Eucalypts, bush fires, and the dark side of leafy suburb living

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Today’s forecast for Hobart is 36 degrees, no rain and high winds.

This morning, I walked around my house and packed up what I suppose must be my most treasured possessions.

I grabbed my passports and insurance documents.  Also, family relics – costume jewellery my grandmother gave me when I was little; my mother’s recipe book, filled with New Idea clippings and borrowed recipes for fruitcakes and playdough; some carved figurines of the alien-looking “navigators”, founders of Pohnpei; a ammonite fossil, chipped out of a Hull quarry by an ex-boyfriend; and the gigantic Webster’s New International Dictionary, which I wrapped in a bedspread haggled in Damascus. I loaded all of these things, and a few other talismans, into a large woven basket, said goodbye to my cat, my rooster, my chickens, and schlepped the lot to my office in town, via the bus.

Professor David Bowman, from our own University of Tasmania, likens living in Hobart to living “on the side of a volcano” (check out his opinion pieces on “The Conversation”).  The landscape is incredibly dry, and the area I live in, in the foothills of Mount Wellington, was the site of devastating fires in 1967.   That year, all but a handful of houses in my street were lost.

We recently door-knocked our nearest neighbours, as part of a community bushfire safety initiative, taking down details of the number of household inhabitants, human or otherwise, their contact details, and whether people might need assistance in evacuating their homes in the event of a nearby fire.

Two of the older ladies had been there during the last fires, and had watched neighbouring houses explode in flames.  One the older women urged us to tell everyone we spoke to to get out early, not to wait.  At the time, their house was newly built, and their block completely cleared.  Even the brick houses burnt as she and a crowd of neighbours huddled together inside, while others tried to save nearby homes.

Leaving this morning, I wondered – how long will it be until this happens again?  The fuel loads are huge, and the weather, increasingly wild.

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