Written 2 August, 2020.
In the world, there are 686,947 virus deaths reported. Many countries are having a second wave, including greece which had initially done so well, taking advice from its medical experts. Melbourne is going through a second wave – and today announces a Stage Four lockdown, with curfews and mandatory mask wearing, so they’ll be living through this terror again. Melbourne hospitals are getting to breaking point. New NSW cases are still increasing by double digits every day, and the terror is creeping closer to Darlinghurst. Liberal MP Craig Kelly says that Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews could be put in jail for 25 years for banning the drug hydroxochloroquine, even though it’s been discredited by the world’s scientists as a cure. I wonder if he knows that, or even knows its side-effects, one of which is to madden the patient. It so happens we have a bottle of the stuff, prescribed for K by her doctor when she had chronic fatigue. We actually had a second bottle but long ago when I persuaded K to try it, it speeded her up her so much, she threw it, bottle and all, into the bush. It’s now somewhere amongst the leaf litter and ferns.
In our little bay, we distract ourselves about more mundane but not terrifying things, such as whether the power will hold through the icy nights that need electric blankets. Not to mention whether the fire in the pot belly will stay alight. Now we’re also worrying about bushfires, because the permitted burning off season is half-way through. These matters are at the moment, comfortably grounding, distracting and we can at least take some action, now.
Though if you live in the bush, fire is terrifying. In my bush childhood, my first memory is fire. The tanks were dry, the one fire engine was on the other side of the town, and all my Dad had was damp hessian bags. The flames are an eye-scorching wall, higher than the trees. The noise is deafening. In the image in my memory, my mum and my older brothers are running down the far hill and my Dad, scarcely able to look around, scarcely able to shout above the din, that I’m to run with them. But I’m holding onto the doll’s pram handles, my four dolls peacefully asleep, and I refuse because I want to die with Dad. Then the wind whips the fire away in a wild whirl, and we live.
Last summer, the huge Gospers Mountain fire raged, and we waited in terror for a spark to ignite us. I must’ve looked at the app “Fires Near Me” a hundred times a day. One night, it was 30 km away- 30 km is nothing in bushland- the tide was a point one at 2 in the morning. GG loves his sleep. My plan was to drag him down the 42 steps and onto the jetty, perhaps with it burning behind us. (Think Road Runner- small figure racing down a jetty dragging large man as prone as a stick with heels rattling along the jetty boards, flames leaping behind us).
Then, I swore that we’d join the local RFS.
Three years ago, the local RFS hacked and burned a fire trail behind all our houses when they did a big blackburn that got out of hand- but that’s another story. We survived.
So, the nearest RFS meeting, 10 minutes boat trip away, is at Milson’s Passage on the first Sunday of each month. i invite Dy and S, who’s in Sydney. But to our delight, he’s there. Dy, S, GG and i arrive, all masked, just in time for the sausage sizzle. I accidentally lean forward to shake the District officer’s hand when we’re introduced, as if i’ve learned nothing all these months. Everyone shouts out for me to stop. I reel back, horrified- what’s wrong with my head? We try to keep socially distanced as we’re welcomed and fed and told if there’s 6 of us in the bay who are interested, we can become a “chapter” of theirs, with help, training, equipment and blue and yellow uniforms. S and I agree wickedly that blue and yellow is much more alluring than the all-yellow uniforms of the leaders. He always has a sense of fun.
Then someone remembers the fire trail. Have we maintained it? It’s vital we do. It’s a metre wide, apparently enough to deter a fire. My heart thuds for the second time. After their huge effort, I haven’t maintained our bit of that fire trail at all. A lot of people are new, and have arrived since that back burn. I haven’t thought to tell them about the trail.
At home, Dy calls on his mobile, asking him if I can come and show it to him. he’s at the back, bring to find it. I at least can do that, but I’m ashamed that while it’s still a visible trail behind our place, it’s knee-deep and slippery with cesaurina needles. We actually lose it as it climbs over a rock-face. We walk both ways, to both ends of the bay. The trail sometimes becomes a road you can stroll along, dwindles to a goat track, becomes invisible, is an obstacle course of vines, fallen rocks and fallen trees, and huge logs. At one stage, a wall of lantana.
I write an email to everyone, gently explaining this, asking who’s interested in becoming a chapter, telling them what I should’ve told them when they first came about the fire trail and saying that we’ll have to help each other clear it because it’s in all our interests that it’s kept clear.
I wait. it’s easier to think about a distant fire, than to think about an invisible virus that’s all around us.