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Students from Australia watch country's devastating bushfires with worry

  • man sitting in bedroom
  • man standing near creek

Posted on January 17, 2020

Jesse Goodyear, an accounting major and native of Australia, could hear the relief in his mom's voice during a phone call several days ago.

"She said, 'It's raining today,' and you could hear in her voice how happy that made her," said Goodyear, a sophomore.

Goodyear and other Grand Valley students from Australia are closely watching the news of unprecedented bushfires in New South Wales and Victoria and checking on family and friends back home often.

Goodyear, who is also a member of the Laker men's swim team, flew back to his home in Barden Ridge, about 50 minutes from Sydney, at the end of the fall semester. He said that December flight into Sydney's airport was when the devastation from the fires hit him.

"Usually when you fly over Sydney, you can see the Opera House, the blue water and how green everything is. Because the skies were so smoky, you could hardly see anything. That's when it hit me," he said.

The Goodyear house and property are safe, he said, but in 2018 most of the family evacuated because of bushfires. 

"My dad stayed and hosed down our house while my mom took the rest of us to my grandparents' house, about 25 minutes away," he said. "She packed up our big photo albums and our important paperwork and we left."

Lex Drennan is a second-year graduate student majoring in data science and analytics. A native of Brisbane, Drennan worked in disaster management for New South Wales government and had a role in creating an emergency plan. Drennan said the fact that fewer than 30 people have died in the fires can be partially attributed to the Royal Commission adopting recommendations from a plan following the 2009 fires.

"During the 2009 fires in Victoria there were about 190 deaths," she said. "Officials have changed how emergency warnings and alert levels are conveyed. Also the fires now are in not-so-heavily populated areas."

While fires and drought are common in Australia, Drennan said she has never seen anything to the scale of fires that have raged since early fall.

Both students were very appreciative of worldwide donations sent for humanitarian or wildlife relief. Goodyear said he has appreciated the comments and questions he has received on campus, and of other local efforts.

"There's a company in Grand Rapids that is making T-shirts with some proceeds going to relief efforts. I bought two," he said.

The Padnos International Office said seven Grand Valley students will begin their study abroad programs in Australia in February. For students headed to Sydney, the government recommends wearing air masks because of the area's poor air quality.