My Personal Response To The Fires in SouthWestern Victoria.

It is not possible to adequately put into words how thankful we all are for the firefighters, first responders, police, and support crews who have kept us safe.


What a weekend it has been.

On Friday afternoon when I left town for a family wedding a couple of hours’ drive away, my greatest concern was that my father wouldn’t feel too lonely while we were away. When we left the wedding reception on Saturday night, and I checked my phone, my heart leapt into my throat as I began to realise what hell had unleashed back at home.


It is late in the season for fires, but there has been very little rain and the region has been tinder dry. Hot and very windy weather conditions created the opportunity for fire to take hold and spread rapidly through both farmland and natural bush.

One outbreak led to another, and another, and then another. My town, and those nearby, were experiencing the greatest crisis in decades. Surrounded by a ring of fire, people watched, worried, and sought refuge in the middle of town.

Social media posts showed what locals could see from their yards or where they had been driving. A friend who lives nearby posted photos of what she could see – and it was terrifying.

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Photo by Wendy Bernhardt. Saturday March 17 2018 22.19 Cobden Victoria
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Photo by Wendy Bernhardt. Saturday March 17 2018 23.46 Cobden Victoria

The emergency services website showed incidents all across the region, one after the other, spreading in a grim pattern of danger and destruction.

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That little white dot in the middle of the map is my town – Cobden, in southwestern Victoria.


Roads were closed. Authorities forbade people from driving into the area. The situation was officially described as catastrophic. And my 86 year old father was at home on his own. Nausea swept over me as I struggled not only with fear, but also with feelings of absolute uselessness: there was absolutely nothing I could do.

Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much. The radio stations weren’t forthcoming with updates until after 3am, so I turned to social media for information. With the aid of Facebook, I consulted with neighbours and made sure that our uncle had taken steps to make sure Dad was okay. I tried to call, but was unable to make contact. In the end, I just had to trust that things at home were as under control as they could be.

The fires continued to burn and spread throughout the night and the following day. As people’s stories of loss and devastation were told, offers of help were made and communities rallied, even while the fires still raged. There is no doubt about Aussies – they know how to help a mate, and they don’t hesitate to step in where needed.

Even late into the afternoon, the roads to home were all still closed, so we made our way back to a neighbouring town to wait until we could get home. One road opened at 5.50pm; we only needed one road, so we headed home. We knew that even though the road was open, authorities didn’t want people just driving into the area without good reason, but my dad was a very good reason to be making the trip.

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Smoke rising above Cobden as we drove home from Camperdown on Sunday evening.


We were very glad to find that Dad was fine, our home was safe, and the town itself was untouched except for smoke. Our local football oval was filled with emergency service manpower and vehicles from other places. They had come to help fight the fires and provide relief to the local crews, many of whom are volunteers, who had been working for many long hours to defend and protect people, properties and towns.

Fifteen minutes after returning home, a succession of five fire trucks went zooming down our no-through road, and my heart was in my throat again. Whatever had them rushing out had to be close, as there’s only about two kilometres of road past our place before the road ends. Within half an hour they had sorted the issue and came trundling back. My neighbours and I applauded them, gave them the thumbs up, and cheered them to show our gratitude for their quick response. They waved back and returned the thumbs up, their smiles letting us know that they understood and were thankful for our response, too.

Not long after that, new plumes of smoke not too far away indicated that there were new fires springing up. I could hear the sirens as they rushed out of town to meet the new emergencies, and reminded myself that the crisis wasn’t over just because my immediate surroundings were relatively safe.

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Thick smoke once again settled over the town. We took encouragement from the fact that warnings were downgraded to critical from catastrophic, and the symbols on the emergency services’ online fire map gradually began to change from red to orange.

Incredibly, no human lives have been lost and very few serious injuries have been suffered. This is testament to the dedication, hard work and training of our first responders, particularly our firefighters and State Emergency Service volunteers.

Despite the smoke in the air and the knowledge that the crisis wasn’t over yet, I slept so much better last night knowing that we were being protected by hundreds of committed and able firefighters, first responders, police, and support crews. It is not possible to adequately put into words how thankful we all are for the job they’ve done and continue to do.

This morning the pall of smoke blanketing our town was thick. It stings the eyes and the throat, and it smells. Yet that is the only discomfort I suffer, and for that I am incredibly thankful. What a blessing to be able to say that.

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The waterbombers and helicopters are flying overhead, and the work to control and extinguish these fires continues. People who are much, much braver than I are working in difficult and dangerous conditions, and for that we are all incredibly thankful.

The warnings for my town have been downgraded to Watch and Act but others are still in danger. We all have to remain vigilant.

