Each day brings a different part of a different state that has been declared a ‘leave zone’, an ‘evacuation zone’, a ‘state of disaster’. They’re all declarations distinct from one another but fundamentally they are entire vast chunks of the country that are currently not suitable for human life.
And Australia is a big place, but it’s a place we know personally. That town is where mum and I walked on the beach just before I left Canberra. That district is where I drove through a few years ago on the way to meet a love in Melbourne. The rainforest national park that burned months ago is where a lifelong friend spent her short winter break. That’s the airport down the road from where I lived, where I said my hellos and goodbyes for years and years, and where yesterday an elderly person died from just breathing the air. That’s the road on the peaceful hill behind my old home in Canberra that might be closed tomorrow because if a fire started in that peaceful little bushland reserve, it would take hold so fast that emergency services in the centre of our nation’s capital might not be able to save the lives of anyone in the reserve. Behind my old house. Where I began or ended my best days with a walk or run. Right there.
These places are where real live actual people live and where they’ve seen their lives destroyed, or curtailed, or filled with fear. That’s where literally hundreds of the most important people in my life live their lives, right now.
We Australians live with fire as a constant in our lives. We’ve all had the ‘oh I wouldn’t live there, there’s only one road out’ or the ‘it’s so beautiful but I’d never stop thinking about the fires if I was there in summer’ conversations. We know it. We understand the risks. Fire is not new.
But it’s January 3. Summer has barely started.
The southern fire season has barely started. But then, fires started burning up and down the southeast coast in August. In winter. So what’s summer?
We’ve also all had the ‘it’s rainforest, it’ll never burn’ conversation. But this year, the rainforest burned too.
2019 was just found to be the warmest year on record in Australia. And we have precisely no indication that this trend will change. Because the people who are supposed to be in charge, here and elsewhere spit on the lives of the people who voted them in, then ask us to be grateful for it.
It is impossible to describe the sensation of rage, and helplessness, and grief, all at once that so many of us are softly or loudly going through right now.
Every conversation on every platform is about the fires. Every group chat is filled either with people letting us know in quiet private ways that they can’t handle the news, that they’re scared, that they’re angry, that they don’t know what to do – or desperately trying to distract each other with something nice, or something funny, or just something.
And then there’s the other side. Even now, as this unprecedented disaster rolls over all our lives, there are people still happily, belligerently declaring that the reason the fires are bad is that environmentalists have stopped fire prevention. This is a vicious, deliberate lie that has been swallowed by a number of our neighbours. Their inability to distinguish meme from fact is muddying the waters on behalf of the powerful. Its only purpose is to distract people from being angry at governments of every political stripe that have failed to plan for this. That have failed to give firefighters what they need.
The vast majority of Australian firefighters are volunteers, who fundraise for their equipment. What a disgrace. We are a country already made for fire that has dried out over the last decade, where the forests that once slowed fires are now dying kindling ready for the next lightning strike. But the people who are supposed to be in charge haven’t prepared? This was a process that was foreseen, predicted, documented, reported on, yelled about. For years. Fire chiefs tried desperately, over and over, to meet federal government ministers last year to prepare for this. We knew this was coming. So did they. They knew. And they did nothing.Print