Black Saturday Bushfire,10th Anniversary. Finding a Way to Memorialise.

Memorialisation takes on greater significance and more noble heights during milestone years. After one, five, ten, twenty- five years and so on, commemoration of significant events in history or in our personal lives is important to remember, celebrate, mourn or commiserate and in some instances, to learn. As Victorians begin February, they are being presented with an intensification of 10th anniversary events commemorating the Black Saturday Bushfires of February 7, 2009, the day that a firestorm of unseen proportions killed 173 people, destroyed over 2000 homes and left more than 6000 people homeless. These are the figures that scream the loudest. Further facts and figures reveal the impact on the whole State.¹

The commemorative events are many and will appeal to different sections of society: academic presentations at a symposium, a flurry of new documentaries and films, books, interviews, art and photography exhibitions, talks, church services, meetings, newspaper articles and many private commemorative get- togethers. Most of the fire survivors I know will avoid these events. I can’t help thinking that there is a considerable level of opportunism in the timing of some of these new books and films which deal with this national disaster.

One of my deepest residual psychological blocks from 2009 is the issue concerning those who overstepped the mark in terms of opportunism and lack of sensitivity. Within days of losing my house, the vultures were out – first came the tourists with cameras, but they were quickly dispelled thanks to the installation of road blocks soon after the fires. Then came the media, artists and photographers. Some behaved appallingly during those early days, eager as they were to cash in on the spectacular nature of the event and, in the process, make a name for themselves. During a time when people were mourning the loss of loved ones, or their homes, their way of life, the ‘recorders of bushfire’ were on a mission to get in early, at a time when the army was still scouring the hills for bones of the dead, when the helicopters above buzzed like a scene from Apocalypse Now, and when ancient eucalypt trees glowed red in slow death, the white ashen ground still hot.

Media journalists at the time lacked an ethical framework for dealing with a national disaster of this size.² They were simply told to go; get the scoop, the best story. Road barriers were often ignored, especially at night if unmanned: in the day time, fabricated identities were used to gain entry. Some behaved like paparazzi, while others, when faced with the enormity of human tragedy they witnessed, revealed respect, restraint and empathy in their reportage.

Now that ten years have passed, I need to purge this anxiety, a sort of PTSD, from my memory. That’s the plan. I did try to do this back in July 2009. I took up the offer of 10 free psychology sessions at a nearby clinic. I had a rather naive plan in place- the sessions would help remove all that adrenalin from my brain, which included this distaste for these bushfire vultures. I lasted only 3 sessions. I wanted to talk about fire issues: my anger at telcos, bureaucratic nightmares, the insensitivity of media: my psychologist was heading somewhere else. I lost faith in the process when I watched her eagerly jot down some notes after I mentioned the word ‘MOTHER’. Just another Freudian obsessed counsellor. I left, not in a huff, but with all my residual angst firmly intact.

I won’t be attending any major memorial events, I won’t be looking at any documentaries or films with bushfires roaring in the background: I have never watched any TV news or documentaries dealing with fire over the last ten years. Some of these blazing reports are now appearing on my Facebook feed: Facebook, everyone’s pocket TV. I won’t be sitting in the local hall watching the latest film offering, and I won’t be attending any art exhibitions portraying bushfire. No churches for me, no gatherings in silence with a cuppa. No trip up into the hills to see how my old bush block is recovering. But I do plan to do a few things on the day and during the following year. I will look out for an eagle in the sky. It was mighty Bunjil circling in the overheated and smoky sky who warned my dearest friend to leave her home on that day. I will also visit a local gathering in Hurstbridge, one being organised by Helen Legg, an amazing and dedicated volunteer who gave most of her days to assisting those who had been affected by bushfire for two years: a drink is on the agenda. I will give thanks, once again, to all those who assisted my family after that National Disaster. I also plan to read a lot more about fire. I’ll start with works by Stephen J Pyne.³ It’s time to learn from sources that are objective and well researched, especially as the reality of global warming makes wildfire more common around Australia and around the globe, in places that have never experienced them before.

