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Jan 7, 2013

A baptism of bushfire for young Tassie reporters

Tasmania usually only makes the headlines because of environmentalists wanting to save trees. Now firefighters battling dangerous bushfires in the island state are in spotlight, reports Bruce Montgomery in Hobart.


There is a sense of unreality about the Tasmanian bushfires. For those of us who live in urban Hobart, the scenes of despair and devastation are just 45 minutes’ drive away yet they seem to be a world removed. Only the smoke haze that blankets Hobart this morning, the occasional siren in the distance and helicopters overhead remind us of the desperate plight of many just a few hills away.

I ring a friend on a farm up towards the bushfire at Lake Repulse and he chastises me for always ringing on the hour, when he’s trying to listen to ABC news on the radio. So I text instead, but he doesn’t reply. You can’t win.

We awoke this morning to the (ABC) news that 100 people are missing, only later to find out that they are people unaccounted for rather than presumed dead. The local ABC has been heroic in its role as the emergency radio station, though one senses overkill with the same messages repeated time and time again and the seeming inability of some announcers to minimise their contribution.

Its largely young contingent of reporters have had a true baptism of fire. They have outshone their print media counterparts. However, the shock horror story of 100 people missing was unduly alarmist and takes one back to the 1967 bushfires here when a Scottish newspaper reported the whole island had been evacuated by submarine. On the other hand, the ABC offers you footage of a little girl going up to a road block with icy poles to help the firefighters cool down. Her mother does all the talking. Please, is that really news?

Tasmania usually makes the national headlines these days from the antics of people who want to save trees. They become invisible when the people who really try to save trees, volunteer firefighters, are out there risking their lives to try to subdue bushfires.

Tasmania has a massive potential disaster on its hands because of forest reserves that are not allowed to be managed for such things as bushfires, pests and weeds. If you cannot construct firebreaks and remove flammable material in the understorey, there is an inferno waiting to happen.

Meanwhile, Premier Lara Giddings flies back into the state today from London, having missed most of the action.

*Bruce Montgomery is a former journalist with The Australian and a former communications manager with the Tasmanian Forests and Forest Industry Council


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26 thoughts on “A baptism of bushfire for young Tassie reporters

  1. Mike Flanagan

    It is pretty obvious the author of the above piece of nonsense has never got closer than a phone to a bush fire let alone learnt how to use a fire rake.
    His underlyig logic is, nothing should be built or preserved that might be flammable.
    You can do much better than create work for the redundand Murdochracy, Crikey.
    Their previous work has not showered accolades on the profession.

  2. FSN

    ‘antics’? ‘people who REALLY try to save trees’? There’s so much bias in this purported piece of journalism there’s not a bulldozer big enough to push it out of the way.

    I certainly don’t subscribe to Crikey for this kind of lazy work – give the guy an opinion piece if it’s worth pushing this viewpoint, but I’m troubled that on one of the few quality news outlets we have in Australia that something presented as a news story has this kind of persuasive language beaded through it.

  3. Simon

    I am yet to read a single piece of any worth whatsoever written by Montgomery, but this is even worse than his usual fare, bringing downright offensive factual inaccuracies and insults into the usual bad writing and poor research. The Greens have long supported fuel reduction burns, including in national parks – as reconfirmed by state Greens leader Nick McKim in a release just this morning, which Montgomery has either conveniently ignored or been too lazy to check.

    Surely if this is the best Tasmanian “journalism” Crikey can find they would be better off only covering the north island of Australia.

  4. Tim Hollo

    I’m glad Crikey is covering the tragic Tassie fires, but given that Montgomery’s piece is your first foray into it, it is critical for credibility that you immediately append a correction.

    The sentence on protesters not helping out is incorrect and offensive, but I’m not going to go to the bother of getting you names and numbers of people who are doing so. More importantly, however, is this absolute howler:

    “Tasmania has a massive potential disaster on its hands because of forest reserves that are not allowed to be managed for such things as bushfires, pests and weeds. If you cannot construct firebreaks and remove flammable material in the understorey, there is an inferno waiting to happen.”

