Since I wrote my last bushfire update things have improved a lot. We had some good rains and that along with some cooler weather enabled the firefighters to do some back burning and mopping up operations, finally dropping Geeveston and the surrounding areas back from “Watch and Act” status to “Advice”.
The fires are still listed as “going” but many of the other areas around the state where there have been fires are now listed as “Patrol” or “being controlled”.
I haven’t said a lot about the fires in other areas because I was telling the story from my own point of view but they were all as serious as the one we were facing and there was some property loss. Also, many hectares of World Heritage listed forests have been burned, Tasmania’s honey industry has taken a major hit due to the loss of leatherwood trees and who knows how much wildlife has been killed. We are extremely fortunate that there was no loss of life and so few homes burned. It could have been much, much worse.
The worst of it is we may find ourselves in this situation again next summer or any summer. This could be our new normal and that is a scary thought.
I am at home. I could have come home a few days ago but I picked today as a good day firstly because it was more convenient for Naomi and secondly because of my trip to the Wooden Boat Festival yesterday.
Apart from smelling a bit stale and needing a good vacuum and dust my house is fine. I will have to get on to the cleaning bit because the real estate agent rang to ask if she could bring a potential buyer to have a look at it on Monday.
A day to laze around at home enjoying my own space would have been nice but it will have to wait, there are dust bunnies to hunt.
The fires are still burning. We had three cooler days which allowed the firefighters to get some back burning done but on Sunday I saw that Geeveston was once again on emergency alert. I spent an anxious afternoon and evening listening to the radio and checking Facebook posts as the fire came close to the southern end of Geeveston and threatened communities further south. Sadly several houses were lost that day but thankfully nobody was killed or injured. It has been over three weeks now that these fires in the Huon Valley and other parts of Tasmania have been burning.
I was in Huonville to apply for an emergency assistance grant which the government had made available to people who had been forced to leave their homes because of the fires or who had been unable to work because their place of work was in the fire zone.
The local Scout and Guide Hall was being used to process claims. I arrived at about 2:20pm to find a long, long, line zigzagging across the room. It took me a full two hours to be processed and paid. It was quite a weird experience and made me think about people who have been permanently displaced from their homes and have to deal with this sort of situation all the time.
The government workers running the operation were doing a great job though, they had a team of maybe a dozen workers processing information before sending us off with our paperwork to join another line to collect prepaid debit cards. Everyone was on the whole, patient and good-natured even though it was a warm afternoon. Security staff walked around distributing bottles of water. The staff was helpful and friendly still smiling after a full day of filling out forms.
Outside the building, Naomi was patiently waiting for me to finish. It turned out that one of the security people was someone she knew from Oatlands, that stuff happens all the time in Tasmania. She talked to people coming and going, patted dogs and talked to a little kid who claimed to be lost. He wasn’t, his dad was nearby and he was just looking for some attention I think.
About an hour after I arrived the doors were closed and people arriving were told that they would have to come back tomorrow as it would take till after 6pm to process the people already there. Naomi said that most people took this news quite well although one man became quite angry about it. The financial assistance centre was set up last week and has been open every day. I had not been able to get there sooner as I am staying some distance away which is why Naomi offered to take me.
After that, we drove to my house. It was a strange feeling driving into a bushfire zone. The smoke haze was not too bad and we had good visibility but the whole area smelled of burnt wood.
I knew that my house had not been in the fire zone as a friend had driven past it the other day but it was a huge relief to find everything inside just as I left it. Even most of my plants were still surviving.
Once we had watered the plants, checked that lights and power were still working and I had grabbed a few things I wanted we left. I don’t plan to return home just yet. I want to but the fires are still acting erratically and if I go back now and there is another emergency I would have to find someone to get me out. It’s just too stressful so I will wait until things are a bit safer.
However, it was good to see my home again and I hope it won’t be too long before I can go back.
My sister, cousins and I had a reasonably free childhood once we came to Australia. Our home was in Elizabeth, north of Adelaide. We could play in the street in front of our houses or go to a nearby park which didn’t require crossing the main road. We older ones could walk to the local shops for ice cream or comics and sometimes to another park when the “Trampoline Man” came for a few days in the school holidays. Our suburb was pretty quiet except at around 4pm when the local factories let out and all the workers came home.
When I was around twelve my eldest cousin and I were both allowed to go to “the big shops” at Elizabeth Town Centre or the library alone.
Even though they allowed us our freedom I’m sure our parents worried about us and we did get into trouble if we went off without telling them where we were going or failed to return at the appointed time.
Naomi and I arrived in Australia with our mum on 23 January 1966. Three days later on 26 January, three young children, Jane, Arnna, and Grant Beaumont disappeared from Glenelg beach not far from Adelaide. They were never heard of again.
