It is Sunday night but I just had to
be reminded what day it is. This is the
first time in 36 hours that I have been
able to think and breathe clearly. Finally,
on this Sunday night, the sky isn't the
colour of a deep, boiling bruise, the
sun isn't mean hot red, the full moon
isn't swirling sickly yellow, the wind
isn't blowing death. At least for the
time being, Canberra has stopped literally
exploding around me.
I can write this now because I'm very
lucky. My own house hasn't burned down,
and I haven't seen or touched or been
burned by fire first hand, even though
I've been living in a state of emergency
in one of the suburbs sitting on the front
line of this apocalpyptic conflagration,
and even though much of my neighbourhood
evacuated in the middle of last night.
My electricity and telephone still work,
there is water coming out of my tap, and
at the moment that water still looks drinkable.
I still own more than the clothes I stand
I still don't know if all these statements
will be true this time tomorrow but I
am more hopeful about the most important
of these things than I was even late this
afternoon, and by the time you read this
I will know with more precision just how
lucky I am.
Almost everyone who lives in at-risk
Canberra is now in a state of shock. We
have watched ourselves go through a range
of motions. We have cleared our roof gutters
and poured water into our bathtubs. We
have glued ourselves to local ABC radio,
which quickly managed to deliver an astonishing
volume and variety of unspun information
that we could source nowhere else. We
have packed our bags and cars with whatever
seemed most important in any available
time. We have really met and really helped
many of our neighbours, perhaps for the
very first time, and have tried to make
human contact with people stuck in worse
places across this city. We have filled
buckets of water. Too many of us have
used those buckets of water. We have tried
to eat, tried to think, tried to sleep.
We have reassured loved ones interstate.
We have scoured the shelves of supernaturally
chilled supermarkets for bottled water
and batteries and candles.
We have also watched ourselves go through
a range of emotions. A complicated and
fluctuating mix of fear (of burning, of
loss, and above all of the unknown) and
anger (for me, this erupted at news of
looting in devastated suburbs) and grief
(for the terrible personal stories trickling
back to us, from friends and strangers)
and numbness (at all of it).
Although it's a bit hard to contemplate
summoning energy for any of it right now,
without doubt there are a lot more motions
and emotions ahead of us.
I hope that one of them is a new appreciation
of what it's like to live in a kind of
war zone. A place where personal safety,
security of property, and the reliable
supply of electricity and water and sewerage
facilities - not to mention the presence
of reassuring cultural landmarks (like
Stromlo Observatory; for me a magical,
happy place of science and stars and forest
and weddings) - are, very suddenly, no
longer a given. I hope that this translates
into a new gut-level empathy for people
inside and outside our borders who have
a more developed historical and personal
experience of this kind of materially
tenuous state of being.
Disappointment of these hopes would be
a sad waste of what we've lived through
in Canberra since a blindingly ordinary
Australian Saturday morning unexpectedly
turned into something fundamentally different.
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