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Friday, 20 November 2009

Only a few more days in Australia

Wednesday ten days ago John drove me south from Bendigo through farmland rich with corn ready for harvest, strewn with eucalyptus trees lining red dirt roads enticing me into the country, others standing alone left to grow high, casting their shade on rolling pastures and hazy ridges of higher ground, hinting at distances beyond the horizon. I thought of the painting Droving into the Light - the Australian light it took a while for Europeans to admit. John turned on the car radio ... Last Post ... "The eleventh hour of the eleventh month." Used to northern Novembers I'd let it slip. All around peace and plenty.
On a later Sunday we'd again driven south to Melbourne for a flight to Brisbane, listening to Macca. Along a stretch of the smooth Redesdon-Kyneton road, gum trees grew out of bared earth, their trunks blackened to the height of the bushfire that had passed through last February at the height of summer. Some trees were dead. Others were recovering; epicormic foliage sprouting from their scorched bark. A vineyard beyond the skirting woods had escaped with a few burned rows. John had told me something of these fires - flaming fronts driven by hot 100 km/h winds, threatening to outpace fleeing drivers. Feral. "Our safety plan if the warnings are given is to get out. Drive away with the ourselves and the dogs."
Victoria's now got a 'Catastrophic' category of fire risk
"Don't jump in the pool thinking you'll be safe as one of these fires passes through. You'll be boiled." Once started, by lightning, arson or misadventure, a bushfire reproduces itself, as tiny sparks blown by the heated wind seed spotfires, far ahead of their parents, on dry carpets of leaves, twigs, brush and parched grass. Seeing the land coming out of spring, the conflagration of colour in John and Annie's garden, I struggled, shoulder deep in the pool surrounded by bird song, to imagine the threat of such a fiery tsunami, until yesterday, sitting indoors alone, I went to the door, curious to see what was making such a noise and was enveloped in a windsquall's warm breath as it swirled through the paddocks of the acreage block, followed by a sprinkle of rain.

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Simon Baddeley