If ever our parents needed a cautionary tale there was one. They impressed on us that we should not talk to or go off with strangers. It certainly made an impression on me because the eldest girl, Jane was the same age as me. To our parents’ credit, this didn’t stop them from letting us go places on our own but I know that mum always worried until we returned safely and I am sure my aunt and uncle did too although my cousins were not fond of walking so their dad would usually get a call to pick them up from wherever they had gone or be asked to drive them here or there. Naomi and I usually walked everywhere.
I would not say I was an exceptionally well-educated person. I left school voluntarily at age fifteen. I wasn’t happy at school and I wanted to go to work and earn money so that I could save up to travel.
However, I did leave school being able to read well, write a letter or story with good spelling and reasonably correct grammar, do maths problems and with some understanding of historical events and current affairs.
I know that even in back in the sixties and seventies when I was going to school there were kids who struggled to achieve that. Classes were bigger and teachers didn’t have the time to spend with every kid so the very bright and very slow to learn sometimes missed out. However, when I look around these days it seems to me that many young people are still struggling with basic literacy and maths and I wonder why.
I am not sure if things that we were expected to learn when I was at school are still taught. When I was in Primary School we learned the basics. Every day we spent a couple of hours on spelling, dictation, and arithmetic, this was in the days before “New Maths”. We spent a lot of time on English learning grammar, Reading Comprehension and writing compositions. We also had class novels which we read either out loud or to ourselves and were expected to answer questions about. There was “Reading Laboratory” which was a big box full of cards with a story to read and a set of questions to answer. They were colour coded for difficulty and I was proud to get right to the top colour every year that I did them.
In maths or arithmetic, as we still called it, we learned addition and subtraction, multiplication and long division. We had to master fractions decimals and learn about angles in geometry. We were supposed to “show the working out” on our page and we were not allowed to use calculators in tests. Actually, when I was in primary school there were no calculators. We did those sums where you calculated the cost of several items and even worked out the percentage of the total to subtract as a discount. In Mental Arithmetic the teacher asked you a question and you had to quickly write the answer while doing the working out in your head.
We had Social Studies which for Primary School students seemed to be a mixture of history, geography and current affairs. We learned a lot about things like stump jump ploughs, irrigation, gold mining, explorers, sheep and which states produced what products. Of course, we also learned a bit about Kings and Queens of England and even the Romans invading Britain. I am sure they don’t teach that to nine-year-olds any more.
In High School, we learned History and Geography, Algebra and how to use a slide rule. Don’t ask me, I’ve forgotten. We read novels and plays and our teachers were dismayed if any student did not know enough grammar to write properly.
As I never had children or grandchildren I really don’t know what they teach them now but I’m disturbed that young people in stores can’t make change without consulting the electronic cash register. When I was studying at TAFE a decade ago the younger people in the class had great difficulty in spelling and even more in writing a business letter. They just didn’t seem to have the vocabulary for it or know how to construct a sentence, possibly because they don’t write full words or full sentences in text messages. As for history, I’m sure that it is not taught which is a shame because I think you can learn a lot about the present from what happened in the past.
I’ll admit that I think that some things are better now. Classes are smaller, most of my classes right through school were 35 to 40 kids, sometimes more. Schools have better facilities, air conditioning and heating for instance and better equipment. Corporal punishment is a thing of the past. Honestly, I don’t think that hitting a child with a ruler will make them learn their tables faster. There were some really mean, sadistic teachers around in the sixties, I think for some Teacher’s College was where you went if you didn’t get into University. Some I met certainly did not like kids. On the other hand, I don’t think teachers get the respect that they once did from children or parents.
If so many young adults today can’t read, write, spell or do basic arithmetic how will the next generation cope? Although we have lots of technology we should not rely on that completely. If it all breaks down we need to be able to manage without it. I especially feel concerned that some young people are so unaware of historical events. There is so much fantasy on social media that without knowledge of the facts there will be no way for them to know what is real and what isn’t anymore.
I have not written an update for a day or two as I am now staying with friends near Hobart quite some distance from the bushfires.
In the Huon Valley, the situation is as bad as ever though. There has been no let up in the hot weather and fires are creeping closer and closer to the townships of Geeveston, Port Huon, Castle Forbes Bay, and Franklin as well as Glen Huon and Judbury and threatening some other places further south. All of my friends in the Huon have relocated thank goodness and we are all now just waiting for this to be over so we can go home and see what is left. So far I believe my house is OK but I worry for friends who live in more rural properties closer to the bush.
I’ve always been proud of the fact that the community here is very caring and in most cases this crises has brought out the best in people, first and foremost the volunteer firefighters but also those people who are volunteering at the evacuation centre, cooking for the evacuees and the firies and those who helped people relocate their animals to safer places until it became too dangerous to drive south to get them.
