Tag Archives: bushfires

Bushfire memorial

I will not be posting today, apart from this.

YouTube by beanough.

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Posted by on February 22, 2009 in Australia, Australia and Australian, events, humanity



We also had Media Watch on ABC last night…

The subject, naturally enough, was how the media had behaved in the past week, and generally there was a thumbs up for a job well done: Reporting the Bushfires. But there were exceptions.

The last few minutes of the program were reserved for the most savage attack. I have to admit I too had been appalled by The Devine One but mentioned it only in passing rather than dignify it; I also pointed in a comment to a rebuttal. But Media Watch went for the jugular.

…Plenty of others, last week, were pointing the finger at policies that they claim have discouraged preventive burning, and the clearing of bush around houses.

But only Miranda Devine came up with a sentence like this:

If politicians are intent on whipping up a lynch mob to divert attention from their own culpability, it is not arsonists who should be hanging from lamp-posts but greenies.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 12th February, 2009

That’s not opinion-writing, Miranda. That’s hate-mongering.

You and your paper, which saw fit to blazon your ugly piece across the front page of its website, should both be ashamed of yourselves.

I should say, once again, that there’s been plenty of fine reporting this week under harrowing circumstances.

Rab in Indonesia also expressed concerns I share about Facebook vigilantes: Facebook, Suppression Orders, and Arsonists.

The problem with the Facebook groups is that they violate the suppression order. It is not a difficult argument to make that the Facebook groups would fall under the suppression order even if Facebook is not considered to be traditional media. If this was indeed to be made out then Facebook might find itself in contempt of court as the publisher, along with the author. And, the lawyers would undoubtedly be arguing that their client cannot get a fair trial because of the exposure.

I can understand that people need to vent their anger after such a tragic loss of life and property. However, in the aftermath I would also imagine that people would like to see justice done, and perhaps not vigilante justice, but that kind of justice that sees the perpetrator do the time for his crimes. If this is the case, then it is a risky proposition to breach the suppression order. Sometimes we just have to have faith in our judicial system that it will work and work well.

I think the point is that none of us ought to destroy our hard-won if imperfect rule of law because righteous anger possesses us for the moment. In its own way this is as destructive as the bushfires themselves.

See also what Legal Eagle said, noted here yesterday.

And the spirit of the age, in tandem with economic conditions, is a fertile ground for monsters, alas. There are so many instances I have been noting, but draw your attention to a chilling sentence from Culture Matters — Gomorra and Frozen River.

Gomorra, by contrast, is full of victims, villains and heroes, and seems to be very much in sync with Italy’s current political trends that are more anti-immigrant, anti-South (I mean Italy’s South) and pro-strongman than probably at any time since World War II.

Watch this space, as they say. Not good. Europe seems often to be a very backward place in some respects.

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Posted by on February 17, 2009 in Australia, Australia and Australian, best viewing 2009, current affairs, Europe, events, other blogs, right wing politics, TV



Four Corners: Two Days in Hell

This is on right now. It is a must see. In time there will be full transcripts up, and more. Do not miss it.


Update 18 February

The transcript is now up.

…QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: In Kinglake, built on an escarpment, the fire was unstoppable.
RUSSELL REES, CHIEF OFFICER, COUNTRY FIRE AUTHORITY: The fire’s gone up the slope into Kinglake, which is on a bit of a plateau, and it would’ve spat bits of fire everywhere. You know a splattering on a, on an enormous landscape scale, you know, like just enormous. And we knew that whatever resources we had, whatever they were, no matter what they were they could not have stopped such a fire.
QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: At least 39 people died in the Kinglake inferno. But there were miraculous escapes. When Ken Williamson and his second lieutenant pulled up at this house, they found a family fighting to save their home.
KEN WILLIAMSON, CAPTAIN, WHITTLESEA CFA: We noticed two men here with a hose, a garden hose, just a garden hose battling against all odds to try and save this house. And I said to Tim, we’ve got to pull up and get these people out.  Tim run down there, just then the wind changed and it was really roaring, and the next thing I know Tim’s running up the driveway here with two little girls in dresses under his arms, out of breath, put them in the car, the next thing I see, Mum and Grandma and a couple of puppy dogs, we got them in the car, everyone’s sitting on everyone’s knees, flat out down to Whittlesea, drop them off, flat out back up the hill to continue our work, unbelievable.  We expected to find these two gentlemen, you know, probably deceased, but remarkably we come back and they were still squirting water, unbelievable.
QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Again and again, neighbours risked their lives to save neighbours…

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Posted by on February 16, 2009 in Australia, Australia and Australian, best viewing 2009, current affairs, humanity, TV



If there’s a catastrophe anywhere the Jihadists have done it…

So clever! Why, you’d wonder if we could ever win against such a cunning and resourceful opponent.

I mention this because it is surprising how much internet space is being devoted to this pet theory, aided and abetted by some who should know better. The whole thing is best put in perspective by Anorak, a satirical site, which is actually telling the unvarnished truth about what some have been saying. See Australia Fire: Warmists, Jihadists, Terrorists, Arsonist, Religionists And Opportunists.

