Thursday, October 12, 2006

A long hot dry summer

There's bushfires in Hobart, which is eerily reminiscent of Rise. The story takes place in February at the end of a long hot summer and bushfires are encroaching on the territory of the inner suburbs.
I remember one bad summer when the sky in Hobart's cbd was a hazy orange for days as fires burned the surrounding hills. I remember a night after I'd moved to Melbourne, waiting for news with my best friend Zoe as spotfires were burning on her parents' bush block and my parents were waiting anxiously to see if a separate fire (or maybe a long reaching arm of the same fire) would cross the main road and threaten their house. The crazy thing is that neither of them lived more than 15 minutes drive from the city centre - Hobart is like this, an evolving, organic city that curls into the bush. Standing on the main streets you can see bush, river, mountain, sky. The mountain seems safe, its flowing skirts pinned down by the city but in fact it is still largely wild - you can't really domesticate a mountain. It's wildness is expressed by weather - clouds overcome it, in winter (and Autumn and Spring and sometimes even Summer) snow falls on its peaks and as far down as town at least once in my lifetime, and in summer, fires scorch its sides, billowing smoke into the city. When the bushfires are burning you get a different sense of Hobart's relational spaces. You're reminded that quite separtate suburbs that are usually only accessible from each other by long linear roads passing through other suburbs, are actually joined by sparsely inhabited or unused hills and tracts of bush.
There are bushfires in Victoria too, but here, a similar distance from the city as my family home was, there's no sign of it except the force of the heat, the dusty wind. Bushfire weather, the highest of fire dangers. The protection we have in the city from the realities of fire is dangerous too, in a different way. Melburnians stubbornly want to water their gardens, I don't think we understand water restrictions in the same way that people who actually see the dryness understand them.
(Ah irony, as I was writing this Fred came in covered from head to foot in dripping paint and had to have a shower for the second time today - for the same reason. I decided to at least use the opportunity to wash Una and myself as well. I am not a daily showerer, having been well conditioned by a sister who always used up the hot water in the mornings before school, and also by my own habit of stealing more precious minutes of sleep before tumbling out of bed straight into my clothes and out the door.)
Rain is forecast over the weekend. Let's hope it brings some much needed relief. But it's going to be a long dry summer judging by the extraordinary weather we've already had.


  1. I resent that!!!! I never used up all the hot water!!!!

    The bushfires are scary. Here we have firefighter strikes quite often, but they always pick winter. It's taken me a while to realise that the fire risk here is in winter not summer, and it's all to do with old people, kids, and old fashioned heating systems.

    I remember seeing the fire near mum and dad's place on telly and thinking "hmmmmmm that can't be..." and mum ringing me five minutes later saying "yes it was!"

  2. AND you always used all the towels so they were sopping wet - I never understood HOW you could get them so wet!

  3. Anonymous9:15 AM

    I vividly remember fires on the ridge above our house in the Dandenongs and the streets full of smoke. I must have been about 4 or 5. For years afterwards I had panicky dreams about hurriedly packing my most precious possessions and fleeing -- not that we actually did that, but the prospect must have been there. It's such a primal fear, for Australians, anyway, I wonder if it has the same power elsewhere?

    -- Kate C
    PS Got a surprise seeing you pop up on Cheryl's blog -- like unexpectedly seeing someone you know in a foreign city...!

  4. I saw a picture on the morning news yesturday of the Hobart fires, it was very erie, taken at night. The fire is on the Eastern shore, and is all over the Rosny Hills area. Remember we were always told that they were left over volcanos? it looks like the erupted again, the red of the fires, magma flowing down the hills, will try and find the pic!

  5. Anonymous11:17 AM

    We were talking about the 1967 bushfires before bridge on Thursday night - when the scene on the Eastern Shore looked particularly scarey. It was Feb 7 and the first of term for secondary schools. Two of the women were starting high school that year. All the kids from Ogilvie were sent home in the late morning. At Taroona High the 1200 odd pupils were sent to stand in the river. The sky was black and the sun had been blocked by the heavy smoke and it was like night. Kids were called to the edge of the river every so often to be told that their home had been burnt down and whether they would be collected by family or if arrangements had been made to billet them locally.

    Many years later at a neighbour's funeral (Stan), his son Arthur talked of that day. He had been at Taroona High and had been billeted. His parents' home and others surrounding it had burned late in the day when they thought the worst of the fire on the mountain had passed. The wind changed. Arthur did not know if his house had been lost but he wasn't permitted to leave to go home. Stan did not know where his son was but walked to Taroona from the city and found him at about 2am. Arthur ("Boy") regarded the fire as an adventure, was woken from sleep and somewhat embarassed by his father's visit. It was a very emotional thing to share at a funeral as an example of a father's love.

    I was at the other end of the island at the time. The skies held an eery glow of redness and debris carried by the wind albeit in small particles now drifted in for days.

  6. Wow Mum, that's full on. How surreal.

    Thanks for writing about it here.

  7. Pen!
    What a rich, moving anecdote.
    Thank you!