Below is a letter I wrote to friends after the bushfires confirming I was safe
Just a note to pass on news that I am fine and have not suffered any property damage, and to share some photos I’ve taken.
To date four people are dead and over 400 homes destroyed, plus some of our nicer landmarks - particularly the famous Mount Stromlo observatory and the surrounding softwood plantations. Makes one think of the hidden cost of choosing to live amongst the beautiful yet highly combustible eucalyptus trees in this unique ‘Bush Capital’.
For those not aware, Canberra consists of six large suburban areas separated from each other with a token amount of open grassland, covering a distance about 40 kms north-south and 8kms east-west. The bushfire came along a broad front on Canberra’s west, after picking up strength throughout last week from the forests in the Brindabella mountains and Namagai National Park. I live in an apartment in the centre of the northwestern area called Belconnen, and I work at (censored), the area in Canberra’s geographic centre a little bit south of Parliament House. The worst affected areas are to the west of Woden in Weston Creek, yet the fire managed to get within a kilometre of my workplace.
If it wasn’t for my visceral dislike of gardening and general disinterest in nature, I could have purchased some deathtrap in the out-lying suburb of Duffy*. Nobody in my section at (censored) lost any property, but I do know that several staffers live in this quadrant of Canberra to be close to the twin headquarters in Woden and Tuggeranong.
Still it is good to see a sense of community appear in a town long vilified as full of insular, lazy fat cat public servants too incompetent or public-spirited to survive in private enterprise. Instead we see volunteer part-time State Emergency Service workers bravely battling the fires, who otherwise would have came to work this morning perhaps as contract managers, knowledge solution implementers or policy drones of all varieties. Unfortunately more seasoned fire fighters across the border are more concerned about the absence of a unified command structure within Canberra for organising SES assets – funny how the Australian Public Service could juggle the complexities of East Timor, the Sydney Olympics and Bali Assist and yet bungle the risk management so awkwardly in its literal back yard.
The fires are not over yet. The Bureau of Meteorology are predicting 65km winds tomorrow along with 35C temperatures, which could cause one front to the north to threaten Belconnen’s outer suburbs (the ‘MacIntyre fire’). There is some shrubbery to the north of my complex but otherwise I think I am safe, considering that the fire would have to get through three kilometres of not-so-flammable terracotta suburbia to reach me.
I honestly don’t know what to do if the fire comes, but nonetheless I’ll probably accept (censored)’s offer of not having to go to work. I’ll just act as sentinel on my balcony, equipped with a high power hose and a bottle of Dewars – alert (but not alarmed) against any encroaching embers or looters coming up my street. We public servants may be opportunistic, as the stereotype suggests, but we also aggressively defend our own turf.
* Canberra is known for having its spaghetti suburbs named after famous people with extraordinarily bland monosyllabic names, like Holt, Cook, Phillip, Banks, Hall, Page, Theodore and (yes) Bruce.