16 January 2020, The Tablet

Hellfires up the ante in Australia

Hellfires up the ante in Australia

Images were projected on the sails of the Sydney Opera House on Saturday in tribute to the work of firefighters
PA/AAP, Paul Braven


More than a hundred fires are still burning across Australia, and the heavy rains forecast for this week are unlikely to end an environmental and human tragedy. A historian assesses a catastrophe that is causing Australians to reconsider their attitudes to climate change

An army medical doctor, my grandfather Gordon Brodie, survived Japan’s bombing of the Australian city of Darwin in February 1942. I often heard Grampy talking of this traumatic event, and he was delighted when I used his experience as a narrative device for telling the story of Australia during the Second World War in my first commercially successful book, Kin. He kept his copy bookmarked to his own section, so that he could point out to visitors his place in Australia’s history.

As Christmas 2019 approached, 105-year-old Grampy lived in a nursing home in Wollondilly Shire, a little south-west of greater Sydney. I had hoped to visit him over Christmas. But there were major bush fires in the area, so I knew that access might be difficult. The 2019 fire season had already been one of Australia’s worst, with multiple blazes raging since September. But the unprecedented seriousness of the crisis struck me when I noticed an alert had been issued for the large Green Wattle Creek fire, burning not far from Grampy. Dry and windy conditions were blasting it towards population centres, including his nursing home.

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