Review of ‘The Bushfire Book: How to be Aware and Prepare’
Title: The Bushfire Book: How to be Aware and Prepare
Author + Illustrator: Polly Marsden (writer) and Chris Nixon (illustrator)
Publisher: A Lothian Children’s Book published by Hachette Australia (2020)
Age Range: Age range: lower primary, middle primary, upper primary
Themes: Bushfire in Australia; bushfire awareness, preparation and planning; sharing information; emotional response of children to fire; the fire triangle; fire weather.
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Dr Sam Lloyd is my neighbour and friend, but is also an avid reader/writer of kidlit and a manager at the Queensland Fire and Biodiversity Consortium- so clearly- there is no one else more qualified to review this book! When it arrived in the mail I walked it straight up the back, through the gate between our gardens and into her kitchen! Thank you Sam for this considered review.
‘The Bushfire Book’
Fire is a part of the Australian landscape, part of the evolution of the Australian bush and has been used by First Nations people for tens of thousands of years. The bushfire situation in Australia is very complex, climate scientists predict that the number of high-risk fire weather days will increase with climate change (amongst other fire-related influences), which means the likelihood of fire occurring increases. It goes without saying that some of these fire events will have a low Fire Danger Rating – but some of them will be more serious, even “extreme” or “catastrophic”, as we saw last season.
Many Australians live in or near the bush, in fact many of our major cities are surrounded by or are built in and around national parks and bushland. Therefore, a very large proportion of the Australian population face some level of busfire risk. Naturally, many families have been addressing the issue of bushfire with their children.
‘The Bushfire Book’ does a careful, clever and creative job of introducing children to bushfire awareness – including an understanding of bushfire risk, the role of weather, recognising that it’s ok to feel worried or scared -but really highlighting the value of being informed and what you can do. The importance of being informed and prepared is a key theme throughout the book, with an emphasis on sharing information and resources. I also like the way the book acknowledges the potential concerns and worries of children, but importantly arms them with some of the information they need to feel more comfortable and confident in being bushfire aware and prepared.
The illustrations are playful and perfectly pitched to primary-aged children – even older primary children have something to gain from this book. The colours and style of the pictures are welcoming and assist in making what is so often an overwhelming topic approachable. The layout and style of the illustrations really compliments the text and carries the message well for the reader.
I was particularly impressed by the double page spread that deals with the ‘fire triangle’ – fire needs three ingredients: 1) fuel, 2) heat and 3) oxygen and this is very nicely illustrated. There is also an excellent page on the ‘Fire Danger Rating’, which we all see when we drive into a new town. The Fire Danger Rating system is used to assess the potential for a fire to ignite and spread, how difficult it is likely to be to contain/suppress and the potential community impact. It is a crucial part of the bushfire awareness message.
As someone who works in the bushfire world, I think it is vital adults and children have an opportunity to better understand the role of fire in the Australian landscape – including recognition and respect for First Nations cultural burning and fire management, appreciation of the essential relationship between fire and our native animals and plants (led by our world-class fire ecology scientists) and the importance of collaborative fire programs that support resilience and improve fire management outcomes for people and the environment. This book provides a platform for families to build their own bushfire awareness and preparedness and that is something every Australian can benefit from.
A Note about Emergency Bushfire Planning
Recognising that each state has its own emergency service and approach to emergency planning, the book refers readers to the Red Cross emergency site for emergency bushfire planning.
This site is an excellent resource with links to each relevant emergency service for each state and territory. I followed the link for Queensland, and it took me (as expected) to the Queensland Rural Fire Service’s (QFRS) “Prepare. Act. Survive” campaign, which supports the QRFS Bushfire Survival Planning resources. On this site there is information about how you can prepare, information about whether you will “leave early” or stay (and the potential risks) and you can complete a template to develop your own Bushfire Survival Plan online. It is a very straightforward but important process. There is something empowering (and comforting) about having all that essential information in one place. After being flooded (and 7.5months pregnant at the time) I certainly value this sort of natural disaster preparation.
A Note about Bushfire Management Planning
As opposed to a Bushfire Survival Plan, which articulates what you are doing in the event of a bushfire emergency – a Bushfire Management Plan assists landholders to reduce the threat of bushfires to life and assets on their property (including agriculture and primary production), whilst protecting and enhancing bushland values.
Such plans are developed with a “whole of property” or landscape approach and take into consideration the assets, cultural and environmental values on the property and the priorities and capacity of the landholder.
Landholders might identify where they would like to implement a hazard reduction burn or build infrastructure (such as dams and fencing). Programs listed below provide information, resources and opportunities to attend Fire Management Planning workshops in Queensland (#shamelessselfpromotion) and NSW and/or facilitate and support indigenous-led cultural burning.
Firesticks Alliance Indigenous Corporation
Firesticks Alliance Indigenous Corporation is an Indigenous led network and aims to re-invigorate the use of cultural burning by facilitating cultural learning pathways to fire and land management. It is an initiative for Indigenous and non- Indigenous people to look after Country, share their experiences and collectively explore ways to achieve their goals.
NSW Hotspots Fire Project
Based on best available science and operational knowledge, the Hotspots Fire Project is a NSW training program which provides landholders and land managers with the skills and knowledge needed to actively and collectively participate in fire management planning and implementation for the protection and enhancement of biodiversity conservation. Hotspots understands that well-informed and well- prepared communities complement the roles of land managers and fire agencies and that a shared approach to fire management is critical to any form of planning.
Queensland Fire and Biodiversity Consortium
Established in 1998, the Queensland Fire and Biodiversity Consortium is a network of land managers and stakeholders committed to improving fire and biodiversity management outcomes, supporting and disseminating fire ecology research, facilitating partnerships between key stakeholders and building the capacity of land managers and private land owners to address issues of fire management and biodiversity in SEQ and across Queensland.
For information on bushfire and climate change head to the Climate Council website.
For more information on bushfire research and outcomes head to the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC website.
For this review, I looked at the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC publication:
Penman T., Bedward M. and Bradstock, R. (2014) National Fire Danger Rating System Probabalistic Framework Project Final Report. Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC
Dr Samantha Lloyd is an ecologist and environmental manager with a passion for the Australian bush, children’s literature, dance, music and baking.
Having graduated from the University of Wollongong with a Bachelor of Science (Biology), 1st Class Honours in 1998 and a PhD (pollination ecology) in 2006, Sam has worked as an environmental manager for the SEQ regional NRM body; as an entomologist for the Australian and New Zealand Fire Ant Control Programs; and as Coordinator of the Moreton Bay Oil Spill Environmental Restoration Program.
Sam’s long-standing daytime gig is as Manager of the Queensland Fire and Biodiversity Consortium, with bushfire ecology and awareness being another of her passions.