I also know of many people who have taken in not only friends and family but anyone who needed somewhere to go. One of my friends has three families staying with her and she is making food to send to the evacuations centre.
I also know of people who have taken on the care of any remaining animals for friends and neighbours. At times like this social media is at it’s best helping to connect people and providing information although of course, it can also be a hotbed of rumours, you have to be careful what information you take notice of.
Sadly there are a few lowlifes about who will take advantage of the situation but with so few people left in the area, neighbours are quick to notice anyone behaving suspiciously and report it.
No new pictures from me today. Just another reminder of what a lovely place the Huon Valley is.
A lot has happened since I wrote my update yesterday. On Sunday afternoon the winds picked up and in the early evening, the area where I was staying with friends was put on emergency alert as well.
It was unpleasantly smoky. My friends decided that we should go somewhere safer for the night. We piled into two vehicles with three dogs, Polly in her carrier, suitcases, and a heap of blankets and pillows and drove down to the foreshore at Franklin. It was not as windy or as smoky there and we had some fish and chips from a local shop before settling in for the night.
I have to say it was not the pleasantest night I’ve experienced. Cindy has been very upset and clingy since we left home. If she is not with me she cries. Each of us settled on a seat with a dog beside us and tried to sleep a bit. It was windy in the night and Cindy was restless. I had to get up once and get her some water but after that, she went to sleep.
At dawn, I got up to give her some fresh air, also Polly who was squeezed into the back with the luggage. She didn’t sound too happy and as I didn’t dare take her out of her cage I put the back up so she could at least get some fresh air. Under other circumstances, I would have been happy to be on the river at dawn as all the ducks woke up and a couple of swans drifted by with a flotilla of cygnets. My camera was buried somewhere in the car and my phone battery almost dead so no pictures I’m afraid.
From what we could find out the fire situation was no better but my friends decided to go back to their house for a few forgotten items. It was even smokier and I was frankly not that happy about returning to the house. As we discussed various accommodation options available to us I said that I would call my friends Matt and Ally to see if I could go to their place. They had offered to have me earlier in the week but I wasn’t able to get a ride out of Geeveston then.
I was very relieved that they were happy to come all the way to Huonville to fetch me and my friends drove me there about an hour later. I was very relieved to be on my way but worried about my friends who were talking about staying on at their home. I was very relieved when I sent them a message later in the day to hear that they had left to stay with a friend outside the Huon Valley.
This evening the situation in the Huon is still very bad. Geeveston was evacuated this afternoon and later police door-knocked in Port Huon to tell people to leave. At this stage, I don’t know if I will have a house to go home to but I’m safe, my pets are safe and all my friends made it to safer places even though I feel some of them left it too long to go. It’s also good to know that up to this point no lives have been lost. Let’s hope it stays that way.
As I have no new photos to share here are some favourite photos of Geeveston, Port Huon and Franklin.
Those of you who have read my last couple of posts may be wondering how things are going down here in Geeveston.
Since I last wrote the bushfires have increased in size and number dramatically. As I write this just one fire, on the central plateau in the middle of the state has over 40,000 hectares burning. If you want to try and visualise that, a standard sportsfield is 1 hectare. The three major areas of the fires are the west coast, central plateau and down here in the southwest. On Friday that fire moved perilously close to Geeveston. Quite a lot of my local friends who live on properties on the outskirts of town elected to leave for safer places. An evacuation centre has been set up in Huonville and some people have gone there. Others are staying with friends or family elsewhere. The town has not been evacuated but the Tasmanian Fire Service (TFS) said that the conditions were so severe that if homes were threatened they would not be defendable in the conditions we had. The townships of Geeveston, Port Huon, Castle Forbes Bay, and Waterloo were put on Emergency status.
My house is on the Port Huon side of Geeveston and not directly in the path of the fires but there was considerable danger from embers blown ahead of the main fires. It’s a weatherboard house and there is no way that I would be physically fit enough to defend it and of course, I don’t have a car.
Yesterday morning some friends who live in Franklin came and collected me, Cindy and Polly and we are staying with them until the situation settles down. Last night things were a little calmer and the fire alert for Geeveston had been downgraded to watch and act status. However, despite some showers overnight the weather is still hazardous. As I was writing this we noticed that the smoke looked thicker and we heard on the radio that the fire had changed directions and was heading towards the townships of Glen Huon, Judbury and Lonnavale. Those towns are now on Emergency status.
Even here at Franklin which is 10km from Geeveston, it is quite smoky and bits of burned leaves and bark have been falling. Here is a sample of what has been dropping on my friends’ garden. We are fine but the subject of “If we had to leave, what would you take?” is under discussion.