Would you stay or go?

I was out yesterday visiting the shop, then dawdling my way back stopping off at a homewares shop, then spending an hour at Readings in Hawthorn. It was a warm, windy day, the worst sort of day in Melbourne, unfriendly to residents and dangerous to live in. Driving in the car in between stops I listened to the radio. At regular intervals, regardless of what radio station I was listening to, a siren would sound. I was surprised. I had never heard this before. What would follow was an update on the latest bushfires raging. In every case the fires had erupted and quickly spread in different locations, many on the outskirts of the city itself. In some places residents were warned it was too late to flee from their home, and were told to stay indoors and put in place their bushfire plans.

It was a surreal reminder of the reality of Australian, particularly Victorian summer. There it was driving towards the bookshop. An hour or so later there it was still. In between I had browsed in air-conditioned comfort. Up and down Glenferrie road people were out and about, shopping, eating ice-cream, stopping off for coffee at one of the many cafes. Driving home I listened to a report as I went down Mont Albert road. The sky was blue above. Lush green trees over-arched the road. Signs of civilisation were all about me, while not far away people were fighting fires, and in many cases losing their homes.

It’s cooler today and the fires, spectacular at their worst (check out some of the pics), have eased overnight. Still there are now people homeless in suburbs as close as Warrandyte – where people I know live, where I used to play tennis. Despite all this is not a bad news story. It’s very unfortunate, but experience tells us it could have been much worse. The fires are under control, some homes have been lost, but no lives.

Whenever I see news reports of bushfires I feel emotional. I’m guessing that’s because of the historical significance of bushfire in Australia. I imagine desperate families fighting to save their home, and all their precious memories. I understand the risk to life that so easily and so often becomes tragic. Above all I think I’m reminded of the supreme power and capricious nature of bushfires. These are a force of nature that at their worse we are powerless against. Bushfires are huge things.

For the people in the face of these bushfires they are forced to confront a difficult decision: stay or go? I understand the temptation to stay and protect your property. That would be my first instinct too. What I would never do is condemn my family to that choice. I cannot even begin to understand why you would risk the lives of your children in such a circumstance. It’s seriously beyond my comprehension. My choice is clear: I would either ship the family off to somewhere safe and stay, or go with them. In all probability I would go with them on the basis that if the worst occurred it would be terrible to deprive my children of a father. A house can be re-built. You can’t replace people.


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