Ten years ago on the evening of January 18 I was balancing a hose and a camera on the roof of my house as I watched huge helicopter water bombers changing course overhead.
They would scoop water from a nearby dam, drop it on flames about 2km from where I sat, then make the brief flight north to the landmark of the Curtin shops where they banked hard to the south-west to repeat the cycle.
It was 10 years ago that the much-loved fingers of bushland which had previously poked benignly into the urban folds of Canberra became thoroughfares for deadly fires. The bushfires had manoeuvred for the past week at the city’s outskirts, but on that Saturday, January 18, they swept, as if in a co-ordinated attack, down the highly combustible bushland lanes which led to the heart of many suburbs. When the battle for Canberra finally ended a week or so later, 70 per cent of those stretches of prized parklands, plantation forests, and pastures including horse paddocks had been razed or badly damaged.
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“Stock losses”. The words just rolled off a weary farmer’s tongue on a recent news report on the fires. Lip gloss, tooth floss, fairy floss, stock loss. It doesn’t quite capture the terror of plunging around a paddock in searing heat and choking smoke, crashing into fences and ditches in a terrified effort to escape but still being burned alive.
Small mercy would be choking before the final blast of heat that preceeds the flames does its worst. Animals got a mention on one SBS report, with one farmer saying how horrific it was. No not the being burned alive, or even the shooting of the blackened survivors, but the mess if the corpses were left too long before burial.
I’m left comparing biro losses and stock losses. Perhaps they need to search under the sofa, that’s where my biros seem to end up.
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Too soon! It’s the new catch cry to shut down debate when related events are not going your way.
We’ve heard it a lot this week any time the words “bushfires” and “climate change” have been mentioned in the same sentence.
If a politician, such as Julia Gillard on Monday in Tasmania for example, utters the proscribed phrase she’s accused of “politicising” a disaster.
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Monday was Australia’s hottest day in recorded history - the average temperature across the entire country topped 40 degrees celcius.
On Tuesday the Bureau of Meteorology added a new colour to their temperature bar so that areas set to experience temperatures in excess of 50 degrees celcius can be represented on their forecast map.
And yesterday bushfires continue to rage in regional towns across south east Australia. The question of whether climate change will cause more extreme weather has been answered by an overwhelming majority of scientists - and this summer it has again been corroborated by our experience. On Monday the Prime Minister made the connection, issuing the following statement: “we do know over time that as a result of climate change we are going to see more extreme weather events and conditions.” This is no longer the question we should be asking.
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Sometimes it takes a disaster to shake the complacency out of us. To rethink the attitude of ‘she’ll be right’ when clearly things are not right.
So isn’t it time to develop a national masterplan to help guide future planning and development in this country to try and stop the increasing loss of life and damage that the natural forces around Australia unleash?
If you look at the past decade there have many natural disasters, both fire and flood, which have destroyed so many homes. We have seen the fires in Victoria which swept through the hill communities of Flowerdale, Kinglake and Marysville in 2009 destroying over 2,000 homes and taking 173 lives. Back in 1983 Ash Wednesday fires in South Australia destroyed 2,400 homes.
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The massive losses from the floods that are impacting Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria has raised issues about the adequacy of insurance coverage, particularly flood coverage and the way such disasters should be funded.
There are many examples of disaster insurance arrangements that different countries have in place covering flood, earthquakes and other disasters.
In Australia a proposal for such a national disaster insurance scheme was developed in the 1970s following the Brisbane Floods and Cyclone Tracy - but it was never implemented.
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Whatever you make of the revelations that have emerged of Christine Nixon’s actions during the Black Saturday bushfires, she deserves respect for the apology made this morning in Victoria’s Herald Sun newspaper.
Admitting that you are wrong is difficult for people of any profession and given the tumultuous scale of grief and loss of the Black Saturday disaster, her position and decision to make admissions and forthcoming apology is an unenviable one.
As she wrote herself, no-one could have known or prepared for the disasters that ensued on that horrible Saturday a year ago, but her willingness to “report” back on her own actions in such a difficult situation shows not only a deep respect for the Victorian people but a willingness to support them and push through into the future by their side.
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As we observe the first anniversary if the horrific firestorms that ravaged whole communities on Black Saturday, a typically scorching summer has again gripped much of Australia, providing a stark reminder that such dangers are a constant threat for those living in a sunburnt country.
Yet despite an ongoing Royal Commission, a flurry of catastrophic warnings and a flood of big-ticket resources which go right up to a water-bombing jumbo jet, little attention has thus far been given to the vital role that sustainable forestry traditionally played in essential aspects of fire management.
In recent decades, as politicians clamoured to placate the noisy environmental movement, they blissfully ignored the long-standing efforts of a sustainable forestry industry in managing forests, reducing fuel loads, building and maintaining access routes and fighting fires.
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I would never presume to pre-empt the outcome of the Royal Commission into the Victorian bushfires, the worst natural disaster Australia has endured.
The speed and ferocity of the blazes that engulfed those quiet rural towns, and shattered so many lives and families remains beyond comprehension.
People who haven’t seen such devastation first-hand still find it difficult to imagine. Those who endured that day will find it impossible to forget.
My first experience as a witness to the devastation caused by bushfire was back in 1983, in the aftermath of Ash Wednesday
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Having just moved back to Melbourne on a characteristically wet and cold June weekend I thought the fact the streets were empty had something to do with the Queen’s birthday and the weather.
Not so. I had arrived in a city on the brink of collapse; a post-apocalyptic nightmare in which the survivors were obviously hauled up in bunkers somewhere. I was in mortal danger of being eaten by the now cannibalistic mobs roaming the streets.
When I arrived in my apartment the heat worked, as did the television but the bad news came during the broadcast that had somehow gone to air.
The news said that following the bushfires, the bashings of Indian students and now the rampant outbreak of swine flu in the state, the world could soon be under the impression that Victoria is too dangerous a place to do business.
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I like Cate’s economic thinking here:
She ... mentioned the loss of agricultural and tourism industry jobs, adding: “We have the ability to kick start the low carbon economies of the future right when we need to, and that’s now.”
Changing the traditional drivers of economic production is something that I reckon will be fundamental to bringing about serious reductions in carbon emissions across the economy. Agriculture and heavy industry cannot continue in their current form, but making anything happen is going to take enormous will from politicians and consumers, open-mindedness from workers on new opportunities from innovation, and also support from government for workers making a transition between jobs.
On the other hand, I can’t say I agree with Cate on this:
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