Sunday 6 January 2013

Sometimes an unlucky country

And while I was playing wildlife photographer on the back deck, thanking heavens for digital, across the Tasman poor old Tassie was burning up. I'm fond of Tasmania: it was my first assignment as a travel writer, and though I've been back twice since, it's still somewhere that most Kiwis haven't thought of going. (Not a great recommendation for my professional efficacy, come to think of it. Shhh, don't tell Tourism Tasmania.)

It's a lovely place, with a fascinating, if rather dark, history, striking and varied scenery, pretty little stone-built towns, wonderful wildlife and really quite amazingly good food and wine. The rest of Australia has traditionally curled its lip at Tassie as being a bit backward, red-neck and chilly, but in recent years they've been discovering what a huge mistake that's been - and certainly over the last few weeks 'chilly' is far from true. Hobart recorded its highest ever temperature on Friday, 41.8, which is hot by anyone's standards. Baked dry and crisp, it was inevitable that the state would burn and so it has, trapping people at the Port Arthur penitentiary, destroying homes, threatening towns...

That is the trouble with Australia: it has such an unforgivingly harsh climate, and bush fires are part of that. I was astonished on that first trip to drive through a forest where bright flames were leaping up under the trees and two firemen were just leaning on their truck watching. Then I learned about controlled burns - 'cool burns' - that are used throughout the country to keep the undergrowth in check so that when fires do occur, they don't turn into conflagrations. Well, that's the theory; it doesn't allow for extreme heat-waves, hot dry winds, tinder-dry vegetation and the evil of arsonists. They're very worried over there right now, in Tasmania and South Australia and Victoria. I'm worried too.

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