Thursday, October 24, 2013

Bushfires in October...p.s. to good news

An engraving on Linden ridge

THURSDAY 17 October

Normal day, only it was hot and there was a fire out Lithgow way. It has hardly rained since June. I plodded around in the garden, listening to the radio. The wind was strong, and  swinging around like a drunk fighter, lunging and unsteadily weaving. Someone rang 702 and said that a fire had started at Thomson Ave, Springwood. I thought of Annie, living in a corro house designed by Glenn Murcutt, over there. Reports began to come in, of the fire burning like crazy, houses burning. I went to see my neighbour, Geoff. I looked in the direction of the smoke, north, which had been looking like soft cauliflowers the colour of sandstone and noticed now, a new black plume. 

This is the view from the back of my place

“I hope that isn’t the bus depot”, I said.  I now think  that this might have have been the houses beginning to burn. Was she responding to my email?  Sue rang. She was in W.A. There was nothing she could do, she said. I didn’t know it, but in her street, forty-five houses  were being reduced to rubble. 

I was somewhat worried for myself and my house, and so were my friends and family, who were ringing up. I put a hose into my 4,500 litre water tank and filled it up,  rushed off to yoga, needing to calm down.

chop the smoky day
into jagged pieces

The Greens deputy leader, Adam Bandt, made the link on Twitter between the science of climate change and the fires, pointing out that it’s only October. “We need to have a discussion about it”.

FRIDAY 18 October

I went to Friday morning zazen with the Blue Mountains zen group. That was wonderful. We laughed a lot.

The Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, took a whack at Adam Bandt, saying he’s just being a political animal. And a draft of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report due out next year, leaked to the media, says climate change will increase the likelihood of bushfires in Australia.

I was on the phone nearly all day, and listening in to the radio, and worrying about Will and Sue’s house. I needed a way of transporting myself into Buena Vista Rd, Winmalee to see whether it was still standing - the police had initially closed the road off, live wires, possibly bodies in the ruins. 
Will rang - their house was gone. This wasn’t quite disasterville, as their possessions were in storage while they rented their house and took a work-and-play trip around Australia. Their tenants were away.
By now I was beginning to see the flaws in my own bushfire preparations. I would prefer that the same thing not happen to my house.

In the smoky haze
of peoples’ houses

In the late afternoon I went for a walk with a friend. Walk and talk - we tried walking silently but thoughts and feelings were just bubbling up. She had been through a fire at her old home. That fire started when some army guys thought they’d have a campfire on a windy day. It moved very fast, but she (with toddler) and a few firies, saved the house.

By this time the police were letting people in to the fire-affected areas, and I was ready, it was late afternoon. Buena Vista runs off Singles Ridge Rd, Winmalee, and there were many cars parked at the intersection with Hawkesbury Rd. Police were monitoring traffic into Singles Ridge Rd, guys in all kinds of different uniforms were standing around, bushfire trucks were coming down Hawkesbury Rd, their faces looked tired. 

As I walked  down Singles Ridge Rd, remembering walking up it with Sue, I began to see what had happened. A pile of bricks and rubble, with a guy picking through it, told me a small brick house had stood there. On the corner of Buena Vista, a shed remained, but not the large house it had belonged to. I could smell sausages on the air,  and sure enough, there was a little contraption with a sausage sizzle emanating from it, and people standing around talking, having cups of tea or coffee, unwinding, letting the gas out.  This was the Salvation Army, straight on the scene, ready and prepared. I saw a  neighbour of mine there who is a Salvo, giving a hand, offering support.

I walked on. The scene was  not a “ beautiful view” but one of devastation. 

On the side of the street that slips down into a gully, which was the side Will and Sue were on, one house after another was a pile of ruins. Was their house still standing? Our mutual friends had gone there earlier. They’d said they weren’t sure whether it was gone or not.
Cars were cruising along the street. I did this myself, after the ‘94 fires in Warrimoo. I drove my children around Cross St, to see what it was like. It made it real, life in the mountains.

