It would be fair to say it’s been a bastard of a week for our little town, with holidaymakers cancelling their visits off the back of news reports that sounded more like the Anti-Christ had landed in Tasmania with a flame thrower in one hand and a cigarette in the other, than a reasonable and helpful description of what was occurring.
“Poor Tasmania!” I said to Keithie last night.
Not only are we dealing with loss of business but we’re flat out fighting one another over who’s to blame. The Hobart Mercury is dead set it’s the Tasmanian Green’s fault.
Apparently some farmers, and a bunch of mainlanders who have bought up chunks of land down here, say that they’ve been prevented by the Greens from burning off their scrub and pastures.
Keithie says that’s over the fence, and he should know, burning off is an annual calendar event for him, every autumn and winter, just as putting the ram to the ewes and lambing season are features of Keithie’s world every spring and every summer.
“Get’s hot in the summer and you gotta make sure there’s no fuel laying about,” he says as though it’s as obvious as taking a dump when nature calls.
It would be fair to say that Keithie is evangelistic about keeping our community safe from the fires that have come on and off throughout his life!
All year round he builds majestic bonfires on his land; strategic creations strengthened with twigs, leaves, bark, grass, pine needles, weeds even Brucie, also a lifelong bushcraftsman, traipses across the paddock, Louie in tow, to offer rose cuttings to Keithie’s alters.
Why do we do this? Well, I confess, for me, the thought of a cool starry evening, a BBQed hot dog in one hand and a chardie in the other mesmerised by Keithie’s bonfire is all the encouragement I need – and let me tell you it’s a night to remember.
But actually, we do it because that’s what Tasmanian farmers have always done. The knowledge has been passed from generation to generation. Keithie and Brucie never needed bushfire warnings because burning off is just plain old common sense and complacency wasn’t an option.
But in recent times there have been so many new laws about when you can and can’t burn off, and needing to get permits before you strike the match, and having to draw up plans to submit with the permit, not to mention the hobby farmers who threaten to sue you if your fire gets out of control. Is it any wonder farmers have stopped burning off?
“It’s over the fence,” says Keithie, shaking his head.
He’s right. Bushfires aren’t going anywhere. In fact, they reckon they’re going to get worse, which is no surprise to Keithie who’s seen his property through 70 odd years of heatwaves, floods and other extreme weather events:
“Some years is hot some is cold, that’s just the way it works,” Keithie says when he hears folk saying things like “we’ll beat this” after their place has been wiped out by fire.
His point is: there’s no point in going to war with mother nature. We should be asking what we can do differently so that when it happens again, and it will, there’ll be less loss and damage.
For example, last week, on the first day of the fires the Hobart Mercury started banging on about replacing overhead powerlines and poles. But since it’s often those very powerlines and poles that cause the fires, maybe we should be looking at putting all those things underground instead? Other states are doing it.
Anyways, it’s complex and we don’t want to bang on ourselves when so many Tasmanians have lost so much. But lets face it, we live here because we love the bush and since bushfires are a part of this world, it makes sense to seize the day and start talking about prevention rather than cure.