The fires of Black Saturday in 2009 are a significant event in Australia’s history. But, as Peter Stanley writes in some detail in his book, 7 February 2009 sits alongside the other great fires of Ash Wednesday (1983), Black Friday (1939) and Red Tuesday (1898). Black Saturday at Steels Creek reflects on this history through a snapshot of one community that survived the 2009 fires, and continues to live with the aftermath. Stanley writes about the community of Steels Creek (a small area near Yarra Glen in Victoria) before the fires, and then takes the reader through the horrific hours when Steels Creek faced the Black Saturday fires with little or no warning from the authorities. As you might imagine, there are stories of tragedy, triumph and heroism. And at the heart of these stories is the central question: how does a community survive such terror and tragedy? For the most part the answers are positive, though more complex and challenging than you might expect. As a military historian, Stanley is interested in how war affects communities; he believes that fire is a kind of war and therefore has similar implications for a community. This is a terrific account of a terrible day, and of what followed. It is written with compassion and insight by Stanley, who has an eye for the micro (the voices of the people) and the macro (the scale of the fire, the geography of the location). The book also includes maps and photos of the region.
Annelise Balsamo is a freelance reviewer and English teacher. This review first appeared in the Issue 1 2013 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.