I hurried on, passing media crews in orange pants, running generators and interviewing people - emergency workers /firies looking sweaty and tired, “Thank you”   - groups of people walking along the street - the sinking sun glowing orange like a ’67 pop art poster. When houses burn down, what you see is the brick stumps, sticking up like the hopeful shoots of some bizarre fire-germinated plant, surrounded by a melee of tin, grey burned chaff, bricks, tin or tiles, the occasional vaguely recognisable shape, like a screen.

I got to Will and Sue’s carport, still standing. Beyond it was a collapsed mass of corrugated iron, the bull-nosed verandah roofing -  under which we had once eaten an evening meal of barramundi. In that house my dog had run around, I’d eaten many dinners and drunk glasses of wine, we’d laughed and conversed, I’d been involved in their family life, I’d played my ukelele - this garden, I’d watered and admired.  I stood and cried.

The curved stairs down to the front door, the ‘welcome’ plaque still intact on the intact front wall, the garden all charred. The side path a mess of broken glass, building material, bricks fallen down, and a locked gate preventing an inspection of the garden. On one side the neighbours’ house was still standing but on the other, everything was gone. Across the street, also, a house gone. I walked on around the loop and most of the houses were rubble. I met a woman I vaguely knew, and she said, “Are you alright?”. We’d been in a choir together once. She was walking with a young woman, who told me she’d been in her house - still standing -where the Salvo’s had parked their mobile kitchen. My ex-choir pal said, of this house,
“ I was in their kitchen visiting, when suddenly we were just surrounded by fire”
Walking back up the street, I saw a group of four women. The were walking towards a wreck of a house. A woman began to cry, her friend had her arm around her. “Remember when we used to joke about all the junk around the place, and how you should get rid of it?” the friend offered.

Will’s attitude is: it’s just a house. And I’ve heard this sentiment expressed over and over again. I know climate change is making  this kind of event more likely and more intense. But I take the risk, like many of us, because we love living in the Blue Mountains. What I don’t love, is politicians dithering over global warming, like the officers on the Titanic telling us that no icebergs exist in this part of the ocean or if they do we’ll melt them with a candle. Our planet is hot and cranky. It is showing us that, in no uncertain terms. 

196 homes burned down - no lives were lost here. 

SATURDAY 19 October

Yoga, aaah! Lots of inversions to calm the agitated mind. How can I help?

 The Salvo's told me that what they really need apart from the mattress I have to offer, is clothing, food and toiletries. I told them I’d try to find a ute so that they don’t have to come and pick up the mattress. 193 homes have been burned down in the Blue Mountains, they’re busy enough. There was an air of agitation in Springwood this morning as I walked around the main street, getting my usual Saturday purchases.

As I pulled into my driveway I noticed my neighbour’s trailer, hooked up to their 4 WD. Aha! I tell her about my Salvos plan and she promises to fit it in somehow.

In the afternoon I heard this story. A woman lost her husband several months ago to cancer. They had two boys, one of whom is on the autism spectrum, and a dog. Before he died, he said to his sons, “If you miss me, just hug the dog”. But this woman, who lived in Winmalee, was not lucky. Her house, with the dog trapped inside, burned down.

SUNDAY 20 October

Sunday morning I walked down my street to the lookout.

The smoke
a muffler
of morning birdsong

Chat with neighbours, Tony offered me a car in case of an emergency, while mine is at the mender's. Then Geoff popped over, he was ready now for the Salvo's run. Great, that makes it easy. I threw the boxes together with supplies for bereft people, we hauled the mattress into the trailer, and off we went. At the new Salvo's store which opened in Springwood a month or two ago,  there were two guys  talking to the manager. “You can help out there with all the mattresses and boxes of clothes that will come in, ” she says. They whipped the mattress off the trailer, place my boxes alongside, and told us that they don’t work there, but are local and  wanted to help out.

Was this the day that our Prime Minister decided to be a firie for the day? He’s always been an RFS volunteer locally. But it strikes me that the Captain of the ship should remain on deck - and not think he has to go below decks and help stoke the boilers. To change the analogy, surely you want a leader to see the forest, rather than the trees?