    Tasmania does not have any “forest reserves that are not allowed to be managed for such things as bushfires, pests and weeds.” Tasmania’s reserves are managed by either Forestry Tasmania or Parks and Wildlife, depending on the reserve. Both types are managed for fire, pests and weeds. Certainly they need more resources to be better managed, and the Greens, including Christine Milne and Nick McKim, have been at the forefront of calling for increased funding. In fact, Nick achieved a $16 million boost to funding in the first budget of this power-sharing term, I understand.

    Montgomery is welcome to his opinion, but Crikey should not allow him to be welcome to his own facts.

  5. David Eldridge

    Is this journalism? He heard there is a bushfire so he took the opportunity to conflate it with reactionary, outdated opinion about forest management. Lets have some articles about bushfires, biodiversity, natural ecosystems, global warming, but not puff pieces for ex-forestry industry apparatchiks. Thank you though for the disclaimer.

  6. paddy

    Oh dear, one of those occasional articles in Crikey, where the comments section contains more *real* journalism than the original piece. (At least there was a disclaimer about the author.)
    Thanks for the info in the comments.

  7. Cleo

    Sloppy journalism, Mr Montgomery. You should be aware that as the nominated emergency broadcaster, the ABC is required to regularly broadcast FACTUAL information supplied by the emergency services. This may seem repetitive and boring to some, but it is vital information for others. The purpose is to inform, not to entertain.

    Also, the inaccurate reports re 100 possible casualties came first from your old rag, the Mercury. A New Ltd publication.

  8. Waste of Time

    Soon as they become visible again let’s get those greenies and hang up from lamp posts hey?

  9. SusieQ

    Well now, this article is a load of tosh for sure (snide one of my friends called it), but Crikey would be a pretty boring place if it published articles we all agreed with. (oh, and I thought the icy pole story was sweet, so there).
    How can he take the Premier to task for ‘missing most of the action’? Are our politicians expected to never leave the state/country in case something awful happens???

  10. Philip Cocker

    This article is a cheap and nasty shot which is beneath it’s author. I refuse to address the points at this time but to point score of the back of the misery of these events whilst they are still occurring is a truly unfortunate form of journalism and not worthy of crikey.

  11. mattsui

    Yep, what they said.
    First day back for the year – not much happening on the Canberra front. Gotta find SOMETHING to put in the daily wrap.
    At least now there’ll be plenty of fodder for tomorrow’s comments section…

  12. zut alors

    In my opinion Lara Giddings returned fairly promptly ‘having missed most of the action’.

    This is feeble stuff, Crikey. Either cover the bushfires with intelligent journalism otherwise pretend it’s not happening. Cursory doesn’t cut it.

  13. Kevin Herbert

    Memo Monty:

    I’ll always admire you..no matter what you write!!!!

  14. charlesmaddison

    What a snarky little piece from Mr Montgomery!

    I’m not sure where to start. So few words from him, so many objections from me.

    First: yes, it IS news for TV when the image is effective / cute / eye-candy to set against drama and tragedy unfoldeing elsewhere in the bulletin. The fact that Mum provides the sound is probably a combination of the supposed inexperience of the ABC reporters he otherwise praises so generously, and the annual summer-silliness that creates yawning gaps for anything that will run.

    But as a former journalist and PR manager, Mr Montgomery would no doubt have incorporated those factors in his initial analysis.

    Second (and I’ll finish with this, as it’s my most important point): Mr Montgomerey’s scarily simplistic approach to bushfire prevention suggests it’s all the greenies’ fault that bushfires get out of control, and that a few firebreaks might sort it all out.

