we’ve lost those skills and, as a consequence, we get worse and worse fires.” 

Those like Costello who do have the skills want to engage land management agencies, share their knowledge and be given the opportunity to practice their fire traditions. Since the escalation of the 2019/2020 bushfire crisis, Tasmania has enlisted the assistance of Aboriginal fire practice experts. 

On Monday, the Tasmanian government announced a $100,000 pilot grant program allowing the state’s Aboriginal communities to conduct cultural burning in local areas. 

Three new specialist Aboriginal positions were also created within the Parks and Wildlife Service to “further strengthen our understanding of and practice in land management and cultural burning methods, and the impact of fire on Aboriginal heritage”. 

“As our nation suffers from devastating bushfires, we should draw on the deep connection Tasmanian Aboriginals have with the land and share this knowledge in improved land management practices, to help reduce the impact of wildfires in our community,” outgoing Premier Will Hodgman said in a statement

“The Government will also invite Aboriginal representation on the Statewide Fuel Reduction Steering Committee, to provide expert advice on fire management practices and to further assist agencies to learn from and utilise traditional management techniques.”

In New South Wales, the NSW Rural Fire Service has created two all-Indigenous firefighting crews. Eight men from far western NSW have formed Indigenous Mitigation Crews. Though their current roles mostly entail “building trust with the community”, the recruits “will be tasked with performing cultural burns” in the future, reports ABC

“The First Nations people need to be acknowledged and respected, and we need to be supported to practice our culture,” said Costello. “For me, it’s been 10 or 15 years saying, ‘We need jobs, but not working for the government, but working for our own communities’.”

Gammage agreed, saying, “I certainly think the key thing is that at a local level, Aboriginal people should be involved.

“I say local level because the country changes. How you’d control a fire in Tasmania is very different from how you’d control it in the Kimberley. You’ve got to have that local expertise so you know the best time to burn, how often and what places and so on. Local governments should be supported to get Aboriginal help at that local level.”

How Cultural Burning Differs From Hazard Reduction Methods And Back-Burning

Ken Thompson, former deputy commissioner of NSW Fire & Rescue, said climate change, a factor in this intense bushfire season, could justify the adoption of traditional burning as part of the fire services’ process. 

“These fires, no matter where you look, are becoming far more intense, they’re burning for much longer, there are more of them and they’re becoming much more destructive,” Thompson explained. 

“Hazard reduction or prescribed burning is an effective tool within the whole hazard reduction tool kit, but it’s got its limitations. What the limitations are is the weather conditions have to be right before they can be done.

“Traditionally, those conditions would be outside our fire season during the cooler months, during the winter months. But now that our fire season is longer, that period, or window of opportunity, is smaller. To make things even more complicated within that smaller window of opportunity, the weather conditions still have to be right. So if it’s too hot, if the humidity is too low, if the winds are too strong or if there’s rain, then basically they can’t be done.”

Firefighters drop incendiary devices from a helicopter during a hazard reduction burn off Weddin Mountain National Park.

Cultural burning, on the other hand, welcomes rainy conditions to some extent, and though the climate is changing, the practices can be adapted to today’s landscapes. 

“You often hear even quite good firies say you can’t burn when it’s wet. But with a little bit of rain, that’s ideally when you start burning because the fires won’t get very big. You can easily put it out,” said Professor Gammage. “And Aboriginal people would do that.”

Costello said he’s heard agencies say that Indigenous early burns in March and April are not “effective or useful”, “don’t reduce the fuel” or aren’t “a good hazard reduction burn”. 

“But that’s our first burns,” he explained. “We get out there when it’s still quite damp and start to burn in the right areas and country types.

“There’s a lot of seasonal variation that relies heavily on moisture and the curing of the grasses. You’ve just got to read the country and then, even through summer, if we’ve done all our early burning, we can burn later into the seasons. But when you start getting into spring, you start getting issues with birds nesting and animals mating, nurturing the young and all of that stuff, so you’ve got to be super careful. That’s why a lot of the hazard reduction burning they’re [fire services] doing in spring is quite dangerous because they’re not doing the proper burning. 

“A lot of the hazard reduction … burning they’re doing, we don’t want them to do it. We want them to stop doing it.”

Thompson said he believed traditional burning was “another tool that can perhaps be added to the [hazard reduction] tool kit”, though he suggested more research could be beneficial, adding that his “only concern is how it would be carried out on such a large scale”. 

Back-burning is used to protect residential areas from encroaching bushfires in the Central Coast, about 100 kilometres north of Sydney, on December 10, 2019.

Meanwhile, back-burning is a tool used during the firefighting process. 

“To try and get ahead of a fire, they’ll light a fire to burn out the fuel between where they are and where the fire is,” explained Thompson.

“That’s a pretty effective tool, but it’s risky because you’re lighting another fire in the middle of what is already an extreme or even catastrophic fire situation,” he continued, explaining that strong winds and dry conditions can lead to the flames getting out of control. 

Can Cultural Burning Work Amid Climate Change?

Neil Morris has worked in Indigenous land management for several years. He considers traditional practice “one of the answers” in tackling the fire crisis. 

“Climate change has created another sweep of issues that we simply can’t fully counteract,” he said, adding, however, that “we can counteract as best as possible”. 

“There’s been evidence from Indigenous fire practitioners with parts of country they’ve done their cool burns on over multiple years. Even as little as two years of cool burns over the same site has meant that when these fires have come through, this time that fire went around those parts of country, and that’s just after two years of Indigenous burning practices.”

Neil Morris has worked in Indigenous land management for several years and said traditional practice “is one of the answers” in tackling the fire crisis.

Though Costello acknowledged the recent “fire and extreme conditions” could affect traditional practice, he said the communities “can adapt to that impact”. 

“The climate’s always changing, and it always has changed, so our knowledge systems are designed to adapt to change.… This is not the first time that the continent has gone through a dry process.

“Eighty thousands years or more of cultural fire management practices has seen sea levels rise and fall, landscapes change, species change. There’s a whole heap of change that’s happened, and people have just adapted.

“We can say this is how we’re going to burn today, but 200 years ago we probably would have burned differently, and 2,000 years ago, we probably would have burned differently. There’s slight adaptations in our practice because we’re reading the country. We’re responding to the land, and the land and environment is changing.” 

Professor Marcia Langton AM at the University of Melbourne said, “It’s time to bring Indigenous knowledge of environment to the fore”.

Professor Marcia Langton AM, who holds the Foundation Chair in Australian Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne, agreed, saying, “It’s time to bring Indigenous knowledge of environment to the fore”.

“This is an opportunity to get Australia to start thinking about how Aboriginal peoples’ ancestors managed to live here for 65,000 years and sustain quite remarkable societies. It’s because of our continent-wide land management system. That’s why,” she told HuffPost Australia.

“You’ll notice that fire chiefs are saying, ‘We couldn’t do fuel reduction because the window of opportunity closed off because of the drought’. This is what Aboriginal people who practice traditional fire management do know about – how to work with the conditions in which we have this problem of radical, radical differences in our environment as a result of climate change.” 

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