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Send My Conscience Home in a Taxi

Externalised Memory

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The Fires
Einstürzende Neubauten
It's been a frightening few days here in Victoria.

Although also strangely mundane and surreal here in Northcote. Less that twenty kilometres north west of here, some forty minutes drive, a massive massive fire has literally raised a couple of towns.

Saturday was the hottest day I can remember, it was like being in a oven. I didn't spend much time outside, sensibly, but in parts of the city it hit 46.4 degrees Celsius (that's 115.52ºF!) There was a hot north wind that whipped into your face, and the sky was a dirty browny-grey. It wasn't like Ash Wednesday back in 1983, which I dimly remember, when there was ash falling from the blackened sky even at my suburban primary school, but it was still fairly apocalyptic.

I knew there were fires burning, but I had no idea how bad they were until I got home much later in the evening, and started reading the news. There'd been a massive firestorm through Kinglake and surrounds.

And I know that part of the world. For more than twenty years my aunt and various of my cousins lived out there, in a tiny hamlet called Strathewen. Until literally a couple of years ago. A beautiful spot. My aunt now lives a few kilometres up the road from here. Where all she has to contend with is burglars! She had a beautiful house, half way up a hill, backing on to the Kinglake National Park. Literally, she was on a hill, I think she owned up to the ridge, and beyond that was national park. And her side of the hill was heavily forested.

Every year around September she would start to worry sick about fires. So we'd all be summoned out there to clear brush, cut grass and even burn off patches of grass. She had an excellent set up, up the hill from her place were two small dams with two petrol powered water pumps. There were sprinklers on her roof and piping running water across the roof as well. And the house was made from mud brick and solid bridge timbers. And there were no trees anywhere near her place. Plus lots of fire hoses and portable fire equipment.

Even so, she was terrified that a real fire would one day come racing down out of the national park and destroy everything in their tiny valley. She also frightened because she was at the end of a dead end road - there was only one way out.

Anyway, this is what happened on Saturday. The town is basically gone. They estimate that roughly thirty people have died there - they don't know for sure yet, they have to search every single house.

This is what is left of Strathewen Primary School:
burnt school
The rest of the town is not much better off.

There is a really frightening video attached to this story on the Age website (where I borrowed this picture from.) I looked to see if I recognised anything, but it's all black and hard to place.

I have no idea if the old Johanson home is still standing, although I doubt it. I do know my Aunt - who is in Cambodia on holiday at the moment - has lost at least two people that she knows.

So, I urge you all to go to The Red Cross and make a donation. The nearby town of Kinglake was also all but destroyed, and the death toll is something like 131 at the time of writing. It's all just a bit overwhelming!
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