MONDAY 21 October
Although hot, today has been strangely free of very much helicopter sound, and the two tones of sirens, urgent and very urgent.  I watched the magpie in her nest, and she or he, seemed thirsty. When it’s very hot birds hold their beaks open,  I don’t know why. I made a drinking trough for the small birds the other day. It is an ikebana bowl, set on top of a large and somewhat broken plastic pot for a plant, set under a shrub so as to give the birds a feeling of safety. They’ve been drinking from it.  

I think I can hear tiny cheepings from the magpie nest. The flights back and forth with worms held in the beak, are as relentless as those of the helicopters plying between water sources like dams, and fire fronts. I found another large pot and upended it, put on top of it a shallow but heavy  aluminium pot, which my friend Patrick gave me once. It had been a kitchen item of his mother’s. I placed this somewhere conspicuous. I figure that magpies are bold birds, and don’t need protective foliage.

TUESDAY 22 October

Dire warnings for the following day - there will be strong winds, and the fires are not contained. I checked in with my friends in Boland Ave. Rob is not worried - points out that the BOM website gives the winds at 35 - 50 km max, that the Rural Fire Service website gives the wind as gusting to 100 km/hr. Therefore there is confusion and no-one knows what they’re talking about! Finally, I got my car back.

Nevertheless, I decided to go to a public meeting at Warrimoo. When I got closer,  scores of people were walking towards the community hall. Hundreds of people were gathered on the grass outside the hall, and the firies were standing on the concrete path outside it, above them. I climbed up a concrete retaining wall so I could hear what was being said, as the RFS chief had no amplification of any sort. He had to holler.

“If this fire decides to take a run thru the Grose,”he said, “it could be at the Nepean river in a few hours. “ People put up their hands and asked questions. It was hard to hear, and every time he answered there was a buzz of conversation which increased the inaudibility quotient. ”If you’re not prepared, not fit, and can’t stand heat, then leave - and leave early, before 9 am”. 
“If you can run around a football oval five times with your full fire protection gear on, then stay with your house.” 
“Have those conversations tonight about what your fire plan is.”

I went to see a girlfriend. She offered me her house as a relatively safe house, should the fire reach the south side. It’s brick, two- storied, is several houses back from the bush, has concrete in the back yard - unlike mine which backs onto bush ( lovely!), is small, low and fibro, with a back garden dotted with various  fruit and deciduous trees (delightful!) , and is in the flame zone. I then went to see Woody who works at the local hardware store, to ask whether they had a stock of water pumps in yet - he thought, yes, they’re coming in tomorrow. If the firies make a huge demand on the reticulated water supply, it could dry up for me, and my 4,500 litres of water could only be used by someone with a pump. Something happened in Winmalee, and suddenly there was no water for the firies.


There are actions we can take to address the root cause of this catastrophe. Here are my suggestions.

The new Federal government plans to repeal the carbon price and associated good things, like the Clean Energy Fund.

Malcolm Turnbull, who suggested an emissions trading scheme when in opposition, must man up to his deluded colleagues. To give him strength, phone him on:

Electorate Office: 9327 - 3988

Greg Hunt is one such (Environment Minister).

Greg Hunt's email address :

Electorate Office: 03 5979-3188

Canberra: 02 6277-7290

Sunday, November 17 is the National Day of Climate Action

Everywhere: is an organisation that promotes divesting from the fossil fuel industry, much as people have withdrawn their investment in the tobacco, gambling, pornography, and armaments industries.  See their website for further info.


P.S. to good news
Coalpac, the company that wanted to mine the Gardens of Stone area, has gone into administration.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Fire .... and some good news

Winmalee - Yellow Rock area, Blue Mountains

I live in Springwood, in the Blue Mountains. Many years ago, I wrote this:

The sound of sirens
winding up the dry ridgetops:
bushfire season

That season has arrived already  - it's only October, supposedly spring.

Here are the haiku I've jotted down, in the midst of the worst bushfires for a long time.

chop the smoky day
into jagged pieces

So far, we've lost 193 houses, but no human lives. Last Thursday the house of my friends Will and Sue who lived in Buena Vista Parade, Winmalee, burned down. They are safe.

