January 25, 2020 07:00:15
One way in, one way out. As smoke wrapped itself around me, and night simply could not turn to day — the sun shut out by a suffocating ceiling of black smoke — I remembered those words.
I remembered I wrote that phrase here last year, as a warning to you, as an admonition to me, just as we all prepared to end our working year, pack our cars and head to the sunny holiday beaches of the summers we believed would last forever.
I grew up with the bushfire lore of traveling with woollen blankets and bottles of water in the car but this time the decisions are even tougher: Will we make that eight-hour east coast trek through the most potentially at-risk bushfire zones in Australia? For the first time ever — I don’t know. I’m worried. One way in and one way out for so many of these coastal hamlets, and that thought is frightening.
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And yet, what did I do? What did thousands of us do, even with fires raging across the country from November? We found new routes, we told ourselves we’d be fine, and like dogged soldiers picking our way across land-mined enemy territory we made our way to the beaches and we were having our holidays, dammit.
As I stood facing the sea that New Years Eve morning, as far east as the Rural Fire Service alert that awakened me at 5am urged me to go, I wondered why I wrote those words, but could not follow the warning.
We were hosing down a house that did not belong to us and preparing to take the kids into the sea if the fire that roared through Cobargo and now blazed towards the beautiful little town of Bermagui on the south coast of NSW came closer. It was 10am, and daylight was a faint line of lost hope on the horizon. Summer ended that morning even before it had begun.
@LaTrioli tweet: Bermagui, just before 9.00am
The social contract that bestows authority — both moral and legal — on our political leaders is struck on the trust that they know what they are doing and will always act in our best interests: the world’s violent history of military takeovers and juntas tells one part of the story of what happens when that trust breaks down.
The men and women who took on the roles of leading firefighters and voluntary forces through the worst summer of national bushfires in our settled history were exemplary: cool-headed, clear, brave, organised and fearless in speaking truth to power.
Time — and we — will judge whether our political leaders belong in their company, as this disaster has inevitably wrapped itself around the most contentious, divisive and evidently self-defeating political controversy in this country’s recent history: what to do about climate change and who is the person to do it?
It’s still not clear who might lead change. As the world urges Australia to acknowledge its role in both contributing to but also solving the problem of global warming, this week on ABC Melbourne Mornings, we looked back at Kevin Rudd’s now largely-forgotten 2008 “2020 Summit”, realising with shock that almost every problem of energy security, economic disadvantage and emissions reduction was canvassed by the conference — and a solution proposed for each one.
By 2020, we were to have been the leading country for a green and sustainable economy. The group considering climate change, concluded:
“Australia faces an unprecedented challenge from climate change coupled with our ever-expanding ecological footprint. We risk losing our natural heritage, our water resources, and the basis for our urban lifestyles and future prosperity. We have a brief opportunity to act now to safeguard and shape our future.”
Those words were written some time ago, too. We didn’t follow that warning, either.
This week Tony Rinaudo hopes we can learn from his experience of bringing an environment back from catastrophe as he writes about his decade of living with his family and running a reforestation project on the border of the Sahara Desert.
Health reporter Olivia Willis takes the foolishness of Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness industry as seriously as its misinformation deserves, and the brilliant architect, Norman Day, writes a compelling piece about how to “unbuild” cities made of ageing and redundant high-rises: the glass-curtain wall high-rise has had its day too (too hard to heat, too hard to cool), so just what will our future cities look like?
Here at the ABC we have you covered this weekend with our national broadcast of the Australian of the Year Awards, hosted by my colleagues Kumi Taguchi and Jeremy Fernandez live from Canberra at 7:30pm (AEDT) on Saturday, January 25.
You can see it on ABC TV + iView, ABC Local Radio and the ABC News channel .
Have a safe and happy weekend, and a proud and thoughtful Australia Day, with room enough for the joy and the sorrow that day brings.
Virginia Trioli is presenter on Mornings on ABC Radio Melbourne and the former co-host of ABC News Breakfast.