Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Fires, floods and fury

Wet and woolly in a Camden flood 1925

Nepean River

The Perkins family from Cawdor on their way to town in 1925 met the floodwaters of the Nepean River on the Great South Road  (Camden Images/E Perkins)
 
Floods have always been part of the landscape of the Camden area and this view in 1925 of the Great South Road (Cawdor Road) is no different. Here the Perkins family have travelled from their dairy farm at Cawdor to town. Everyone is dressed up in their finest, women with hats and gloves, while the men are in their Sunday best. The Nepean River is on the far horizon, while the flooded area in the foreground is the Matahil Creek valley on the southern entry to Camden on the old Great South Road. Flooding was a just part of daily life and people just got on with it. The spire of St John's Church is visible on top of the hill, with storm clouds still threatening to bring more rain.
 
View along Great South Road towards Elderslie from Argyle Street Camden at the Sydney entry to the town. The Camden Railway is on the left and the Cowpasture Bridge and Chinese market gardens are under water in the distance. (Camden Images/Perkins)

To see more of the Perkins photograph collection of Cawdor and surrounds click  here
 

Regeneration and New Life after the fires

New shoots of life on trees after fires along Picton Road, December 2013 (I Willis)
Areas that have been burnt by bushfires eventually regenerate and their is new life. Such has happened on the Picton Road area where the trees are now sprouting green shoots. There are dormant buds under bark of eucalypts called epicormic buds. These burst into new growth in the weeks following the fire and trees are covered with new leaves. Fire is a very cleansing process and a fire does not mean all is lost. After the disaster passes there is new life and new hope. New growth on the trees is symbolic of a fresh start and a new beginning.


Along Picton Road near Cordeaux Dam (I Willis, 22 Oct, 9.00am)




Day 12 Balmoral (Hall Road) Bushfire 28 October

The bushfire emergency has passed and most crews have been stood down. This fire has been downgraded to 'alert' status and is contained 3 km south of Bargo.
The Blue Mountains fire effected areas are now in the recovery stage and are appealing for visitors  not to abandon the area. Fire fighters are still working on the area where over 200 homes were destroyed by blazes last week. Crown Prince Frederik and Princes Mary lifted the spirits of residents as they visited the area yesterday according to reports.

Day 6 Balmoral (Hall Road) Bushfire 22 October (6.00pm)

The fire, according to the RFS website, has been consolidated within containment lines. The current status of the fire is controlled and has burnt over 15,300 hectares to date. Two houses have been lost.

The RFS website reports that 'Fire continues to burn in the Southern Highlands near the villages of Yerrinbool, Balmoral, Yanderra, Pheasants Nest, Wilton, Bargo, Buxton, Hill Top, Alpine / Aylmerton and Couridjah'. Illawarra residents are still advised to remain viligent. The Picton Road remains open. (http://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au )
Meanwhile elsewhere in this fire emergency: in the Springwood fire 193 houses have been lost to date, 7 in the Mt Victoria fire and 3 in the Lithgow fire. (http://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au )

Day 5 Balmoral Bushfire 21 October (6.00pm)

On Day 5 the bushfire continues to pose problems for fire authorities. This afternoon Wilton came under ember attack and the fire was status was upgraded to Emergency. 
According the RFS website at 6.00pm the fire has burnt over 14,100 hectares and is currently on a Watch and Act status and still out of control. Illawarra residents are advised to 'remain viligent and monitor the situation'. The Picton Road has re-opened.
The weather conditions at Camden airport are currently: winds ENE at 16 kph; 28% humidity; temperature 30.9 degrees. (Weatherzone)
Relief organisations have swung into action and include appeals launched by the Australian Red Cross, St Vincent de Paul Society, Salvation Army and Anglicare. Similar to wartime relief appeals during the First and Second World Wars and others during natural disasters.

Day 4 Balmoral Bushfire 20 October (6.00pm) 

The fire continues to pose challenges for fire authorities this afternoon. According to the RFS website there are 270 fire-fighters tending this fire, which continues to be uncontained. It has burnt over 12,700 hectares and has a Watch and Act status.
While not posing any direct threat to Illawarra residents they have been advised to 'remain viligent and monitor the situation'.
The fire has crossed the Picton Road which remains closed. The eastern edge of the fire is burning adjacent to Cataract and Cordeaux Dams.

Balmoral-Yanderra fire from Appin area (I Willis, 18 Oct, 6.00pm)

Balmoral-Yanderra Bushfire 18 October 2013 (6.00pm)

The photo of this fire from the Appin area shows the increased intensity of the fire since this morning. The RFS website states that the fire is uncontained and has burnt over 8,000 hectares. The fire has crossed the Picton Road and is burning along the Macarthur Road area near Wilton. Fire crews have put in containment lines and are untaking considerable back-burning.  The village of Wilton has a meeting at the community hall at 7.00pm.

