Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Apocolypse now?

A good friend of mine, Jands wrote a touching blog on the Black Saturday Bushfires - she's an absolute sweetheart and should you want a good read, definitely check out her work.  Her blog, was kind of timely really... I'd not thought of doing a blog on my experience with Black Saturday (I wasn't in the area and it makes me one of those wankers by association).  However, this morning bought back my own childhood memories of bushfire and dust storm.

So I awoke this morning to discover outside a lovely shade of foggy yellowy-orange... Reminiscent of Black Saturday.  Of course, and luckily, it's not due to bushfires but dust blowing in from the drought stricken west of the state.

Australia is a land of stark contrasts... Earlier in the year, when Micko and I had just made the move north again, we were subject to 3 major floods in as many months... We have no water restrictions and it's lovely lush and green all over.  Down south, it's dry as a nuns nasty.  Everything is brown, yellow and dead.  That was actually a big part in our decision to make the move .

I grew up in the foothills of the Mount Dandenong Ranges... The view from my bedroom window (the whole wall was windows) was the Dandies - completely filling the frame - it was always so nice and green.  As a child, I suffered a couple of (kind of) phobias... they were fire and lightning.  I'd stomp out any cigarette dropped on the ground at parties making 110% sure they were out.  When I felt an electrical storm approaching, I'd freak out, running to my room to dive under the doona and sweat it out till it was long. long gone.  My phobia was so bad that Mum would have to come and collect me from school if there was even the hint of a storm setting in.

These 'phobias' were justified... but occurred long before any justification became apparent.  The lightning fear had always been with me, but was magnified when my Grandparents house was struck by lightning and burnt to the ground.  The fire phobia?  Well, that was well and truly cemented by Ash Wednesday.

For those not familiar with Ash Wednesday, check out the wiki explanation.

And now... here's my recollection:

It was a stinking hot summer... We'd been in serious drought for sometime and the water restrictions were severe!  I remember not being able to have a bath every day... we'd have one every 2nd or 3rd day and face washer it up in a bucket in between.

About a week before Ash Wednesday Victoria was plunged into darkness - it was sudden, brief and very, very scary.  Another absolute scorcher in Melbourne town and my Mum had gone out and left us with Nan for the day.  In the afternoon the wind picked up to gale force, blowing the heat around like a fan forced oven.  Then the dust arrived... it was a thick blanket of dirt that covered the state and everything within it's path.  The temperature took a dive and within a couple of hours it had started to clear.  I was scared shitless!   But the worst was yet to come!

It was another stinky hot February day in the Melbourne 'burbs.  Not just hot, but super dry!  My Nan was again looking after us... From my bedroom window all I could see was smoke, that and the frightening red glow of the Dandies on fire.  Nan soaked towels in water and lay them beneath every door and window... there were sprinklers going on the roof and in the garden surrounding the house... and Nan poured us a bath in which we sat until the danger passed.  Luckily, it didn't reach us but the memory of Ash Wednesday, the smell, the glow and the fear it brought with it, are forever etched into my mind.

Last year, Black Saturday washed these memories back into my conscious - I thought they'd been forever repressed under a huge pile of other dirty laundry.  The day was much the same... Hot - in fact the hottest day I've ever experienced (so hot that trees in my backyard were physically scorched and looked like they'd been burnt)!  Dry - everything was dead... trees, grass, scrub all so dry walking on the grass sounded like footsteps on gravel.  Oh and was it windy... gale force winds blowing the heat around in squalls.

That weekend, my folks were away in Alice Springs and had invited Micko and I to stay - they had air con and we didn't - they also had a pool.  I've seriously never felt anything like that day (even Ash Weds).  You couldn't stand to be outside... It was like walking into a furnace... the skin felt like it was burning off your body.  We had the air con cranked and were sitting around watching Playboy Mansion with a girlfriend.  Every now and then we'd brave the outdoors (with shoes on cause the ground was scorching hot) to run out, rip the cover off the pool and take a quick dip... Then shoes went back on, we'd struggle against the wind to pull the cover back over the pool (which would flip up into the air every few seconds due to the force of the wind), then run back inside (no towel necessary, by the time we'd reach the back door we'd be almost dry).

The fires hit, and hit hard... However, I was oblivious!  Some mates had arrived and we'd all walked down the pub for a counter meal and few coldies.  It wasn't until the next day, when my Mum rang to see if everyone was okay, that I'd realised the extent of the fires.  The wind was blowing smoke in the opposite direction so we were none the wiser.  The skies were relatively clear and the scent of smoke was minimal.  The following day. when the winds died down and changed direction, the smoke settled in.

Due to the drought Vic has been experiencing for the past decade, this fire was inevitable.  The whole state was a ticking time bomb.  If there is one thing Victorians know how to do, it's prepare for a bushfire... It's just a damn shame the Vic Govt doesn't feel the same.  The extent of these devastating fires could have easily been minimised with a little back burning.  Due to the Green movement, back burning has been off the cards in Vic for many years.  During this time, drought and the build up of ground level fuel have been sitting back waiting for their opportunity to go up in flames - helped along by those sicko bastard pyro's.

Indigenous Australian's have been back burning our land for thousands of years... Exactly for the reasons that presented themselves back on the 7th of Feb (and continued to burn until the 14th March).  All I can hope is that we take something from this... These dust storms blowing rapidly in all along the east coast of Australia are a warning signal to us.  Another hot summer is on it's way... The alarm bells should be ringing, but will they ring loud enough for us to hear this time?   I bloody well hope so!


jprp said...

awesome Karls... thanks for the mention too! you have such a great style of writting, i really feel like I'm wherever your talking about. i can almost smell the smoke from those weeks of it hanging around! hope it clears up for you up there and you can breath soon! xx

Alison said...

Hope your doing ok and its starting to clear.....awesome read though!! Between you and Jands I'm addicted to your talents - your both amazing writers!!!
Love ya, Al x


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