of interest

The Ash Wednesday Bushfires occurred on February 16, 1983 across Victoria and South Australia. Victoria's Dandenong Ranges and along the Otway Coast and Ranges saw hundreds of homes destroyed and many small towns along The Great Ocean Road were completely cut off. 75 lives were lost - 47 in Victoria and 28 in South Australia. The fire storm destroyed. over 2500 homes in both states.

Bill Dettmer's moving poem tells the story.

 

of interest

Over the years , John Laws Derryn Hinch and 'Australia All Over' have read out Bill's poems and other ABC shows like John Reid's Poets Corner have published many.

Bill Dettmer has written other works related to bushfires in Victoria. See our poetry section in the contents.

 

ASH WEDNESDAY

 

© W. J. Dettmer

The tail end of the news I heard, before I went to bed,
Said 40 houses had been lost; and 17 were dead.
We'd listened in for hours, since we'd heard the first report
Of some who'd safely raced away, how sadly, some were caught.
From Anglesea to Gisborne, from Belgrave down to Lorne,
Came stories of heroic deeds and pictures, wildly drawn.
Through the night as many slept, so safe within their beds
So many more lay terrified, so many prayers were said.
Then smoke came over Melbourne bringing ash to settle down
Ash from many shattered dreams, the last remains of towns.
Some spent the night on beaches, others slept in schools.
Some cried, "this is the work of god", but no, the work of fools.
And still the fire raged across two parched, drought stricken states.
A family died together. A man died with his mates.
The morning came, no fanfare, no birds around to sing.
Warm, early rays of sunlight showed the hell that fire brings.
The "first editions" soon appeared with horror all the more.
The number of the dead had risen now to thirty-four.
On roads the volunteers collapsed, exhausted by the strain
Asleep where they had fallen, soon to rise and fight again.
But all throughout Australia, no-one really had to ask
With the cry of "she'll be right" the people got down to the task.
Then, as the days went past, the number dead, the houses lost
Would rise and rise again till no-one really knew the cost.
Though no-one would forget, the scars remain for all to see
From the sixteenth day of February, Nineteen Eighty Three.

© W. J. Dettmer