It certainly seems like half the eastern seaboard of Australia is, as it were, under fire. My heart goes out to all those affected, whether personally, professionally or vicariously. I too have worried for my father who is, perhaps, a little physically closer to his encroaching eighty-years of age since having to maintain constant vigilance, up and down ladders with a hose, for the last few days. I am grateful beyond measure to his neighbours who helped hose his back screens, visited regularly to check on him and in doing so, contributed to morale and camaraderie. I am equally grateful and in awe of the skilled and tireless air and ground emergency-service personnel who patrolled the area, fought encroaching fires and ultimately, protected not only his house, but countless others.
I am however, desperately sad, decidedly angry and somewhat bewildered at the methodology and ideology behind Australia’s officially mandated responses to fire threat. It was not that long ago when fires were put out when and where they started, lest they spread into adjoining land – or worse, protected national parks. With no evidence to the contrary, I have little recourse but to believe that fires nowadays, are not only left to their own devices to devour our national parks, but are actively encouraged to do so until they threaten man-made assets. Australia’s unique ecology and sentient wildlife appear to be little more than justifiable collateral damage. Regardless of the reasons behind their initial ignition, fires are seemingly a thinly veiled means of easy future-proofing mitigation and the first weapon of choice in the RFS arsenal.
The fire which swept through my father’s once lush back yard leaving nothing but three acres of blackened spires, was not the result of the initial fire which was neither bearing down in his direction nor inevitably threatening his house. It was the result of officially ordered early dawn backburning which got out of control, taking vast swathes of national park and a few too many backyards with it. There is however, little understanding of why my father is upset by these events. His house was, after all, spared. For some, ‘home’ is within the external structural walls. For others, it includes every bush, tree, insect, bird, lizard and mammal which shares our space. We are part of our chosen environments and there is a profound sense of grief when that is not only destroyed by natural events, but more wantonly so by an organisational and governmental hierarchy with little regard for non-human life.
These fires are an utterly unfathomable tragedy for Australia. Just how we, as a society, respond to ever increasing fire threats will be interesting. It will, most tellingly, be a critical insight into the institutional powers-that-be and their ideologies behind the value of life, Australia’s natural environment and our very future.
Melanie Jane, Kooralbyn Qld