Acclaimed author and journalist Trent Dalton wants kids to help him tell the story of the Black Summer bushfires one year on.
Dalton, who reported on the devastating aftermath of the blazes, is contributing to a book about the national disaster; and its creators are also calling for poems from young Aussies on how they experienced the momentous events.
Dalton said joining the Kids News Bushfire Poetry Competition would give youngsters the chance to put their feelings into words and at the same time help others understand the impact on fire-affected communities.
“If you’ve got a kid who has a few thoughts and they put them down in poetic terms that’s going to speak more powerfully than a 42-year-old guy like me who wasn’t there reporting on it,” he said.
“I want to hear from the kid, the raw emotions of the kid who was there.”
Dalton, whose difficult childhood is reflected in his best-selling novel Boy Swallows Uni v erse, said writing poetry got him through tough times as a child.
“You write it down into words and suddenly it’s somewhere else other than inside your head, and that is such a gift,” he said.
Dalton said he also realised that “gift” could be shared when he showed his older brother, Joel, a “cheesy” poem he had written.
“I used a flickering candle flame as a metaphor for how I was feeling,” Dalton recalled.
“It sounds really cheesy but he read that and thought it was so good that I must have copied it.
“So what I am trying to say is that someone else can come along and it does something for them as well. It’s not just self serving, it’s an act of generosity as well.”
Brisbane-based Dalton hopes his words will again give to others when he pens the foreword in the book, which focuses on the resilience and recovery of communities affected by the fires.
He wants his foreword to touch those who weren’t there while saluting those who were, including the many survivors, firefighters and volunteers he encountered when he travelled from Batemans Bay in NSW to Mallacoota in Victoria for a feature story in the Weekend Australian Magazine.
Two poems — one from a primary student and one from a secondary student — will be chosen from Kids News Bushfire Poetry Competition entries to feature in the book, a joint project between HarperCollins, News Corp Australia and the National Bushfire Recovery Agency. For more information see kidsnews.com.au or enter below via the form below.
Meanwhile the National Bushfire Recovery Agency has issued a call for any Australians, old or young, impacted by the fires to share their photos for possible entry.
“By sharing your photo, you’ll be helping others to make decisions about their own recovery journeys as they resonate with yours,” said the agency’s assistant secretary Simon Kinsmore. “Every person and community has a unique story to tell. The stories you share help others to feel understood, and future generations to learn about the events of 2019-20.”
For more information and to submit photos go to www.bushfirerecovery.gov.au/your-submissions.
PERSONAL POEM PUSHED AWAY JAMES’ FEAR
The fear young James Fielding felt when the Black Summer fires raged towards his home returns whenever he smells smoke.
So his mum suggested he get his feelings out by writing about his experiences for the Kids News Bushfire Poetry Competition.
“My mum thought it was a good idea to do the poem because every time I smelt smoke after the fire was gone I would still get worried,” James, 10, said.
James and his family spent New Year’s Eve 2019 preparing their home at Nowra South, on the NSW south coast, for the approaching inferno.
“We went outside and filled the water tanks with water and we got a bunch of hoses and prepared them to protect the house and the shed,” James said.
By 3pm the sky was black and filled with choking smoke.
Mum Katherine Norman said it was difficult to tell how close the fire was and whether they should evacuate.
“We got messages saying it was too late to leave, so that was quite scary,” she said.
“We thought ‘right, that’s it, there is no turning back’.”
The flames came within 1km of their home before a southerly wind change late that night turned the fire away.
James, who has just started Year 5 at St Michael’s Catholic Primary School in Nowra, usually likes to write comic books but said the poem had helped him deal with his worries about the bushfires.
His mum agreed.
“We thought we would give it a go because it might just help him feel a lot better about it, which it has,” she said.