10 February 2009


Last Saturday was the hottest temperature I have ever experienced. At our house, it reached 47 degrees, which I see is over 116 degrees in the old fahrenheit scale.

In the afternoon, after abandoning the house when it hit 30 degrees inside, we walked a hundred metres from the car to the entrance of a shopping centre looking for shelter from the heat, and I covered my little boy as if radiation was falling from the sky, which it was. Hot wind like a blast-furnace swirled around empty carparks. The sky was yellow and we could smell smoke. I had an intimation of armageddon.

Looking at the images of Marysville and Kinglake, armageddon is about right.

I have been preoccupied by thoughts about the effect of these public disasters and my reaction to them. I've been working in the federal Parliament this week, and the sense of despair has been overwhelming as the sheer size of the destruction and the number of lives lost rolls out over the media across several days.

I'm not one to emote very much when the public join in with these festivals of mourning over some dead celebrity, or even when lives are lost in natural disasters. Mostly, I've thought my reaction was reasonable and civilised, as these events are part of a larger picture of birth and death, creation and destruction, and a long way from me. And it's true, they are, but sometimes I have cause to doubt the self-satisfied veneer of my response.

Yesterday, on the plane, I felt an uncontrollable welling in me, a heaviness in the heart that I had to struggle to control. On the video screen, a shot from a helicopter of a large area of burned out grassland, then following a car's tyre tracks clearly discernable against the black earth. Pulling out to a wider view, a white car, pathetically abandoned at the very edge of a large dam still full of water. It was not known, said the voiceover, whether the person in the car had survived.

The last few days have been spent with the constant din of the television and radio news, cycling and recycling the same stories and bits of information that really aren't information at all. It's hard not be cynical as the commercial stations mine this disaster like a seam of gold, as they interview anyone with a story to tell or just an anecdote that will become worn with age and repetition, an emblem of an experience.

I haven't read anything as thoughtful as David Tiley's contribution, so I will link to it here.

Barista: 'We lived again but life was different.'


Michael Leddy said...

Sean, I hope you and yours are safe. I realize, reading this post, how little attention this tragedy seems to have gotten from American news sources.

Crritic! said...

Thanks Michael. Yes, everyone safe. Fires were spotting across the state, but nowhere near us.

Funnily enough, I did see American CNN coverage and it felt very strange; hearing the names of these tiny towns being spoken in American accents, "wildfire" instead of "bushfire" and the like. Seeing yourself as others see you.