My 19-year-old sister lost her life during the 2019 Black Summer Bushfires.
Not being able to walk through life with my sister is something I can’t change, but my family’s tragedy doesn’t have to be in vain. My name is Cherylleigh, and I’m calling for climate action for my sister, Courtney.
As a child, growing up in regional New South Wales was bliss. I have wonderful memories of the spoils our region had to offer – swimming in the strong currents of the Mann River and the cool water at Boundary Falls.
As an adult, I’ve returned home to Glen Innes, the place which once nurtured me, but those childhood comforts now seem far gone. Waterfalls, swollen riverbeds and thriving green bush land are all things I now eye with caution.
When bushfires broke out in the New England region in September 2019, there was little surprise the land struggled to fight back.
There had been no rain fall in months. We were in a drought – our rivers were dry and our once dense bush lands and crops long dead. As small fires popped up over the months there was no doubt the coming summer was sure to be a huge fire season.
The signs our climate was changing were there, but some of us didn’t quite yet have the confidence to call climate change for was it was and what it means. For me, that certainly has changed.
During the fires in November, Courtney – my healthy and vibrant little sister – suffered a life ending asthma attack, induced by the smoke which blanked our small community for weeks.
Would those fires have been as fatal had there not been years of dead eucalyptus blanketing the grounds? What if we had enough water throughout the region? Would the 5.3 million hectares of land lost have stood a chance? I can’t help but wonder, would my sister still be here?
The experts and their research tell us our nation’s carbon footprint has a direct role to play in the prolonged droughts and worsening fire conditions being experienced across the country.
For me and my family, this is encapsulated in grief and loss – there’s a massive hole in our heart. Is this what climate change feels like? Courtney’s tragic death was not an isolated incident, many others in my community alone lost their lives to flames and smoke.
I’m imploring the leaders of our country not to overlook the real-life consequences climate change is having – and the life it’s taking away. We refuse to be a statistic. This is my life, and I will never give up on my sister.
Cherylleigh Partridge has sent letters alongside Asthma Australia to seek strong action on climate change ahead of COP26. To find out more about our call for net zero by 2050 and the impact of climate change on asthma, click here.