Meanwhile in Australia

The question I’ve been asked most is what’s actually happening in Australia? Today I want to give you a report about it because my home town (and I’m back home) is under the biggest fire threat since 2003. I want to talk about three things: the personal, the government, the tourist.

First, the personal. What is happening to my hometown and favourite national parks? Let’s start with what happened in 2003, which is why we’ve been in a bit of emotional trauma that’s above and beyond the events of now. Whole suburbs burned in 2003. Whole streets needed building. One night there were 10,000 evacuees.

We’re technically in the middle of a heatwave. The worst of that will be this weekend and so this weekend is something of a nightmare. Our fire was an accident. The army services preparing for such an emergency created one. I’m not sure we have sorted this out yet.

Our emergency services leader is amazing. Rather than telling you about her, here is her telling us what is happening.

We’re very lucky in our emergency services leadership. We’re not so lucky in the heat from landing lights (used in a totally standard way – they’ve now changed the standard) causing dry grass to catch fire. (I don’t know why it wasn’t caught faster. I suspect this is another thing that will change the standards in such an environment.)

The other fire in the ACT (three fires merged) is under control. The giant fire is out of control and growing apace, but is moving towards Canberra slowly. This has given the experts more time to prepare and the three suburbs that will catch the immediate brunt of it have been very thoroughly briefed. Some people evacuated the afternoon when the wind was blowing the fires straight towards Banks and came back, but are ready to go again.

The suburb that will be hit first is Banks, so I like to think of evacuation as “Saving Mr Banks (and all his friends and neighbours and even his enemies).”

The clip explains why Australia has fewer casualties than most other countries when there’s an emergency. What this means is that the fires are much more devastating than most of the news is reporting, for our emergency services people and our military and a bunch of other volunteers from Australia and overseas (New Zealand has had 150 firefighters on the ground since it all began, months ago) have prevented it from becoming the continent-wide fire it could have been.

That it’s bigger than half the world’s countries at this point makes horror films seem like mild entertainments. That our Prime Minister is mostly silent about it is just as scary.

It’s the State governments that have seen us through most of this. They’re the ones who are set up to do so, but normally, in a crisis, everyone works together. Morrison has said that he should have emergency powers, and yet… he’s not done a great deal. He responds after the event and weakly. He has given as much public comment on the inquiry into pork barrelling as into the bushfires. This is a report of his speech where he outlines what he thinks the Commonwealth (national level government) should do.

What perturbs me is that he says this in the middle of a crisis. He had come to Canberra for this function, and has not been part of the rest of the crisis. Why is this important? We are a Territory, not a State. Technically, we’re under Federal rule (we have self-government, but it has limits) and if Morrison wants greater power, but is not actually demonstrating he knows how to use it in the parts of his country he has closer links to… it’s simply a demand for power and bears no relation to this crisis.

That’s the government aspect.

The personal, the government and… the tourist.

There should not be a tourist element. But there is. Disaster tourism is a thing.

People who live in the threatened suburbs are pointing out that all the cars from the people with cameras are actually preventing evacuation. There are road blocks from them and this could kill people. One of my friends left early because she couldn’t risk not being able to get out due to the disaster tourists.

Other people have reported strangers walking through their backyards after dark, seeking the best photograph. Some of these people are pretending to be disaster tourists and are actually looters. The tourist element has given them something to hide behind.

The tourism is partly due to the internet. And it’s easy enough to drive to Banks, get pictures of the fire, then go to a café and have cake. Because it’s easy, they don’t see that they’re making things unsafe for the locals. I would like to think they care, but I honestly don’t know.

That’s my today’s updates. For those who have commented, yes, I am focussing on what I see ie events close to home. It’s not that I don’t care about the fires in Perth, it’s that I’ve discovered that the media are overall reporting really badly. I’m not a reliable source outside my own region. I would really rather my region was not on fire and I had to find out how to report on the rest.

There is a fourth thing I need to quickly mention. Because of the coronavirus, the rest of the world is losing interest. I’ve seen this with other crises in other countries. The media want new headlines not more of what they think they already know. Just because you don’t see it in your local news, doesn’t mean all is well. This is a good rule of thumb for all crises. Trust the local (very local, if possible) news from places that are being hurt, whether it’s by fire, plague or locusts. Find out the politics of the place, too, for some of our news is now being repressed because Morrison didn’t do the leadership thing and media is scared of him losing votes.

I now need a coffee. My next report will be in a few days time, when I’ll tell you how we got through or in what state we’re in. Right now, no lives are threatened, but three suburbs have been prepared for evacuation and a whole valley told to be alert in case they also need to leave.

 

ETA: The next report will be when it will be. I am prepared for blackouts, water shortages and more. Canberra has had a state of emergency declared because the winds are much bigger than the fire moving in our direction. Do not panic yet, but all good wishes are greatly appreciated.

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Comments

Meanwhile in Australia — 10 Comments

  1. For all that this is depressing news, I appreciate your updates. Between the virus and the impeachment here, we aren’t getting much. Also, the details you provide make it clear how this compares out here in fire country in the US. It’s clearly much worse, except for the loss of life (which says more about our systems than it does about the severity of the fires).

    • Our systems are imperfect, but they’re some of the best in the world.

      I’m up early because the humidity woke me up, and I came online to discover friends who live a bit further south than me waking up because of the fire. It’s still not in Canberra proper, but today is one of the days of reckoning. It will be 41 degrees and there will be wind. I’ve noticed that a lot of epople are up at dawn, even in my block of flats.

      I’ll keep doing updates as I find important things to update on. Given this *is* Australia, assume we’re all alive until someone is actually reported dead, but also assume the fires are still there until I report we’re safe.

      • I used to think that many of our systems in the U.S., while imperfect, were the best around. Now all I can see is how fragile and flawed they were. That applies to both how we deal with fire and other disasters and the current political debacle.

        Please keep reporting in. I’m worried about you and others there, but this is also important globally. We all need to be paying attention. This isn’t just Australia’s problem.

        • It isn’t just Australia’s problem. It was always the whole world.

          I actually got outside today for the air is clear. The smoke is blowing to the coast and the fire has grown enormously… but not in our direction. All our disaster films get it wrong…

          • Yeah, but over here in the alternate reality that is the US even at the best of times, things that happen elsewhere are other people’s problems. Unless, of course, they involve infectious disease, in which case we are supposed to panic and block anyone who looks like they might possibly resemble the people from the country with the disease from coming near us.

            • That’s interesting, because we see the US as playing an active part in Australia. It started, I think, when Australia was a key component for the Pacific part of WWII – we’ve had US bases and US political interference as part of our lives ever since. Some of this has bee quite bad and some (like your firefighters now) really supportive. What works at government level obviously doesn’t always apply to the country’s culture. It’s an odd cultural nuance.

  2. I’m hoping you continue to be safe.
    And wondering who managed the powerful curse that inflicted so many idiot ‘leaders’ simultaneously on the world, andwhy?

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