No matter, of course, that the police disagree.

…"None at all, absolutely nothing, zero," Superintendent Ross McNeill told AFP.

"We usually rank possibilities on a scale of 0 to 10 – this would be on a negative scale," he said.

McNeill said he was aware of last year’s report, which said US intelligence channels had identified a website calling on Muslims in Australia, the US, Europe and Russia to "start forest fires"…

What would the police know? After all, bloggers are much better informed…

So far no-one seems to want to credit the Jihadists with the Queensland floods.


I mention this because I have been engaging in dialogue (if that is the right word) with another blogger whose post popped up in the list. See my comment here.


Hat tip to Bruce for this.

Irfan Yusuf posted COMEDY: Herald-Sun writer exposes marsupial jihad… on his main blog (not the one I have in my Google Reader) yesterday. He quotes, and I quote in turn, some apposite responses.

This is an unnecessary and dangerously incendiary article. How stupid and pointless to stir up anti-Muslim sentiment at a time when emotions are running high and there’s so much good will and community support to be celebrated.
Posted by: Deborah Bartlett Pitt
9:53am today

Don’t fall for this people. The general Muslim community want nothing to do with these lunatics. As arsonists walk amongst our community, idiots walk amongst theirs.
Posted by: CFA Volunteer
12:05am today

It is very likely, no doubt, that certain “jihadist” web sites may have “rejoiced” in the tragedy. That of course is sick, but on the other hand is rather analogous – very analogous – to the “it’s God’s judgement” school of thought some Christians have been foolish and tasteless enough to embrace. The “jihadist” rejoicing, however, in no way proves cause – which would in fact be post hoc reasoning.

As for Sheikh Haron, I suspect this nasty piece of work is heavily into self-aggrandisement. I’ve downloaded and read his “claim of responsibility” addressed to Kevin Rudd. If, that is, we believe he is real. Austrolabe makes a good case for his being a fake. Some in the comments question his mental health. Austrolabe is a Muslim site.

Enough said! That last comment cited by  Irfan, and his whole post, pretty much nails it – not to mention the assessment of the police.

Not unrelated, see Legal Eagle in a top post reminding us of the obvious: we have a legal system in this country, not lynch law. See Publication with prejudice.

…Our legal system works on the basis that this guy is innocent until proven guilty. That’s a fundamental retributive principle: we can’t punish someone unless we know beyond reasonable doubt that he deserves to be punished. We have to have a trial presenting all the relevant evidence before we judge him. We can’t just say, “He was a kooky scrap metal guy who was always lighting fires in the backyard, so he must have done it.”

By assuming this guy’s guilt without knowing all the evidence, the vigilante groups may have exactly the opposite effect from what they want. They may cause his trial to be derailed, as the defence barristers will be able to argue that he has been unfairly prejudiced before the trial even began. Do they really want to make it very difficult to prosecute this guy? Seems to me that they need to calm down and think logically and carefully about it. The same goes for the media: they need to be responsible in the way they report information about the accused.


I do think that vigilante group perpetrators should be charged with contempt of court if possible. Their behaviour is highly irresponsible, and an example needs to be made.

If ever we forget such principles we’re sunk!

Related: Four Corners: Two Days in Hell (my next post). For all posts on this topic on this blog see bushfires.

Update 18 February

I have decided to link directly to the post and thread which triggered this post. It has been at least reasonably civil, but I have reservations about our national tragedy being hijacked, in a way, to feed a particular interpretation of world events, especially given the evidence for that is so thin. Speculation is OK, I guess, and people will believe what they will. But in this case it really is a distraction. I doubt very much it will figure in the police investigations, our own national security assessments, or the Royal Commission.

You can read the post and thread and make up your own minds. The blogger concerned comes from North Carolina; he also participates in an interesting thing I hadn’t seen before called Where I Stand.  I even agree with some of the opinions expressed there, but would like this one to be wrong: The Left and Right will not find a way to live with each other in a civilized manner. What do you think?

There is to be a National Day of Mourning on Sunday 22 February.

Some of you will like this sermon by Dave Groenenboom; it’s a matter of your perspective, I guess, but I offer it as a contribution. I won’t analyse it or critique it; I do admire its spirit.



Still on the fires

Over in Michigan my ex-student David Smith via Facebook “wonders if anyone has heard any convincing explanation of why Victoria has nearly all the bushfire fatalities in Australian history. If so, let me know.” Now there is something to think about, though topography and settlement patterns must have something to do with it. I imagine the Adelaide Hills and the Blue Mountains would be up there too, perhaps for similar reasons.

Some points along these lines were made on Radio National’s Bush Telegraph by Tom Griffiths yesterday.

Award-winning Tom Griffiths, is one of Australia’s leading environmental historians.

He knows the Victorian fire country extremely well. He has written about it in Forests of Ash (2001) – his beautiful book about this very part of Australia.

Professor Griffiths criticises the National Fire Policy. He says that it was impossible for people to ‘stay and defend’ their homes in this extremely fire-prone region of Australia. He argues that we need specific regional policies – not a ‘national approach’

I found this review of Forests of Ash.