    Dangerously, he omits to mention:

    – the critical but imprecise role played by preventive burns managed ahead of season by bushfire experts,

    – confusing and hotly contested regulations about native vegetation clearance, and

    – the impact on extreme weather events – including bushfires – that climate change seems to have delivered; including long, dry months after two consecutive wet summers, when fuel accumulated from the reinvigorated vegetation then dried out to create the proverbial tinderbox that’s underfoot across Australia today (if it’s not already burning).

    I offer these comments as a former journalist and former media manager for SA’s Environment Department, which has responsibility for preventing and managing bushfire outbreaks on vast tracts of public land.

  15. Mark Duffett

    Actually being a regular listener to ABC local radio in Hobart (can any of the correspondents above other than Philip Cocker say the same?), for mine Montgomery’s comment about emergency announcement overkill is spot on. They could be a lot more concise and still convey critical information with reasonable frequency.

  16. Andrew Dolt

    Crikey, it is bad enough when Crikey allows Tamas Calderwood to romp all through the comments section decorating articles on climate change with uninformed deceptive horsepoop. Now Crikey is allowing similar steaming piles of one-sided opinion to masquerade as actual articles. Did you pay for this dopey doodoo? Why, Crikey, why?

  17. Mark Cashion

    “Tasmania has a massive potential disaster on its hands because of forest reserves that are not allowed to be managed for such things …”

    Examining the current fires reveals that Forcett, Dunalley and Forestier Peninsula fire started and spread through private land and managed (actively logged) forests; the Bicheno fire is on private land and state forest, which was logged and managed, and the Repulse fire has been contained to pine and eucalyptus plantations. To my knowledge, none of the current, highly destructive fires have been on reserves (i.e. high conservation area’s) where management is “not allowed”.

    Consequently, the facts show that Montgomery’s opinion is a highly inaccurate and misleading. I would ask “young Tassie reporters” to adopt a secular approach and examine this for what it is. A lesson in inaccurate and sloppy journalism, framed within bias and tainted opinion.

    I willingly entered into a contract with Crikey; I paid you a subscription and in return I expect you to provide me with independent, educated and enquiring journalism. That would include opinion, which is substantiated by facts. This piece fails that test.

  18. Simon de Little

    What a pathetic piece of ‘journalism’. People from all walks of life and political persuasion are fighting side by side to deal with the tragedy. It has nothing to do with politics and anyone who tries to debase the issue in such a way is clearly out of touch with reality. I have been personally touched by the sense of community and stoicism that has been evident since the fires started. It makes me sick to read outsiders try to point fingers and play the blame game whilst this tragedy is still ongoing.

  19. Simon

    @Mark – yep, in fact the fire which good as wiped Dunalley off the map was pretty much entirely on private land. So not only are restrictions on burning off native forest completely imaginary, they’re also completely irrelevant.

  20. ulysses butterfly

    Pre emptive attack is the loggers modus operandi. But why? Guilty conscience? A whispering in their hearts?

    I was a witness to a parliamentary committee hearing in 1994 after 700 bushfires in NSW across all kinds of landscapes, urban and rural, representing the Wilderness Society in NSW. I was also called as a witness to the coronial inquiry but not even required to take the stand because there were no questions to answer.

    Loggers have been found proven in the Victorian Supreme Court in 2005 of illegally logging wet high humidity rainforest. Most people won’t understand this but old forest is wet, real wet. It doesn’t burn well even on hot days. But it will if it’s been dried out by logging.

    What I say with 20 years of looking at this issue and some academic experience is the loggers have sold the Australian public a lie and smear, as for decades they have dried out old wet forests often of hundreds of years provenance, and replaced them with dry schlerophyll regrowth across massive areas of landscape. Indeed ‘the management’ of loggers is surely the underlying basis of megafires – sometimes with a 20 to 50 year lead time. A creeping process easily hidden by ruthless politics and self interest. Those old wet forests in many cases were undisturbed for hundreds of years, but not anymore after industrial logging.

