Dunedoo puts it all in perspective

Photos: Dean Sewell (left) and Getty Images (right).

Photos: Dean Sewell (left) and Getty Images (right).

I know I haven't been in the saddle for a couple of weeks and there is no good time to be suspended let alone carnival time, however seeing one of my best mate's property razed to the ground back home at Dunedoo has put it all in perspective.

It was the same property where I spent a lot of my youth growing up. The front garden was where my sister took her first steps. Now everything is gone courtesy of last month's bushfires.

e's lost his house, other buildings on the property, animals ... there is literally nothing left. And even then he, his wife and two children might be considered lucky.

They were told they needed to evacuate within a hour. Someone a little closer to home warned them: "I wouldn't be waiting an hour, you need to be out in a half-hour." It was just as well because the fire ripped through half-an-hour later and they might not have made it out.

I like to think I'm pretty good at putting things to one side and being able to focus on my job – riding winners. But the last month has been tough, especially the two days in Dunedoo even allowing for Winx coming back better than ever.

I didn't get an appreciation of how bad it was speaking to Dad when the blazes broke out, but the reality only set in when I went back home. My focus was on what I'm doing – and even though I was aware of what was happening – I didn't really comprehend the devastation.

It was like something out of a movie. I didn't travel around the entire 55,000-plus hectares that was burnt, but I heard enough stories to understand how lucky it was that no one was hurt or even killed. That was the main thing.

Christine and I went into town on Saturday night and had dinner at the pub I spoke to locals there relaying stories of how hard it was to protect properties.

The Rural Fire Service didn't have the resources to go out and meet the blaze it was that ferocious and instead had to concentrate on preserving the homes of the properties affected and human life.

It meant those young men in the pub were risking their lives to do what they thought was right to save properties, surrounding villages and their people. Still now I don't think I understand how dangerous it was on the frontline and can't imagine what they went through.

Devastating: Cattle and smoke near Dunedoo. Around 55,000 hectares were burnt in the bushfires. Photo: Dean Sewell

Devastating: Cattle and smoke near Dunedoo. Around 55,000 hectares were burnt in the bushfires. Photo: Dean Sewell

Dad lost 600 acres of dry feed and a significant portion of his property, but was maybe one of the lucky ones. 

The rebuilding has slowly begun, but the reality is it's going to take months and even years to get it back to where it was. There's a fantastic volunteer organisation camped in the local showground called BlazeAid which offer services to mend fences after natural disasters throughout the country. It's only a start, but people like them can never be thanked enough.

While everyone at home is still in my thoughts, it's important that my focus is back to business again on the weekend.

It's never ideal going into a big group 1 day with only two days of riding in the last three weeks, but I've kept up my fitness in the gym. My body is feeling fresh.

Spieth's weight and barrier has been a big talking point heading into the Newmarket Handicap after a narrow defeat in the Lightning Stakes, but I'm confident he will run well.

Weight doesn't worry me too much over the shorter distances. It won't be an excuse if he gets beaten.

And I never pre-empt how a track can play and won't worry about barrier one. It's more of a concern the main chances are drawn on the other side of the track. If they go to the middle I will merge with the pack. If they come to my side there will be no problem. But I will need to keep an eye on Extreme Choice and Star Turn jumping from out wide.

As for some who say the inside is inferior down the straight? I never get too fazed about how a track will play before I get to the races.

I also can't wait to ride Jameka in the Australian Cup after winning the race last year on Preferment.

Hugh Bowman will write a weekly column for Fairfax Media for the next five weeks. He is donating the fees from his column to the Rural Fire Service.

Gippsland Senior
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