Old man tree with tin and wire.

¹ Wikipedia Stats included in full here.

  • 450,000 ha (1,100,000 acres) burnt
  • 7,562 people displaced
  • Over 3,500 structures destroyed, including:
    • 2,029+ houses
    • 59 commercial properties (shops, pubs, service stations, golf clubs, etc.)
    • 12 community buildings (including 2 police stations, 3 schools, 3 churches, 1 fire station)
    • 399 machinery sheds, 363 hay sheds, 19 dairies, 26 woolsheds, 729 other farm buildings
  • Agricultural and horticultural losses:
    • Over 11,800 head of livestock,consisting of 2,150 sheep, 1,207 cattle, and an unknown number of horses, goats, alpacas, poultry, and pigs
    • 25,600 tonnes (25,200 long tons; 28,200 short tons) of stored fodder and grain
    • 32,000 tonnes (31,000 long tons; 35,000 short tons) of hay and silage
    • 190 ha (470 acres) of standing crops
    • 62,000 ha (150,000 acres) of pasture
    • 735 ha (1,820 acres) of fruit trees, olives and vines
    • Over 10,000 kilometres (6,200 mi) of boundary and internal fencing destroyed or damaged
    • 7,000 ha (17,000 acres) of plantation timber
  • 98,932 ha (244,470 acres) of parks damaged, 90 per cent of which was national park. It was claimed that 950 local parks, 70 national parks and reserves, and over 600 cultural sites and historic places were impacted or destroyed
  • 3,921 ha (9,690 acres) of private bushland
  • Over 55 businesses destroyed
  • Electricity supply was disrupted to 60,000 residents
  • Several mobile phone base stations and telephone exchanges damaged or destroyed

² https://apo.org.au/node/19735

³ Stephen J Pyne’s works are listed here, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_J._Pyne

A film I may consider watching might be Afterburn- in the Tigers Jaws. ‘The Steels Creek community invited the research team to use them as a case-study because they believed that something lasting had to come from this terrible tragedy and future communities would benefit from partnering with the academic and creative industries. Afterburn has the potential to influence future policy development at all levels of government in the areas of collaborative community recovery and the long-term impact of trauma on communities and individuals.’

On my block in April, 2009. Autumn had softened the disaster zone. I’m wearing a red armband, as did all those who lost their homes. This indicated our identity to the police staffing roadblocks. I wore it for nine months and still have it tucked away.

I have great admiration for a few journalists whose work stood out from the pack during Year 1. Thanks to Ian Munro of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers and to Gary Hughes, a St Andrews resident and Warkley award winner, who wrote so poignantly of his own survival. And to Jon Faine, radio presenter from the ABC, whose broadcasting efforts and interviews, particularly in the Strathewen community, were remarkable.

Balinese Tourism, the Australian Media and National Identity

The Australian media revels in stereotyping Australian tourism to Bali. It’s an annual event, always bound to get a heated reaction. Fake news and generalisation usually does. The story follows the same old path: find a group of poorly behaved Australian bogans ¹, make sure they are shirtless or dressed in gaping singlets; a few tattoos help magnify the picture. Film them at a bar or nightclub in Kuta or Legian, with sound grabs of their loud, appalling behaviour. Beer swilling scenes and expletives complete the picture. This minority group is an easy target for the media. It’s an historic one too, recalling in recent times, the singlet wearing, fag in mouth, ‘ocker’ of the 1980s, and before that, the yobbo, the larrikin and the ‘wild colonial boy’. Australians have a love -hate relationship with their own working class. Often despised, they become symbols of our national cultural cringe. At other times in history, they’ve been employed to boost patriotism ( Ned Kelly, WW1 diggers, Henry Lawson characters). We either love or despise our famous bogans. A few random modern examples include Dawn Fraser, Paul Hogan, Shane Warne, Lleyton Hewitt and his wife Bec ( Australia’s answer to the Beckams), Kath and Kim, and Pauline Hanson. I have included Pauline Hanson, the Kabuki masked racist, in this list as she might be considered the bogan queen.

