My Turn: Aiding Australia

In the wake of a tragic firestorm, Victoria Toastmasters
find support from members around the world.

By Judy Murphy, DTM

February 7th – “Black Saturday” – will long be remembered by Australians as the day the state of Victoria burned. In the aftermath of that day’s horrific firestorm, people in this country, including Toastmasters from my district – District 73 – have been dealing with the devastation. The inferno killed more than 170 people. It destroyed more than 2,000 homes, leaving 7,500 residents homeless. The series of bush fires that day were the worst natural disaster in Australia’s history.

Yet, amid all this tragedy, we have also seen the best in people. The world opened its heart, sending generous amounts of financial aid. And Toastmasters, both near and far, have offered help and comfort in all kinds of ways. I have been so touched by the outpouring of support.

My recollections of February 7th are still vivid. The day dawned eerily: The winds were blustery and hot, and the atmosphere was tinged with a strange yellow color – you could almost see the air. Very few people were out and about, with the majority heeding warnings to stay indoors. The combination of high temperatures, low humidity and strong winds ignited the series of raging bush fires.

In District 73, which includes Victoria, we were fortunate that none of our members perished. I am a member of two clubs in the district – the Healesville Toastmasters, located in the small rural town of Healesville just outside the city of Melbourne, and the Lilydale Toastmasters, which is in Lilydale, a suburb of Melbourne. The Healesville group is the district’s closest club to the Yarra Valley, where the fires were some of the worst. Two Healesville members – a married couple – escaped with only moments to spare. Their home in Steels Creek was destroyed. Another member’s property was badly damaged. Steels Creek is a small community of about 100 residents where, sadly, 11 people died in the firestorm.

One Lilydale club member lost his home in Steels Creek. Other club members just barely managed to save theirs. Many other members of these two clubs lived for weeks with the continual threat of bush fires.

The south of Victoria was also ravaged by the blazes. The East Gippsland and Latrobe Valley clubs – the two closest to the fires in south Victoria – weren’t directly affected by the disaster. However, many of their members have family, friends and colleagues who have suffered.

People compared the horror of these fires to being in a war zone. The devastation was likened to an atomic-bomb blast. I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like to not only lose family, friends and everything you own, but also to have no community to go back to.

Moving Forward

Toastmasters life went on, though of course nothing was as usual. Our club’s meeting room in Healesville was converted into a refuge center for almost a month. Because of that, we needed to cancel our February 16th meeting. We met again on March 2nd, on the eve of a newly issued fire warning, even though a number of members enacted their fire plan and evacuated the town that night. At the meeting, we allowed mobile phones to be turned on – an exception to our normal policies – so that members could be alerted to any fire threat.

It was a very emotional session. Even though we knew everyone was okay, we still needed to see each other. Fortunately, nothing bad happened to anyone the next day, and on the following day there was a huge downpour of rain, which we were so relieved to see.

We have been deeply moved by the response to this catastrophic event. The Red Cross has received more than $260 million in donations from all over the world. A fellow Toastmaster from Brisbane even called and offered to pay for any Toastmaster’s items that were lost in the firestorm. The offer was so unexpected, it brought me to tears to think of how kind and giving so many people have been in the weeks since the bush fires.

Toastmasters I have met in my own district and districts around the world have contacted me to find out how we are. Toastmasters International has sent a letter of condolence, with a generous offer to replace any club and member materials.

The members of District 73 thank Toastmasters International and Toastmasters around the world for your thoughts, support and prayers. It is very much appreciated.

Judy Murphy, DTM, is a dual member of the Healesville and Lilydale Toastmasters clubs, in Victoria, Australia. She can be reached at