But, like the clipped-back Cootamundra of Australia’s first Europeanised gardens, the national narrative surrounding bushfire is a contained one.
[Australians] accept that violence against women increased after earthquakes in Haiti and cyclones in Bangladesh, but nobody wants to hear that men who embody the spirit of resilient and heroic Australia are violent towards their families.
The aftermath of Black Saturday presents Australians with the opportunity to see how deeply embedded male privilege is, and how fragile are attempts to criminalise domestic violence.
It took 14 minutes for everything to burn through; perhaps the time it takes to enjoy a cup of almost-boiled coffee: beans roasted under sepia skies of somewhere else and enjoyed, quietly, on busy Brunswick streets.
Recognised as one of Australia’s worst recorded natural disasters, the fires that swallowed Christmas Hills’ Skyline Road make up the historical event that I have learned to remember casually as ‘That Saturday, Black—a While Back’.
It is easy for urban dwellers to categorise the outskirts of Melbourne as inhabitable, although these areas are increasingly becoming the only affordable option as inner-city housing prices rise.
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Increasingly dismissedand othered as ‘The Bush’—read: ‘live out there at your own risk’—many small communities on the city fringe are facing a growing threat from climate-caused firestorms, bigger and more unstoppable than ever.—the Age, 10 February 2009 bush overlooking the patchwork vineyards of the Yarra Valley, Christmas Hills is home to just 336—many of its residents avoiding Melbourne’s concrete courtyards, high cost of living and constant white-noise hum.A large group of the area’s inhabitants self-mockingly identify as ‘tree-changers’ while others—often less concerned about how they’re perceived—remain quiet: happy simply to exist.As so neatly stated in the Australian Journal of Emergency Management: The Black Saturday fires made it impossible for men to live up to society’s demands of their masculinity.Containing fireballs and controlling flames over 40 metres high was beyond human capacity.For the binary and order-obsessed West, the firestorms of Black Saturday represented a loss of colonial control.Sitting on my parents’ newly donated couch, post-fire, I remember being shocked by the media flurry following flame, working quickly to distract with the Aussie narrative of ash-smeared ‘hard-yakka’ blokes, along with Facebook-friendly images of thirsty koalas and bandage-pawed roos.As a woman, a while back is yet another qualifier to add to my repertoire of many: I’m okay, It’s okay, You’re okay.In a politically proud white Australia, it is still a woman’s unspoken job to make everything okay, especially in the aftermath of natural disaster—when things are very much not.Me—I was born into bush: the first 20 years of my life luckily spent among the long-abandoned pine plantations and 100-foot gums.It’s lush country, freezer fresh in winter yet cinnamon-dry for the summer months—the dust from unkempt gravel roads rising in plumes, ominous, along a now bushfire-scarred ridge.