Balmoral-Yanderra Bushfire 18 October 2013 (9.00am)


Balmoral-Yanderra fire from Appin area (I Willis, 18 Oct, 9.30am)
The view of this bushfire from Appin this morning gives some idea of the conditions facing bushfire fighters in the area. The fire was downgraded from Emergency to Watch and Act with the head of the fire now 1.5km east of the Picton Road within the Sydney Catchment Authority. The Picton Road has been closed to traffic since yesterday afternoon and the Rural Fire Service website states that it is likely to remain closed for up to 3 days.
The weather conditions have abated and at 11.00am this morning the wind is currently from the ENE at 9 knots, the humidity has risen to 32% and the temperature is 19 degrees. This is different from the conditions yesterday (17 October) Thursday with a low humidity at 1.30pm of 8% and a maximum temperature of 32.6 degrees. Peak wind gusts at Camden airport recorded at 78kph at 11.30am. (Weatherzone)

Response to the fires

The reporting around the bushfire on the radio and on other media is very similar to wartime (as I outlined below). The fire event is now moving into the relief stage after the emergency in some areas with the Salvation Army swinging into action at the emergency centres, adopting a role it excelled at during wartime. There are reports typical of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) appearing in radio interviews amongst victims and fire-fighters. This is a normal experience after a traumatic event  and people feel frightened, sad, anxious and disconnected (www.helpguide.org). These type of reactions were typical of soldiers who have experienced the battle-front during wartime. (Lifeline 13 11 14)
The homefront experience of wartime has been replicated this morning with fundraising appeals being launched by the Salvation Army, one of Australia's oldest and most respected relief organisations.
The communications of the fire have included all sorts of modern media with ABC Radio Sydney 702 turning into a community notice board. There were a number of eye-witness accounts being broadcast live on Thursday afternoon. Reports indicated that the fire-front response in specific localities was confused and out of control. A fire storm situation that was changing quickly by the minute. Very similar to reports of the military front line in the heat of a battle where confusion reigns and there is a lack of control. 
The 4 stages of a disaster - preparation, warning, impact, aftermath - are typical of these bushfires and other destructive events.  

Balmoral-Yanderra Bushfires Give Eerie Driving Conditions 17 October 2013

Smoke causing eerie driving on Mt Ousley Road Wollongong from Balmoral-Yanderra Bushfire (K Willis, 17 Oct, 5.00pm)
Smoke causing eerie driving at Picton Road near Mt Ousley Road from Balmoral-Yanderra Bushfire (K Willis, 17 Oct, 5.00pm)
Eerie and surreal driving conditions were created by the emergency bushfires in the Balmoral-Yanderra area. Radio reports constantly give updates of dangerous conditions in the Blue Mountains at Springwood, while conditions deteriorate in the Hunter Valley. There have been losses of houses in the Blue Mountains,while conditions continue to be dangerous for residents of effected areas. 

Warragamba fires 2001

Reports make these fires the worst in the Sydney area since 2001 when Warragamba township was severely impacted. There were many houses lost in the village and elsewhere. The resilience of community spirit is sorely tested under these type of disaster conditions.

Weather conditions

The dry westerly winds, with strong gusts, of both these fire events create difficult weather conditions for fire fighters  on the Sydney rural-urban fringe. Very low humidity (between 8% to 15% today) and high temperature, when combined with the gusty winds, provide a lethal combination for local residents. The rural-urban interface is zone where fire events can have a severe impact on people's lives.  

Environment

Bushfires are a part of the Australian environment and cause dangerous conditions when they impact on urban areas. Aboriginal people managed the Australian environment with fire for thousands of years.

The battleground

The organisation, language and actions of fire-fighting have many similarities to the battlefront during wartime. There is the fire ground, the emergency, command structures, command centres, lethal consequences, civilian evacuation centres, dangerous conditions, the fire front and a host of other similarities. The battle on the firefront and wartime frontline are both unpredictable with authorities trying to maintain containment measures. Both are highly stressful for victims and fighters and put communities under incredible pressures. Both try the resilience of communities and the social networks across those village, towns and suburbs involved on the Sydney's rural-urban edge.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Jacarandas Removed in Central Camden

Protesters from the Camden Community Alliance express their objection to the removal of jacarandas in Argyle Street Camden on 12 August 2015. Members of the Alliance have ramped up their protests in recent weeks. The protesters are standing on the corner of Oxley and Argyle Streets. This is one of several street protests that the Alliance members have conducted in recent weeks.

Camden Council contractors removing the jacarandas at the intersection of Oxley and Argyle Streets in Camden. These works are part of the Town Centre Improvements that the council approved in 2014. The Camden Community Alliance has requested meetings with council and they have been declined. One of the principle objections mounted by the Alliance is the lack of engagement by council over these matters.

The Camden Community Alliance members protested this week over the removal of Jacaranda trees in Argyle Street to make way for traffic lights at the intersection with Oxley Street. 
Earlier the week Alliance members made their presence felt at the meeting of Camden Council. They were expressing their increasing frustration when council staff took questions on notice at the meeting. Mayor Symkowiak adjourned the meeting for 5 minutes, hoping the meeting could be continued, according to the Macarthur Chronicle report.
Later in the meeting local residents called out from the public gallery and the council meeting was adjourned on two more occasions.
A post of the Camden Community Alliance Facebook page maintained that it was 'impossible' for members 'to contain their voices any longer'. The post said that it was sad that it had all come to this and Alliance members looked quite radical over these matters.
The council meeting ended with cries of 'shame' from the gallery.