chapter  1
Between Three Fires
Pages 19

Saturday, 7 February 2009, was a sweltering hot day on the New South Wales Southern Tablelands in Australia. Even at eight o’clock in the morning as I drove through the farm gates to the property of the couple I was to interview, the weather felt oppressive. The air had already started to shimmer with heat. I remember wondering if I should have informed the local bushfi re brigade that I was in the vicinity in case they needed an extra pair of hands over the weekend. I also felt relieved that I had only managed to line up one interview that day, as the heat was numbing. As the interview progressed the conversation wandered onto politics, feminism, and the need for wildfi re risk engagement initiatives specifi cally targeting women. It was a heartfelt conversation that laid bare honest feelings of frustration and fear towards wildfi re management issues. Four years later the passionate voice of the woman is as vivid in my mind’s ear as if the interview had taken place yesterday. Upon hearing that funds had not been secured to expand an innovative and successful trial of training courses specifi cally targeting women’s bushfi re preparedness in South Australia, Nicola,1 a public servant, exclaimed:

I’m not surprised. It probably occurred more directly, more immediately after the last batch of bushfi res. The money dries up. The sympathy, emphasis and focus go to “Oh no, we’re running out of electricity, water and something other much more urgent”—whatever the newspaper headline is for the day. Give me an immediate political response! We always call it “The Daily Telegraph moment of truth”.2 What’s the driver behind this according to The Daily Telegraph? Is this a policy announcement in response to The Daily Telegraph? Are we amending a policy in response to The Daily Telegraph? Or how will this policy be read by The Daily Telegraph? Because that is Australia: public, general. . . . What we need is a couple of women and children burnt to death in the next bushfi re. I’m so sorry but it’s the tragic truth! We need the picture of the woman running down the road with kangaroos fl eeing with her, hair on fi re, for it to be that Daily Telegraph

policy. “Women abandoned!!!” Unfortunately it’s an incredible driver of policy here because we have no commitment politically to the long term. (♀ NSW Feb. 2009)

Little did Nicola know that as she was telling this politically motivated tale, this worst-case scenario was actually unfolding that very moment seven hundred odd kilometres to the southwest in the green ranges that constitute the wildland-urban interface that surrounds Melbourne, Victoria. We were blissfully unaware of this natural disaster, as the property had no mobile or television reception. I returned to the bush cabin where I was staying to fi nd the news reporting a suspected death toll of forty plus. By the end of the “Black Saturday” ordeal (as the Victorian bushfi res of February 2009 came to be known) the extent of the death and destruction had reached historical and tragic proportions. Australia was yet again licking its burn wounds.