‘It can be argued that the larrikin tradition of disdain for authority, propriety and the often conservative norms of bourgeois Australia, are two sides of a self-reinforcing dynamic; the social conservatism of the mainstream fuels the undercurrent of larrikinism and rebellion, which, in turn, is seen as demonstrating that a firm hand is needed. This is sometimes referred to as the “larriken- wowser nexus”, ‘wowser’ being an Australian colloquial term for a person of puritanical mores.’²

A few more Australian stereotypes might be added to this time-honoured clichéd portrait of the Australian tourist in Bali. Enter the CUB family (cashed up bogans). The media portrays this group as a wealthy but poorly educated sub- class of ‘tradies’³, who have no time for Balinese culture or culture in general. The successful ABC television drama Upper Middle Bogan milks this stereotype to the hilt. Add to this the media’s obsession with the Corby family and the vacillating portrayal of Schapelle Corby as innocent victim or guilty bogan drug smuggler. The annual media focus on ‘Australian young lad caught with a stash of marijuana gets caught up in the Indonesian prison system’ amplifies this stereotype. The media’s dramatisation of these sad stories suggests a deep distrust of the Indonesian legal system, resulting in untold damage to Australian- Indonesian business and political relationships.

Older and younger lads get dressed in sarongs for a temple visit. Photo by daughter in law, Maxine Hartin.

A quick look at the annual tourist arrivals to Bali is of interest here. The figures for 2016 reveal Australian visitors leading the way at 1.137 million visitors per annum. This year, 2017, the figure has been surpassed by the Chinese.

Bali Arrivals 2008-2016, courtesy of http://www.balidiscovery.com

The Balinese will be the first to tell you about their impressions of tourists. They love Australian tourists because they spend money on local products and services and engage with the locals in an open and good-humoured way. They pump money into the local economy.  The Chinese, according to the Balinese, don’t spend any money in the markets or on transport and don’t engage with the locals. Their tours are usually packaged; as a result, very little money flows directly to poorer Balinese people. My own observations of Malaysian and Japanese visitors, if I may generalise a little here, suggests they have a preference for large internationally owned hotels which effectively insulates them from Balinese people. European visitors prefer to eat in Western restaurants, and are far more hesitant with the locals. They do, however, spend money on transport, water sports, hired sun baking chairs, and tours.

Some members of my family in Bali. Australians love to use bemos. I have never met a passenger from India, China or Europe in these beaten up old vans. Most foreigners use taxis. Australians often express a love of the underdog.  Bemos are disappearing from the suburban areas of Bali. Photo by son-in-law, K. Bradley.

The following is a summary of the makeup of Australian tourists in Bali based on my own observations over the last 39 years.

  • Younger tourists travelling overseas for the first time. Bali is an affordable destination for them. Some have studied Bahasa Indonesian at school and have a smattering of the language. This group spends money on sporting activities, transport, cheap clothing, sarongs and nicknacks. They tend to stay in budget or family run accomodation, and eat in cheaper, family run warungs.
  • The Bogan- Ocker tourist who usually base themselves around Kuta/Legian and Seminyak. They don’t take much interest in Hinduism or Balinese culture generally. They come to Bali to party. This is the group which gives Bali a bad name. They spend money on alcohol, transport and accommodation.
  • Family groups who travel to Bali during the Australian school holidays. They tend to stay in bungalows and small family run middle of the road Balinese owned hotels with swimming pools and proximity to the beach.
  • Older, retired couples or singles. This is a growing market and one that the Balinese are very happy to accommodate, by providing more flexible visa extensions, reliable health care and on site massage. The main attraction for this group is the climate and the affordability of food and services. Many in this group often stay in the same accommodation for a month or more at a time and are treated almost as family by the managers. This option is particularly appealing to older, single women, who feel much safer and more comfortable in Bali than in Queensland, for example. This group spends money on massage, pedicures, local warung food, drivers and accommodation.
  • Active travellers who enjoy watersports such as surfers, divers, snorkelers, wind surfers, bikers, cyclists, trekkers.
  • Cultural tourists interested in women’s’ textiles and ikat weaving, language, meditation and yoga, Hinduism, cooking, art, landscape design, and history.
  • Those travelling to Bali to attend the annual Jazz festival and Writers’ Festival, a growing market.
  • Business tourists who open franchises or restaurants. Whilst these operators are making big money in Bali, they do also provide hospitality training to the Balinese.

