A Black Saturday Warning Revisited


On 7 February 2009 – Black Saturday* – I was working in my shop at Swifts Creek until late afternoon and aware, via ABC local radio, of the horrendous bushfires sweeping the state. The day was very hot so, after work, I stopped in at the local for a coldie. But the six o’clock news on the pub tele gave me a shock and I knew that the burnt out cars being screened held the remains of those who had attempted to flee the fires. I shed a tear, finished my beer, and left as I found the images so disturbing.

About a week later, in collaboration with life-long friend Andrew Gunner**, a letter was penned to the Age*** on our bushfire history in the context of a warming planet and Black Saturday. Andrew recently recovered the letter and forwarded it to me. He wrote that it was a “bit of a shock to see this – because I was late in learning about climate change – and yet this is 11 years ago.”

Our final version of 24.2.09 to the Melbourne Age read as follows:

“Dear Sir,

In the 174 years since white settlement in Victoria, we have had 7 terrible fire seasons: 1851, 1898, 1939, 1983, 2003, 2006-7 and 2009. The shock is that 3 of these 7 fires have been in the most recent 7 summers. We are seeing frightening predictions about global warming confirmed: a rapid escalation of extreme and frequent fire, drought and floods. The CSIRO began warning us about this 20 years ago! It seems that these devastating fires are part of Victoria’s new climate. Energy companies, climate change sceptics and governments, including the Rudd and Brumby governments, continue to resist strong action to curb escalating climate change. Unfortunately, their resistance will worsen our long, dry, hot spells, and set up more terrible fire seasons – even as these politicians hug survivors and promise to rebuild. Urgent action is required now.

Andrew Gunner, Brunswick and Peter Gardner, Ensay Victoria”

Since then we have had one La Nina event in 2011-12 (and are currently experiencing another). From 2012 on we had only average or dry years, building up to a hot and dry 2019 fire season and our ‘black summer’. As Tim Flannery says in The Climate Cure (review to follow) we are entering the age of the ‘megafire’ of which 2019-20 is just the beginning. Tim noted how the “smoke was ubiquitous and inescapable…It insinuated itself into our houses – there was no way to keep it out. Opening the front door and being confronted with its intensity became a daily reminder that something had gone dreadfully wrong with the lucky country.”

Welcome to the Anthropocene or perhaps the Pyrocene. Urgent action is required now more than ever.

* It is a coincidence this blog appears on the 12th anniversary.

**Andrew has been a climate activist since about 2008. His website is here. Lately he has been concentrating on the good news of Australia as a renewable energy superpower.

***the letter was not published.