You Can’t Ask That – unless it’s on television

Michele Kampen, one of the fireys in the season premiere, describes what it's like to be caught in a fast-moving bushfire.

Michele Kampen, one of the fireys in the season premiere, describes what it's like to be caught in a fast-moving bushfire. Photo: ABC

ABC’s award-winning, no-holds-barred platform returns to screens this week with something that’s fresh in the mind of all Australians – bushfires.

A panel of firefighters from across the country front the fifth season of You Can’t Ask That, answering questions on cats, politicians and staring some of the biggest natural disasters right in the face.

They’re all shapes and sizes – the archetypal country bloke in his favourite flanny; a couple who have had to decide they’ll never be on the same truck lest disaster hit and their young daughter loses both her parents; and the 18-year-old Harriet, who was in the first wave of rescuers to the Mallacoota fires.

On the surface, firefighters seems like one of the tamer groups of people to face the show – what wouldn’t you feel comfortable asking a firey?

But then they start talking.

Unreservedly Australian, they’re candid but modest about their role in society.

None answer yes when they’re asked if they consider themselves heroes.

That’s the final question, and it’s laughable that they say no, given the 30 minutes preceding.

They describe situations most of us will never experience.

“It would take helmets off some of the guys … she flipped trucks,” CFA volunteer Michele Kampen says, describing a “bitch” of a fire she fought in Victoria in December.

They’ve not just seen, but heard, thousands upon thousands of animals die in bushfires.

Where they can, they cut fences to let livestock free, giving them the best chance of survival.

But sometimes the fire is just moving too fast, and there’s no chance.

When they joined the brigade, did they know they could die?


It’s not just their mortality they’re faced with.

Many of the fireys are volunteers in their home towns, where they not just battle blazes but are part of the emergency crew – first on the scene for accidents and car crashes.

Sometimes, they’re rescuing people they know.

Sometimes, they’re finding the bodies of people they love.

It was Black Saturday and Mark Carter was working in Melbourne.

His phone rang – his father was in hospital and no one could find his mother.

He was the one who found her, at home.

Also in season five – HIV-positive Australians. Photo: ABC

You Can’t Ask That captured the love of viewers because it plays into that intrinsic intrigue that everyone has inside, satisfies the corners of curiosity.

That’s what got people’s attention.

But it’s these episodes that celebrate the integral parts of our society – like firefighters – that make it such a beautiful concept.

Of course, for those who still love the show for the offbeat corners of society it explores, episode two talks to nudists.

You Can’t Ask That season five returns to ABC on Wednesday at 9pm

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