    Eating locally at family run restaurants, not International hotels. And yes, it’s chicken, not dog, as some of the idiotic media love to suggest! The chicken here is free range.

I’ve just spent two weeks with 15 members of my own family in Bali. In many ways we are a typical Australian family. We have different interests, different occupations, ages, educational levels and aspirations. I can happily say that we all have a high respect for the Balinese culture and people. I would also argue that most Australian visitors to Bali do.

Four of my family members, ( right) with two others on the tour with their deaf tour guide. They are all signing ‘Love you’. they wanted to learn about Bali from a deaf perspective. Photo courtesy of Bali Deaf Guide.
Son, Jack, goes for a jungle cross-country bike ride with his son Noah in Tabanan. Photo courtesy of tour leader.

Thanks Eha for alerting me to this latest nonsense about Australian tourism in Bali.

¹”The term bogan is a derogatory Autralian and New Zealand slang word used to describe a person whose speech, clothing, attitude and behaviour exemplify values and behaviour considered unrefined or unsophisticated. Depending on the context, the term can be pejorative or self deprecating. Since the 1980s, the bogan has become a very well-recognised subculture, often as an example of bad taste. It has antecedents in the Australian larriken and ocker.’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bogan

² https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larrikin

³https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/tradie

I also acknowledge David Marr’s essay, The White Queen, for that Kabuki make up image above. See, https://www.quarterlyessay.com.au/essay/2017/03/the-white-queen/extract

Monkeys and the Australian Media have a lot in common. Monkey mischief at Jalan Bisma, Ubud, Bali.
Underwater Bintang for thirsty non boganesque swimmers.

 

Last night I was reading a book when…..

Last night I was reading a book in bed. When I came across this passage, I stopped in amazement. Something sounded shockingly familiar,

Nothing was as it had been. Martin Place, where once she had happily browsed the fine designer shops, now appeared to her as empty and strange as the ruins of an ancient city that somewhere, sometime long ago, stopped making sense. For a moment she stood surrounded by colourful bunting and beautiful images that communicated nothing. Dolce & Gabbana. Louis Vuitton. What did any of it mean? On vertical banners pushing a designer label, models, no more than kids, were reproduced with their strange unfocused gaze, as if they had witnessed a massacre or horror they still could not comprehend.

p 169. The Unknown Terrorist. Richard Flanagan, 2005.

Although written some years ago, this novel is a timely reminder of the complicit and nasty role that politics and the fear mongering media often play in society, especially after events such as the recent Sydney siege at the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place by a lone lunatic and the tragic outcome for two innocent victims.

I recommend this novel, and as we are saddened by the loss of Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson, we might also strongly express our opposition to any sensationalist media coverage which, like piranha, feeds off these events.

Vale Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson
Vale Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson

Footnote. from letters to the editor, Sydney Morning Herald. Dec 18,2014.

It ill behoves our Prime Minister, the head of our political decision-making process, to lead the charge of divisive recrimination against the administrative decision-makers, police and judicial officers who have determined matters relating to Man Haron Monis (“Abbott’s open question: how was the gunman ‘at large’ in the community?”, December 17). To second-guess decisions relating to issues as complex as refugee status, surveillance and bail knowing little more about those decisions than that something went horribly wrong at some later time is to succumb to the seductive lure of hindsight reasoning, the most insidious threat to logic and the calm analysis of evidence. This is a time for our leaders to encourage healing and cohesion, not blame.

Justice Lucy McCallum Sydney