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