chapter  2
The Gendered Dimensions of Wildfi re
Pages 21

The weather that awaited me at the break of dawn in Kangaroo Valley (Map 2) one Saturday in late November 2008 was anything but summery. The sky was ominously grey. Fitful bouts of heavy rain driven by a ferocious wind hit me in the face. A wind so fi erce it took my breath away both literally and metaphorically. The twenty-fi ve thousand hectares that make up Kangaroo Valley are fl anked by high sandstone escarpments, much of which fall within the boundaries of the national parks and nature reserves of the northern region of the Shoalhaven in New South Wales. It is a valley of outstanding natural beauty and the National Trust of Australia declared Kangaroo Valley a “Scenic Protected Area” in 1977 (Griffi th 2004). The particulars of this natural beauty, however, were cause for concern this November day. The ‘rich green pastures, the sparkling creeks and rivers and the lush rainforest’ which normally provide the Valley with ‘invigorative and recuperative powers’ according to the Kangaroo Valley Tourism Association (2010) were this morning being transformed into upturned trees, crashing branches on roads, and creeks and rivers spilling over causeways. It made the narrow roads and dirt tracks that lead to the furthest corners of the Valley even more precarious than usual. Turning off the bitumen road, I crossed a low, narrow bridge over a gushing creek before reaching the dirt track that would lead me to the holiday property of a couple from Sydney. Greeting me in his work clothes, brow sweaty from pulling out non-native weeds, Zac led the way to the kitchen whilst apologising for the absence of his wife who had gone back to Sydney that morning. “She was here all yesterday. It was a lovely day yesterday but she hates the winds. She’s always worried about all the trees coming down on the house and everybody”. He later elaborated on this point: “Marie went off because of the wind but you see, you can look up the dale here and in the evening you get the sunset on the far end. You get rainbows ahead in the Valley. So physically it’s just a very beautiful place to be and I don’t fi nd it at all threatening”. Hidden in Zac’s explanation of Marie’s absence-their diff erent opinions of the wind, his sentiment of the wind as part of a non-threatening whole-is

an undercurrent of gendered norms. These gendered norms tend to structure women’s and men’s levels of risk tolerance and behaviour in ways that negate the otherwise changing social circumstances in places where rural and urban lifestyles intermix.