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Into the Flames

By Simon Roylance, 2009 0:00 minutes

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Simon Roylance knew in advance that Saturday 7th of February, 2009 - a day that came to be known as Black Saturday - was going to be a particularly dangerous day. At age 16, he was a senior member of the Country Fire Authority. By 2009, Simon had spent 15 years associated with the Wallan CFA.

Collection Living with Disaster


When disaster strikes, how does a community show its resilience?

Expecting the unexpected

Simon knew in advance that Saturday, 7 February 2009, was going to be a particularly dangerous day for bushfires. He recalls, “We had been told for about a week beforehand that this was going to be the worst day in Australia’s history for firefighting and definitely for Victoria.”

  • What were Simon’s particular concerns for his area? 
  • What did he do to prepare?

Another firefighter wrote in an article for The Age, “The reality is, once it was up and going, we’d have had as much hope turning the Black Saturday firestorm aside as surf lifesavers would beating a tsunami off their beach” (‘Don’t search for heroes in the CFA’, Jim Darby, The Age, 26 February 2009).

Despite his preparation and extensive experience, Simon was surprised by the events of Black Saturday.

  • What factors hampered Simon’s efforts? 
  • What had Simon never seen before in his firefighting experience?

Despite this element of unpredictability, Simon was not overwhelmed and continued to do his job. He continued to make vital decisions and deal with the situation.

  • What elements of Simon’s preparation enabled him to remain focused and effective? 
  • What elements of Simon’s character and the situation enabled him to continue performing his duties?

Recovery: ‘one big family’

Simon tells of the locals’ response in the aftermath of the Black Saturday fires: “Since the 7th occurred, I’ve noticed, especially in our own town for the first couple of months, that the township itself was a huge community, like one big family.” People can live alongside each other and technically be considered ‘a community’. But Simon’s observation of his township implies a different, more behavioural definition.

  • Explain more fully what particular aspects of ‘community’ Simon may be referring to. 
  • Simon likens the community to ‘one big family’. Create a list of the qualities that successful communities and families have in common.

Simon explains some of the impetus for people to rebuild: “…they want to stay there, they want to rebuild there, because that’s what they know. That’s where their family and friends are, that’s where all their memories are.”

Sometimes our families, homes and community are not perfect, but we love them anyway and would not want to be parted from them.

  •  Write a poem or piece of prose expressing your attachment to your family, home or community.