I’ve just come back from Tasmania, my home country. Today is 50 years since the 1967 bushfires, which devastated southern Tasmania. More than 60 people died. The Huon and Channel were also devastated and the town of Snug ravaged, leaving many dead. The fires raged so hard in the foothills of Mt Wellington that authorities contemplated setting off a line of explosives across West Hobart to stop them penetrating into the CBD.
Big fires leave scars. I wrote this in 2015, in an essay I contributed to Dee Michell, JZ Wilson and Verity Archer’s Bread and Roses: Voices of Australian Academics from the Working Class:
We arrived in 1974, at a time when there was little reason to hope in the valley. At intervals in the green rolling hills you could see ash-coloured chimneys, twirled with sheets of whitened corrugated iron and bed springs, marking places where people had lived before the 1967 bushfires, but were too scared or dead to return and clean up. The deaths spooked me as a kid. Tales of people who had hidden in water tanks and boiled had a horrible relevance when you heard that the fires had touched the very corner of your new bedroom. It is only as an adult that I’ve come to appreciate the economic loss that went with those other, profound losses.
There’s a Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery exhibition on at the moment that talks about it, and some brilliant ABC Tasmania and LINC photo galleries that really show how awful it was. As climate change intensifies, we could all face this. I really hope we don’t.