(Canberra under bushfire attack in 2003)
Already in some parts of Australia there have been bushfires burning; and on the mainland of our continent, unseasonally early heatwaves have struck, presaging a frighteningly long, hot and dangerous summer.
For example, Justin told me that Melbourne's been sweltering - they've had five days in succession over 30°C - and in country Victoria the story is even worse. As for Adelaide, capital of the driest State of the Commonwealth, records have already been broken: in November, six days in a row over 35°C (with two more forecast), including four - soon to be six - over 38°C! What will January and February be like?
Here in Tasmania, as in Victoria and elsewhere, we've had a very cool and very wet winter: but this bodes ill, for the verdant vegetation everywhere apparent will brown off and dry to tinder and kindling by the height of summer. It was a set of seasons uncannily similar that led to the terrible 1967 bushfires in this island State...
I live in a comfortable house with a large garden on a hill overlooking Launceston below - a city ringed by treed hills. The bush begins at the end of my street, where land drops away into the Cataract Gorge, and trails just behind the row of houses on the upper side of our roadway. At night, one sees wallabies and pademelons jumping out of neighbours' gardens as they return from an evening snack; and ditto for the peacocks that live wild in the Gorge; walking home a few weeks ago I saw an echidna - we are on the edge of the wild.
Now, fires don't burn downhill as much as they do uphill, but still the thought of such a roasting cataclysm freezes my blood. This is a heavily vegetated suburb: God help us if a we have another recordbreaking summer's day, scorching dry with high wind, and a crown fire spreads through the State Recreation Area just over the brow of Trevallyn hill. I think of my elderly father, who is slowmoving, and easily disoriented and confused... as a family, we have already decided he must be taken somewhere safe if bushfire weather threatens.
Over in Victoria, particularly in the Dandenongs on Melbourne's northeastern outskirts, but also along the Great Ocean Road far to the southwest, there are now large numbers of "tree-changers", folks who have homes high in the hills among the stands of Eucalypts, which are notoriously fireprone, almost flammigerous. After Black Saturday's horrors in February this year, when 173 men, women and children perished, most people have abandoned plans to stay and defend their properties, and plan to evacuate if bushfires threaten. But the fear now is, as to-day's Herald Sun reports, that the winding roads in and out of so many small communities would be bottlenecks, and could be death-traps, if people leave leaving too late. Many places, like doomed Marysville, have only one road connecting them to safety.
Pray against bushfires - pray as the Spirit inspires; and take care, as seems good, to invoke the aid of the Ever-Virgin Mother of God: the wonderworking image of Our Lady of Good Counsel, kept at New Norcia, saved that monastery from fiery ruin back in 1847. Consider also the words of the prophet Joel (i, 19 - ii, 10), which seem grimly apposite.
And the Lord hath uttered his voice before the face of his army: for his armies are exceeding great, for they are strong and execute his word: for the day of the Lord is great and very terrible: and who can stand it?Joel ii, 11