In the smoky haze
of people's houses

Sunday morning:

Morning birdsong
drifts up
through the smoke

This is some of the damage in Buena Vista Parade - Friday evening - some houses.


The NSW Department of Planning has recommended that the Coalpac open-cut mine near Lithgow should be rejected because of the damage it will do to the natural beauty of the area. This is great news, but the fight to save the Gardens of Stone is not over.
You could explain to NSW Planning Minister Brad Hazzard and Environment Minister Robyn Parker that to properly safeguard the Gardens of Stone they should take steps to reserve the area under the National Parks and Wildlife Act.

October yatras

The day of  easy elders’ yatra in Sun Valley was pretty warm, but still and sunny. We enjoyed trees, a creek, the sandy road, the ruins of a swimming pool built in the creek and enjoyed by the Warrimoo community in days gone by....and in that creek

Ducks surprised
shock me with their beating
purple wings

There are a great many birds down in that valley, of all varieties.

The bellbird’s beak
opens bright orange -

My boobook owl though, had found other sleeping quarters - nothing but a pile of poo on the rocks below a ledge,  to show where it often likes to roost.

By contrast, the middlin’ yatra the next day, on King’s tableland at Wentworth Falls, was windy. My car was playing up, hiccuping mysteriously. 

A 747 of wind
forces car-thoughts
off the cliff

My favourite plant was in flower, Boronia floribunda. The wind dashed these plants around so that the air was filled with their scent.

 We found this little chap's skeleton in an overhang -

The cicadas, Yellow Mondays,  were making an incredible racket. You wouldn’t want to be in earshot, if you had a hangover. They’ve crawled out of the ground, and out of their nymph stage of life, a few weeks early this year.

 Dazed cicadas
the wind too strong for them
crash to the ground

Walking in these conditions was a struggle. But there was a good lesson in it. As David said afterwards, reflecting on the day, “You’ve just got to take things as they come”.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Lichen, ant, frog and whipbird


When  I walked into the Kedumba valley in winter with my companion, I wrote one decent haiku about the kangaroos. I scribbled a lot of other things  in my notebook, including this:

old wire, fenceposts
lichen lazes on it

We’d seen the Maxwell’s farmhouse with its hand-milled timbers. There were more signs of life on the land on the road going down the valley.  I’ve just waited and then moved the words  around  a bit, like you’d move stones to form a pleasing pattern, maybe those stones that were beside the river.

Such effort

old fenceposts and wire –

lichen lazes on it


Recently I led a group of walkers from the Blue Mountains Conservation Society out to a ridge on King’s Tableland overlooking the Burragorang valley. What a view! These walkers are botanically literate. In flower we saw waratahs (below), Conospermum, two types of Daviesia, Dillwynia, Pomaderris, Patersonia (iris), Gompholobium, Scaevola, Pultenaea, and Comesperma.

 When I was out doing the reconnoitre, before the walk, I wrote this haiku:

Round sandy doorway

on the quiet road –

hullo ant!

Spring – frantic activity in the plant, bird and human world. In my garden, I’ve been doing my fire preparations, which means tidying things up, chucking out junk, trimming, pruning, mulching. Hmmm – that tank is leaning like the tower of Pisa and no longer meets the downspout. Time to drain it out and rebuild the tower of pallets which it stands on. After some days of refilling the watering cans over and over again, I could take the tank down off the stand, but there was still something inside ….’scuse me, Basho, I just have to sample your best-known haiku…

The empty tank

a frog jumps out –



I went for a walk with my zen companions, up Jack's track near St. Albans. We began the walk in the Macdonald valley (below), and the track followed a creek upwards. In that darkish creek cool, a whipbird was audible and unusually, visible. I once described their call, in another poem, as being like" a bullet through honey". I have since learned that there are two birds that make up what sounds to us like one call. A second bird makes the whipcrack at the end. So it is a duet, a conversation. But on this smokey Saturday morning, the bird was alone. I wrote:

Talks to itself -
makes up a
whipbird haiku

And they were way better than mine!