Beyond that, we all have to care for each other.
People have lost homes, or farms, or herds… or all of that.
Our local community in the southwest of Victoria has been shaken and found strong, supportive and caring – and now, we must continue that by caring for those who have lost so much.
I have no doubt that Cobden will ace that – we’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again.

As I’ve said on numerous occasions, we’re incredibly blessed to live in Cobden. It’s a great community, and I’m thankful that it has passed this most recent test.



A horrible chain of events occurred in Melbourne today. A man drove a car into a group of people, killing some and injuring others, including children.  Some of the injured remain in a critical condition. 

It wasn’t terrorism. Just an angry man in a car. 

Funny, though. Nobody has mentioned his religion, and there have been no popular calls for his particular ethnic group to explain or apologise for his actions. 

Nor should they be expected to. Ever. 

It’s his responsibility, not theirs. 

But you can bet your sweet patootie that it would be a different story if he were a Muslim or a recent immigrant from the Middle East. 

We’re not judgemental, though. Nor racist. Mmmkay?

An Armchair Spectator’s Perspective.

I love watching the Olympics on TV. The achievements of the competitors are amazing, and I can only imagine what it must feel like to be part of the atmosphere there with the cheering, whistling, and excitement of each event.

I am getting increasingly frustrated with the TV and radio commentators, though. I don’t know what it’s like in other nations, but the Australian media seem to be frequently making remarks about our competitors not winning medals when they were “expected to”, with the implication that they’re letting us down somehow.

Let’s stop and think about that for a moment.
Whose expectations and assumptions are we working on?
Most certainly, not mine.

I don’t think the competitors have those expectations, either. I have no doubt they have hopes and aspirations as they pursue their dreams of victory and success. They put everything into it that they can. Nobody goes in half-arsed and decides while competing that it doesn’t matter so much.

It’s important to remember that every single one of them is a champion for just getting there. They’ve beaten a bunch of other competitors who wanted to be there too. They’ve achieved personal bests and performed feats that are pretty much impossible for most of us ordinary folk.

Our commentators aren’t doing anyone any favours by adding more pressure with the weight of comments that imply that someone was expected to win, and didn’t. Going into the Olympics, there were reports of Australia hoping for a certain number of medals, particularly in certain events. It wasn’t the athletes or swimmers who expressed those goals, it was the media. And how the people “back home” interpret the results is strongly influenced by the ways in which the events and results are reported on and discussed in the media.

It’s easy to want to win everything. It’s easy to consider our own nation a “favourite” among others. We need to keep an open mind, though, and remember that everyone in other countries has the same hopes as we do for our competitors. Just because someone holds a world record doesn’t give them any entitlement to win that event again.  As Australian swimmer Bronte Barratt said on Thursday before the Women’s 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay, “As we’ve proven many times before, if you’ve got a lane, you’ve got a chance, so we’ve got a great chance.”  She’s absolutely right. Everyone has an equal chance once they make the final.

As for the competitors, they want to do their best. Of course they’d love to win, and they’ll be disappointed when they don’t. But to be there is a victory in itself, and we shouldn’t let any commentator diminish that. And when the race is over, we should be praising and encouraging, not criticising.



Armistice Day, 2015.

May we never forget their sacrifice for our freedom,
And may we be thankful that our generation has not had to fight as they did
for the liberty we enjoy.
from And There Was a Great Calm   by Thomas Hardy
(On the Signing of the Armistice, 11 Nov. 1918)
Breathless they paused. Out there men raised their glance
To where had stood those poplars lank and lopped,
As they had raised it through the four years’ dance
Of Death in the now familiar flats of France;
And murmured, ‘Strange, this! How? All firing stopped?’
Aye; all was hushed. The about-to-fire fired not,
The aimed-at moved away in trance-lipped song.
One checkless regiment slung a clinching shot
And turned. The Spirit of Irony smirked out, ‘What?
Spoil peradventures woven of Rage and Wrong?’
Thenceforth no flying fires inflamed the gray,
No hurtlings shook the dewdrop from the thorn,
No moan perplexed the mute bird on the spray;
Worn horses mused: ‘We are not whipped to-day;’
No weft-winged engines blurred the moon’s thin horn.
Calm fell. From Heaven distilled a clemency;
There was peace on earth, and silence in the sky;
Some could, some could not, shake off misery:
The Sinister Spirit sneered: ‘It had to be!’
And again the Spirit of Pity whispered, ‘Why?’

Celebrating the record-breaking reign of QEII, the Australian way.

I’ve had a wonderful idea.

It’s 40 years since the dismissal of Gough Whitlam’s government in 1975 by the Governor-General, Sir James Kerr.
Tomorrow – September 9th – will see Queen Elizabeth II become the longest reigning monarch in British history.