Firstly, it is a social history of human involvement in the forested areas of Victoria, Australia, lying north and east of Melbourne. Griffiths devotes one chapter to an attempted Aboriginal settlement there. His other chapters detail the uses and meanings that the area has had for Europeans: They "improved" its agricultural potential by destroying half the forest, mined there for gold from the 1850s, set up mills to exploit the timber resource, then reserved some of the forest as a water catchment area. (Upper Yarra Dam, in 1957, tripled Melbourne’s water supply.) Increasingly, the area also attracted naturalists, bush walkers, and other tourists. Its features (waterfalls, tall trees, lyrebirds) came to symbolize Victorian identity; even its industrial heritage gained cultural significance.

These chapters are a revision of part of Griffiths’s Secrets of the Forest (Allen & Unwin, 1992), with many of the paragraphs simply divided into more appetizing bites, but half the original work is thrown out in preference for new material and a new emphasis. While the first book grew from a report to Victoria’s Historic Places Branch, Forests of Ash appears in association with Museum Victoria, resulting in a slicker, wider-ranging presentation, including "spotlights" on the forest by specialists with biological (rather than historical) knowledge. These do not always integrate well with Griffiths’s text, but they underline that this is, secondly, a consciously environmental history of a particular ecosystem, dealing with interrelationships of climate, fauna and flora, and of how human activity affects and is affected by that ecosystem.

As an entirely new chapter explains, these Victorian forests are not the dry "bush" typical of Australia, nor the less extensive rain forest or "jungle." Rather, they are a blend of the two in which the tallest trees are Eucalyptus regnans. Australians call these mountain ash, but they are unrelated to the rowan and mountain ash of Europe and North America, and as mighty as redwoods.

Griffiths follows Stephen Pyne in stressing the role of periodic fire in Australian forest, and so the title also refers to ash left when the forests have burned, the necessary nursery for a further generation of trees. The central event in Griffiths’s history is Black Friday, 1939, when 1.4 million hectares of Victoria burned, analyzed as "a cultural exaggeration of a natural rhythm" (p. 189). Humans, by lighting fires, extended fire’s usual range and frequency (and then they deepened the imbalance by salvaging burnt trees). As so often with environmental history, the causes of a "natural" catastrophe are found to have a human component.

Forests of Ash is a good story well written. The subject is made even more approachable through maps and over sixty photographs, many of them stunning. This is definitely not just a text for scholars. But the book can be regarded, thirdly, as a case study, a springboard from which to leap into discussion of environmental history itself. Griffiths does this in the epilogue, where the argument that this discipline "uniquely bridges planetary and deeply local perspectives" (p. 194) justifies both concentration on one geographic area and his global extrapolations. Finally, his source notes are, effectively, a bibliography of Australian environmental history. This is a valuable gateway into Australian material, which provides an excellent counterpoint (and sometimes a corrective) to many studies made elsewhere.

Perhaps some answers for David (and the rest of us) lie here.

ABC has an excellent site on Black Friday: Griffiths is a contributor.


*** To visit:



Instead of the Friday poem: Dorothy McRae-McMahon

sun23002a From the liturgy prepared by Dorothy (right) in the past week.

Let us go from here

As the bush springs green again,

restoring its beauty to us as a gift,

as the seeds are broken open by the fire

for the beginning of new life,

and as we bring together all that is among us

for the future in this place:

Let us go from here,

stronger than when we came,

holding on to those who have lost the most,

ready for all that is to come

and walking firmly into a new day.

Let us go in courage, hope and peace,

surrounded by the love of God.

photo by Neil 23 Nov 2008 at South Sydney Uniting Church

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Posted by on February 13, 2009 in Australia, Australia and Australian, faith, humanity, inspiration, interfaith, South Sydney Uniting Church



Re-opening today, but keeping to the bushfire theme

There are so many places where amazing stories are being told about the past week in Victoria. I will keep that extra feed on the side a little longer; there you see what people on have been writing about it. On my own Google Reader feed I have been selecting only those items relevant to the bushfires, but tomorrow this afternoon I will begin catching up* on some of the notable entries which have thereby been put on hold. "Normal" entries will also resume here.

Tonight on ABC there is a special program in the Stateline 7.30 time slot. Meanwhile see the ABC coverage.

There was a telethon last night on Channel Nine. (The YouTube extract I had has been taken down by YouTube.)


Naturally there has been much discussion about causes, and some have been throwing blame around rather prematurely. I could link to such things but won’t. Some of the discussion has raised fair points, while the prize for insanity must go to the goose on YouTube who blames Arab terrorists. That, I think, even eclipses Pastor Nalliah’s biblical errors. People like Miranda Devine have been predictable; in fact quite a few have been ridden by their hobbyhorses – and that even applies to some whose hobbyhorses I may happen to share.

Whatever, anyone looking for a single explanation will be sadly disappointed. Quite obviously a whole set of circumstances have combined to make these fires particularly horrendous.  Some of those circumstances will prove reasonably easy to correct for the future, some won’t. We should all keep an open mind until the current phase of discussion has worked itself through.

* Pretty much done, though you missed some… From here on I will add what takes my fancy from my stock of blogs.