    Here is a logging industry expert explaining the process of bushfire risk after logging in their own words:

    “Planning Considerations
    Fire Risk
    One of the major planning constraints associated with thinning is the higher level of fuel present after the operations. It is not considered feasible in Tasmania to carry out fuel reduction burns in thinned coupes because of the high fuel loads and the sensitivity of the retained trees to fire. The location of thinned coupes amongst conventionally logged coupes is problematic, as it is not recommended that any regeneration burn take place within two kilometres of areas with high levels of flash fuel within two years of harvest (Cheney 1988).
    Tree crowns (heads), bark, and other harvest residue make up the fuel load. The climate on the floor of the forest is altered by thinning, with higher wind speeds and temperature, lower humidity, and lower moisture content in the fuel itself. Understorey vegetation characteristics change because of these changes to the microclimate, especially increased light. Bracken ferns and cutting grass may grow vigorously, each having a far higher flammability than the replaced woody species (Cheney and Gould 1991).”

    bushfire expert Phil Cheney in Forestry Tasmania (2001), Thinning Regrowth Eucalypts – Native Forest Silviculture Technical Bulletin No. 13 Second Edition, Forestry Tasmania.

    And here is what I want to hear form PM Gillard – a repudiation of her Victorian logger union mate Michael O’Connor – who was until late 2011 on the ALP national executive and who championed exactly this kind of logging in old wet forests within the ALP and union movement, let alone the bosses of the woodchip mills.

  21. macfie.n

    I would have thought that the child handing icy-poles to the firefighters highlights the human side of the story.
    And I don’t see how the swipe at environmentalists is relevant to the story. Taking an opportunity to denigrate an ideological opponent is pretty poor given the nature of the disaster at hand. I’m not sure there’s a ‘side’ to take here.

  22. Holden Back

    Oh dear, emergency warnings interrupted the flow of my morning! The reason they need to be repeated should be fairly obvious, and maybe the Tasman Peninsula is covered by ABC Hobart Local Radio?

    Having lived through the 2003 (which burnt for about six weeks in a huge circle around my property) and 2009 bushfires in NE Victoria, the ‘straight to opinion’ mode is familiar.

    These events actually show up the laziness and incompetence of many publications – for example it took the local paper 4 weeks in 2003 to print a map – in reporting fairly straightforward information. Straight to divisive ‘social comment’ or spurious assertions about prevention dressed up as objective fact.

  23. charlesmaddison

    Thanks for the info, ulysses butterfly.

    I hadn’t known about the wet old forests and fuel load danger created by thinning coupes. Another reason to oppose that wasteful business.

  24. John Bennetts

    Well, Crikey Editors, the above comments stream contains much more than the stupid article. It also indicates exactly what you need to keep doing if you really want to p_ss everybody off well and truly.

    As one writer stated, I very much hope that Crikey paid not a cent of its/my money to the author.

  25. iavens

    I disagree with Simon that Bruce Montgomery always writes trash. Occasionally some of his pieces make sense. The characterisation of Tasmania as some sort of Arcadia was well worth considering seriously (see: http://goo.gl/JLI1m ). This latest mental belch however is best consigned to some bitter and twisted waste basket. How does Mr. Montgomery know that no Greens are amongst the fire fighters? How dare he assert they aren’t! How should they otherwise be “visible”. How was Mr. Montgomery “visible” other than through this venom? Shame Bruce Montgomery, shame! Worthy of Hinch any day!

  26. mikeb

    This would have to be the worst piece of commentary I’ve read in crikey. Almost every single point Montgomery makes is either factually wrong or deliberately bent to be inflammatory (pun intended). Earlier respndents here have pointed out the errors so no need to go over them again. The final sentence is typical of the overall tone. Was it her fault she was in the UK when the fires started BM?

    … and was that comment by “Waste of Time” meant to be satirical? I can’t tell.


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