What if Australia were to celebrate both anniversaries by having the Governor-General sack the PM again?

Australia would have a new lease on its political life, possibly even in time to prevent our becoming unable to ever look the rest of the world in the eye again.
The economy would receive an enormous boost because people would be throwing parties and holding street parades through every town. Freedom of the press to call it as they see it would return, and Australians could celebrate being Australian without wondering if they actually were on Team Australia or not.
The ABC could continue being fully funded and independent, we could go back to funding schools, roads and hospitals, and asylum seekers would be welcomed without being “filtered” according to artificially imposed rules and guidelines that make those who dream them up almost as bigoted as the people the asylum seekers are running away from in the first place.
Australia could once again be the “lucky country” with boundless plains to share, where the little guy can achieve something great once in a while without being accused of having a “sense of entitlement”.

Stop for a moment and think about it.
It really would be the gift that keeps on giving.


Meeting Politicians the ‘Strayan way.

It’s been a funny old day in Australian politics.
On the front page of the national newspaper today was a picture of Tony Abbott, Prime Minister of Australia, being “bunny-earsed” by some kid at a reception for the Diamonds, the Australian representative netball team.


I really enjoy this picture, because it looks like it’s Bill Shorten, Leader of the Opposition, doing it. That would be funny, too, although perhaps a bit harder to justify as an innocent prank.  The second picture definitely shows that it’s a kid’s arm behind the PM.


Personally, I think someone should give that kid a knighthood, or at least a medal. With one gesture, he has summed up the feelings of many Australians. Moreover, it’s humorous and typical Aussie larrikin behaviour, without causing any harm or any significant disrespect.

Let’s face it, giving someone bunny ears in a photo has been the Australian way for generations. How many years worth of school photos do we all have where someone is doing the bunny ears, or crossing their eyes, or wearing someone else’s glasses?  Those are the things that make actually getting those photos taken worthwhile.

It’s also a reminder that we are very privileged to live in a country where we can meet and mingle with our national leaders without getting tasered or spear-tackled to the ground and, in the case that we should survive that, arrested.  I can’t imagine being able to get close enough to Vladimir Putin, or Kim Jong Il, for example, or daring to “bunny ears” either one of them. And taking on the POTUS bodyguards? No. No thank you. I’ll be good.

Australia really is a great country.  It’s a great place to live, especially if you’ve got a bit of a sense of humour and don’t take yourself, or your politicians, too seriously.


Give “booing” the boot.

I support the rights of sports spectators everywhere to not like everyone on the field. Liking everyone is not compulsory.

I do not accept that they have a right to call names, boo, hiss, swear, curse or insult anyone who takes the field / court / cricket pitch, or anyone else for that matter.
I’ve seen plenty of this behaviour directed at footballers and participants in various other sports in my time, and it sickens me. If they weren’t among the best, they wouldn’t be out there.
The colour of someone’s skin, their racial or religious heritage, or their sexual preferences have absolutely nothing to do with it.

I support the rights of all people to work in their workplace without harassment, vilification, or threats of harm. That applies to footballers as well as mechanics, teachers, doctors, nurses and everyone else. If you wouldn’t accept that treatment at work, don’t expect anyone else to. If you would feel threatened with hundreds of people “booing” at you, don’t expect others not to.

To belittle, mock or harass someone is childish. To support that kind of behaviour among people who should know better is worse.  For heaven’s sake, we’re not all six years old.

Yes, sometimes people do things that we don’t like. Sometimes people do things that they regret. Sometimes, one’s actions end up having consequences that they certainly did not expect. That’s life. We’re all human, and nobody’s perfect.

I think it’s about time a lot of Australians took a long, hard look at themselves, got over their arrogance, and learned to play nicely with others, both on and off the field.


Outrageous outrage.

In the wake of the US Supreme Court’s decision in recognition of gay marriage, I’ve noticed a few interesting things.

The flood of rainbow coloured profile pictures on Facebook and other social media and the parallel flood of statements in support of marriage equality for all suggest at first that there is stronger social support for marriage equality than the Australian government seems to believe.  I wonder how many of the people I know splashing rainbows around this weekend have written to any Australian politicians voicing their support.

All those rainbows have also prompted a wave of people bemoaning the loss of their “Christian” right to object or to openly state that they do not support gay marriage.
What nonsense.
Nobody is being asked to live against their morals. Nobody is having their personal ethics persecuted or the security of their family endangered.

In fact, if gay people are allowed to get married, I’m pretty sure that the only personal lives affected will be their own.  For heterosexual couples, kids at school, and Rover the family dog, absolutely nothing will change. They can still go on doing what they’ve always done. So can your church, mosque or local football club.

