Wednesday, December 3, 2008


It was nearly midnight. I was deep in Julian Barnes "Nothing to be Frightened of" and writing words like 'uxorious' and 'shriving' in an old exercise book.

The house was still wide open, the air still. The sound of a siren took a while to jerk me to remember that I wasn't hearing what you always hear in inner Sydney, but I was hearing something I had never before heard down here, on the edge of the National Park, way down an unsealed bush road. Someone must be...the phone was H, from the nearest property. Her husband C has been called out with the reserves, they could see it, could I see it? The men can't even find their way in and that's why they were trying down our road to a fire-trail which slashes through our place. She'd stay in touch; C would let us know.

Yes, I saw it and was hypnotised for I don't know how long. Bush Fire. It was orange yellow and organic and no more than a kilometre across the gully, probably around our boundary, wherever that is, I don't know.

Everything had been rehearsed and the routine swung in. Fire-pump, water straight from the dam, big fat yellow hoses, roof sprinklers, baths filling, towels and blankets, dogs (where's that bloody young dog, there's ducks on the dam, she must be there) and now K is driving down. H is on the phone again, yes I know it is getting bigger, much bigger, yellow, can't really see smoke at night, it has to climb one small ridge then it is in the house gully...

All you can do is look at it and be thankful that the night was cool with little air movement and the ground still moist from recent rain. The trucks and the men must be there, I can see blue and red flashing lights. What about all the little animals? K is here now. We watch the front widening, actually moving down the gully, which at least is self-limiting. It is bigger, but seems to be moving away.

Now it is morning. There's smoke and two helicopters. One helicopter has a water bag on a very long rope and it seems that it does careful spot drops, the rope length letting him stay high about the draft. The other makes lower sweeping runs, spewing the water in giant yawning vomits. They'd be getting the water from the big dam on the other side of the town road, where they got it some years ago when two fire-fighters perished when a back-burn turned on them when the winds changed.

I rang next door and to my embarrassment woke C who had worked on the ground all night and had only been home since 6.30. I was worried about leaving and going up to the city, which sounded foolish and self-indulgent under the circumstances. I couldn't tell him it was Pinchgut. Off you go and don't you worry, it's all under control, he reassured, not a hint of tiredness in his voice.

The rural fire service, volunteers, people who live in the bush. It gets to you, you know.

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