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A season like no other

Thursday 27, Feb 2020

 

Where do you begin to describe the events of the past couple of months? After prolonged drought-like conditions, since last September bushfires have ravaged huge tracts of NSW, Victoria and South Australia, creating one of the biggest natural disasters in the country’s history. Then, in a cruel bookend to it all, unprecedented storms lashed the eastern seaboard. ATM looks back on a season that has tested the resilience and resolve of not only turf managers but all Australians.

The irony of it all wasn’t lost on Moruya Golf Club course superintendent Brent Hull.  Sitting in his 22-foot-long horse transporter/truck parked up on the Moruya Showgrounds a few days into the New Year, a photo memory suddenly flashed up on his Facebook feed. It was of four years earlier, on 4 January 2016, when much of the course was under water thanks to nearly 300mm of rain.  Looking at the ominous smoky orange-tinged sky above him at the time, he could only but give a wry smile and think, ‘Gee, what we would do for that 300mm right now!”

Along with about 4000 other locals from Moruya and the surrounding districts, Hull had evacuated his home on New Year’s Eve as bushfires bore down on the NSW South Coast.  The previous day, fire authorities had warned those outside of Moruya that the fire threat from the massive Badja Forest Rd, Countegany fire (which would end up burning through more than 350,000 hectares) was imminent and that they couldn’t guarantee protection of those properties – their priority was the township of Moruya. 

Hull lives on five acres near Bingie Point, about 12 kilometres as the crow flies south east of Moruya and about 5km north of Tuross Head.  The property, which is also home to Hull’s five prized show jumping and equestrian horses, backs on to 5km of bushland which leads all the way back to the A1 highway.  With only one road in and out and with bushfires just the other side of the highway (about 6km away), Hull made the agonising decision to leave.

Before doing so he grabbed a couple of his crew members and went back home.  Together they knocked down a number of palm trees next to Hull’s house and cleared out some melaleuca to reduce any potential fuel load should it come under ember attack.  Being on tank water, Hull chopped off all the downpipes feeding into the tank, so as not to contaminate it, then blocked up the gutters and filled them with water.

As for the horses, Hull only had room for three in his truck which meant two had to be left behind.  To prepare those two, their rugs and steel shoes were removed and the paddock gates opened in case they needed to flee. 
 
Together with wife Jean, the three horses – Lucy, Amber and Dusty – as well as their eldest daughter, her husband and kids, they packed what they could into the truck and made a bee-line for the Moruya Showground.  The showground, which is located right in the middle of Hull’s golf course, had been turned into the primary evacuation point for the district.  Reaching capacity quickly, evacuees spilled over onto the golf course, with the 13th fairway ending up housing at least another 400-500. 

For the next four days the Hulls remained there as all around them the sky turned blood orange and water bombing helicopters and planes droned constantly overhead.  Despite losing power for five days, the golf club opened up its doors, assisting evacuees and feeding the hard-working folk of the NSW Rural Fire Service where it could. 

When power did come back on, Hull fired up the golf course’s irrigation system to wet down the showground and golf course surrounds in case of ember attack.  Seeing the water also helped to make everyone there feel a little more at ease and gave the kids a wanted distraction from the hell that was going on around them.  Hull jokes he put so much water out – about 3.2 megalitres – that he could have grown rice on the fairways! 

After four days camped at the showground, Hull decided to return home.  Despite being covered in an inch of back soot, ash and burnt leaves, the house was fully intact and the animals were safe.  A few weeks later, however, before and after the Australia Day long weekend, two more calls were made for people to evacuate. This time Hull decided to stay put, albeit ready to leave in an instant if needed. Embers did spark a fire less than a kilometre away on his side of the highway, but it was brought under control quickly. Some houses on the western fringe of the Moruya township weren’t so lucky however.

“Thank god for southerly wind changes,” says Hull.  “On those occasions where he were under threat, we had a southeasterly wind change which stood the fires up against each other.  I’d hate to think what would have happened if we didn’t get those changes.  Another hour of westerly winds and it could have been a lot different.

“I’ve never seen conditions like that in all my 59 years.  It was a pretty sketchy time for everyone and I don’t want to have to go through anything like that again.  And we were lucky.  To speak to people who have lost everything, they will be emotionally scarred forever.  

“The fires have impacted a lot of people and business and it could not have happened at a worse time for the golf club.  I reckon we lost about $7K a day in green fees over the Christmas/New Year period and then to have the fires flare up again before the long weekend too.  This is our busiest time of year and sets us up for the year.  All clubs along the coast have been affected and it will take a while for finances to get back on track, but we are remaining upbeat.”  

Just to rub salt into the wounds, in a cruel twist of irony, as this edition was going to print Hull was finding himself having to clean up the course after extensive flooding.  With the eastern seaboard lashed by storms in early February, Moruya Golf Club copped 220m over a three-day period.  While the welcome rain effectively doused the remaining fires, it caused widespread inundation of the golf course. 

 

Click to read the full article detailing the affects this season has had on other clubs, courses, and grounds including; Thredbo Golf Club, Kew Golf Club, Emerald Golf Club, Royal Hobart, Bermagui, Grafton Golf Club, Mt Warren Park GC and KDV Sport. 
 

This article was originally published in Volume 22.1 (Jan. - Feb. 2020) of the ATM. 

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