In terms of the Australian constitution, nothing will change. The Marriage Act would change, but that isn’t going to annul or change anyone else’s marriage. And please, don’t start bleating about “undermining the sanctity of marriage”.  A 50% divorce rate in Australia, the chronic problem of domestic violence, and a popular culture full of dysfunctional families and parents, usually fathers, made out to look like idiots by smart-arsed kids has done more to undermine the sanctity of marriage than legalising gay marriage ever will.   If heterosexuals want to be precious about their marriages, it’s about time more of them started treating their marriages as precious.

I fully understand that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is immoral.  No argument there.
However, what most of the predominantly Christian outrage against gay marriage conveniently overlooks is that the Bible teaches that there are many practices and lifestyles that are immoral: anyone who is dishonest, greedy, prejudiced, cruel, selfish, rude, atheist, or sexually active outside of marriage is just as guilty in terms of what the Bible teaches.  Let’s not even start on different religions. And judging other people? Oops. There are plenty of people in our world who are guilty of that.
All of these things are called immoral in the Bible. Yet all of these other people are fully entitled, as consenting adults, to marry the person they love. That is, of course, as long as it’s a heterosexual marriage.  Anything else would be… well… sinful.  And we can’t have that, can we?

The Bible wastes no words in condemning those who oppress the poor, the vulnerable, the widow or the hungry. The Old Testament is very direct in that regard. Ironically, though, we don’t hear people raging against the relationships or marriages of the Australian politicians who are actively involved in locking up asylum seekers in small neighbouring third-world nations, do we?  No,  because that would be stupid. So would opposing the marriage of Joe Schmoe and Mary Bloggs down the road because they don’t believe in God at all, or they worship the fairies at the bottom of their garden. In fact, I do believe it’s been a very long time since anyone living in Australia was publicly stoned to death for “living in sin”, but that’s immoral too.

My point is that it seems that marriage is an option for everyone except gays and lesbians, even though everyone is flawed or immoral in one way or another.

Nobody is suggesting that churches or individual pastors or priests who hold convictions and teachings against gay marriage should be forced to perform the ceremonies. Nobody is suggesting that because something becomes legalised, everyone has to do it.  Smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol are both quite legal, yet many people choose to do neither. It’s quite legal to be a nudist if someone wants to be, but most people don’t practise that lifestyle, either.

It’s high time that we all just got over ourselves and treated one another with respect and kindness.  If someone wants to marry, let them.  If they don’t want to marry, don’t make them. And for heaven’s sake, stop pretending that someone else’s marriage or relationship has anything at all to do with yours.


Attn: Amber Heard and Johnny Depp: It’s not just your dogs that are unwelcome.

Dear Amber Heard,

We don’t care how ridiculously rich, famous or beautiful you both may be.  That does not give you a licence to break Australian law and do whatever you damn well please.
Our quarantine laws exist for very good reason, and there are no exceptions.

Kindly keep your opinions and your non-quarantined dogs to yourselves.

Thank you,

Me, and the rest of Australia



ANZAC Day, 2015.

Hundreds of people attended the ANZAC Day memorial service at the cenotaph in Cobden for the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing. There were thousands at the dawn service in Warrnambool and hundreds of thousands at the dawn service in Melbourne. The grey clouds and steady rain did not deter them: instead, it seemed appropriate for a time of sombre reflection.

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In Cobden, the path to the cenotaph was lined by a guard of honour consisting of our Scouts and Girl Guides.

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A lone piper played in tribute to the fallen and in honour of the returned servicemen who were present.

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Hearing the New Zealand ode spoken in Maori was very powerful, even though most people there couldn’t understand a word of it. The speaker’s love for his country and thankfulness for the ANZACs and all those who served after them was evident through the emotion in his voice.

The Australian ode was spoken equally powerfully.It was impossible to remain unmoved by all the feelings of love for my country, gratitude for those who have served and the freedoms we still have because of them, and sadness for the loss of life on both sides. I made no effort to hide several tears that spilled down my cheek when they played The Last Post and during the period of silent observance before they played the Reveille.

When they played the instrumental version of the Australian national anthem there was no invitation to sing, but half the crowd sang anyway. I would have loved it if everyone joined in, but I guess the “I’m not singing in public” sentiment is still strong among many people.

It was beautiful to meet a little boy, Euan, who was incredibly proud to be wearing his great-grandfather’s war medals. I watched him stand attentively and proudly through the whole ceremony. He had obviously been made aware by his parents of the importance of the medals and the reason for the commemoration, because he took it all very seriously.

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I am so thankful that remembering those who served their country and their fellow Australians, New Zealanders and allies, often at the expense of their own lives, is so important to so many.

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“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”

Lest We Forget.