Thursday, February 08, 2007

a memory of fire

My back gradually came right with rest and pain-killers. I was in such a rush to get out and about on Sunday morning I forgot to take any pills at all, so I decided I must be nearly OK.

I was in a hurry because we were helping a fellow parishioner drive a Sudanese family in to the morning church service. There are a lot of Sudanese refugees who've settled in Hobart and we have quite a few in our congregation.

Musing on their future, I was struck by how quickly the children have picked up perfect English. In a few years they will be fully acclimatised to the Australian lifestyle, and the struggle to survive of their parents' generation will be a dimly-understood story.

One woman we know slightly has given birth to twins since arriving in Australia; growing up here,they will never be able to fully comprehend what their mother went through. I can't help wondering about the divide that must occur between the two generations... but I suppose that has happened in any group of people that have had to uproot themselves and flee to another country.

Monday morning my breakfast was interrupted by one of Julie's chickens escaping from its cage and running into the kitchen. I managed to corner it by the refrigerator but while I was returning it to its cage a second chicken got out through the open door and I had to chase her around the room.

My sister was oblivious to this (though I informed her of it promptly!); she was sitting up in bed reading Charlie Chan Carries On. She has always loved pre-war whodunits but this is the first Charlie Chan novel she's encountered. It's just as well she doesn't know how to find the other novels in the series in my attic or she'd go through them all in about a week.

They should be in the low bookshelves on the right hand side of the attic. Yes, that would be right. Margery Allingham is in the first bookcase near the window and Leslie Charteris is in the third one, so Earl Derr Biggers should be in the second one. I'll dig them out and ration them out to her -- one every couple of weeks perhaps.

Monday afternoon Julie had visitors at her place -- our neighbour, science fiction writer Steve Lazarowitz and his partner Dana. Steve was interested in seeing her chickens with a view to raising some in his own back yard.

Like many people, they were amazed to find so many different animals living right on the edge of suburbia. Steve was especially taken with Julie's horse Shadow, who came cantering over to see if we had brought anything to eat.

"I've been around horses sometimes, but I never had much to do with them as a boy," he said. "You can't keep a horse in Brooklyn."

"That would be a good title for your autobiography," I told him, but he was patting the horse and I don't think he was listening.

In the evening, it was out to the monthly pub quiz at the New Sydney Hotel. The line-up on our team varies from month to month -- this time it was me, my sister Julie, Caroline (who's just back from France) and Leon (who I think was once a member of the Royal Society). Between us we had quite a wide range of knowledge and we did better than our disastrous outing in January; I think we came in at equal third.

Of course there are always questions where you come unstuck. When they asked who was the actor from Bridget Jones' Diary who was nominated for an Oscar, I thought it must be Peter Firth. No, they meant Renee Zellwigger. Being an older guy, I took the term "actor" to mean a male.

Tuesday was a lot busier than I expected. The afternoon at the church office was the most hectic I've had in months. Sometimes I was talking to people at my desk, answering the phone with one hand and pushing buttons on the computer with the other. I had some sandwiches with me for lunch, but I didn't get a chance to eat them until 4:30 in the afternoon.

When I left work, I gave Kay a lift to the supermarket on my way home. After I'd taken the groceries inside for her, I installed a VCL media player on her computer for her; she has some television programmes on CD discs but has nothing to play them with. This seemed like a good freeware solution.

The main problem with her computer is that she is one of those people who are reluctant to delete anything unless absolutely unavoidable. I'm in no condition to throw stones, but it could do with a good spring cleaning.

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Wednesday morning was a sobering time. After breakfast I listened to Tim Cox's show on local radio; they spent an hour reminiscing about the 1967 Tasmanian bush-fires, forty years ago today.

It was gripping stuff, if a little unsettling. I remember that day clearly. I was a teenager, living with my parents in their centre-city hotel. That afternoon the sky turned a dark blood red and ash blew in on a hot choking wind.

Even though we lived in the heart of the city, my father went out and got an extra-long hose in case we needed to hose down any embers that landed on the roof and threatened to start fires. This wasn't the countryside -- we had never before imagined we could ever be in danger from wildfire.


My sister was out with friends that afternoon and we weren't sure where she was. (No cellphones in those days!) When she returned home safely my mother broke down and wept with relief. She had spent an hour during the afternoon driving around looking for her, witnessing people trying to beat back flames with wet sacks and garden rakes.

Many small towns around the state were simply obliterated by the fires; the primitive fire-fighting equipment of 1967 just couldn't halt the conflagration.

62 people died.

1,400 homes were destroyed.

Forty years ago today.


A radio documentary on the subject can be downloaded from the Radio National "Hindsight" website.
http://www.abc.net.au/rn/hindsight/default.htm

2 comments:

foodkitty said...

We were kept at school until our parents could be contacted. Telecommunication has changed so much. One of my classmates wasn't allowed to go home, and she got hysterical because we could look up onto the hill and see the flames getting closer to her back fence - it was the first time ever that we did not feel jealous of the kids who lived on the "bush blocks."

Every big fire now brings backs those memories - black sky, red sun and all the cinders...

sink sink socks said...
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