and when the emptiness
started to roar we knew
we'd better run
In February 2009 Beechworth poet Frank Prem, like many around Victoria, was consumed by the bushfire tragedy quickly known as Black Saturday.
"We were either breathing the smoke of them or looking out to see if the red glow was creeping closer or hearing on the radio of another township that had been affected, perhaps destroyed, nobody knew at the time," he said.
Media reports in the aftermath and evidence presented to the subsequent royal commission also proved inescapable.
"I, as a writer, hear them as voices and they don't leave me alone," Prem said.
"There's something that needs to be said and it drives me somewhat. So I wrote them as I heard them, I wrote them as I lived them."
Ten years later, Prem has gathered these thoughts together in Devil In The Wind: Voices from the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, now in stores and online.
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Not wanting to seem insensitive to those most affected, he debated whether to make his poems public, but eventually felt it timely in this 10th anniversary year.
"Just to acknowledge what folk went through at that time," he said. "You start to talk about it to somebody who was close to it and they weep, it's raw, still raw.
"I'd not experienced anything quite like it for emotional distress on such a wide scale."
but the radio did nothing
and the mobile phone wasn't answered
by the third failed attempt I knew
some people were going to die
Taken directly from survivors' stories, the poems speak of inadequate communication, limited resources and conditions even experienced firefighters had never seen.
I'm telling you my truck didn't burn
bloody well melted
The ripple effects are also not forgotten, such as the little boy who later hid in a hamper of donated clothes, too scared of the way life had changed.
Prem said since Black Saturday, blazes had burned in the US and Europe, "fiercely, savagely, unstoppable", Australian fire seasons had grown longer and firefighting methods needed to adapt.
"What do you do when the spot fire's 14 kilometres ahead of the main fire, how do you fight that?" he said.
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